Seldom, if ever, do ideas for Blackie playschemes come out of the blue. The Blackie Easter playscheme for 1984 (with its theme of 'Trees') was no exception. We had already touched on the theme of 'Trees' during the Peace Vigils. These were twelve- hour long performance art events which took place in The Blackie in November 1983. The picture above shows young dancers in front of the Vigil's Tree
So when the time came for us to decide upon the theme for The Blackie's Easter playscheme for 1984 'Trees' were, understandably, at the forefront of many people's minds. During one of The Blackie's open staff meetings the thoughts of kids and adults came together and ideas for 'A SPRING TREE-T began to emerge.
Taking off from the idea of 'Trees' we decided the overall theme of the playscheme was to be 'Trees and Wood' - and that we would explore this theme through a series of workshops and activities that should include: Pyrography (the art and craft of burning images into wood) ; Marquetry (the art and craft of building up an image using thin layers of wood veneer); Woodcarving; Collage; Tree Games; Dance; Cookery; and the creation of a Tree of Names.
We also decided that, as with activities and workshops in general at The Blackie, the activities and workshops for A SPRING TREE-T should be both fun and educational.
The Blackie opened its doors for A SPRING TREE-T on Tuesday 17th April at 2.00pm - and Neil and Dermot (full time workers at The Blackie) became tour guides for the TREE-T. Kids came as groups of 3 or 4 so that their guides could show them around the workshop area, which had taken over the whole of the Ground Floor Gallery. This allowed kids to be introduced properly to other workers staffing the playscheme and allowed the guides to explain the theme and ideas behind the various workshops. This often meant that kids had to wait at the door for 10 minutes before coming in, but the wait was felt to be worthwhile.
As with all 'open sessions' including playschemes, we had at least 1- and often 2 - people on 'general duty', moving around the workshop area all the time, talking to kids about the ideas, encouraging them to have a go at something they might feel was too difficult - and acting as peace keepers and 'public relations' persons.
The first thing that struck everyone when they came onto the Ground Floor was how different it looked. The Parks and Gardens Dept. of Liverpool City Council had kindly provided us with a large truck load of leafy branches they had collected from trees they had been pruning. These were now hanging or standing in every conceivable place on the Ground Floor turning the area into something of a 'woodland glade' a suitable home for the SPRING TREE-T.
Pyrography (or poker-work) dates back some centuries. It was originally a peasant art practised in north European countries - using red hot fire pokers to enhance pieces of wood carving. Today pyrography, as it is now called, is used to make wooden name plates and intricate wall plaques.
It soon became obvious in the workshop sessions that using a wood burning tool to create a worthwhile work was difficult for unpractised hands. And so we invented a game to overcome the problem. We invited people to create any image or pattern they chose - as long as it was made up of 100 dots and nothing else.
Participants were supplied with pencil and paper for preliminary sketches, a small plaque of plywood and a wood burning tool. The results of the workshops were varied and interesting - a curving patterned snake - a peaceful seascape - a UB40 plaque - flowers - a peace symbol - a leopards head. These and many other pyrographical creations were displayed on a nearbye wall, making it look 'designer tiled' by the end of the playscheme.
Above youngster working on her hundred dots
As with Pyrography, Marquetry is a traditional and even an ancient art and craft. It consists of creating pictures and patterns by cutting out and piecing together very thin layers of wood veneer. Veneers can be obtained in hundreds of different shades and grain patterns. The oldest surviving examples of marquetry were found in Tutankhamun's tomb.
Creating images using marquetry is a difficult technical task. So we decided the workshop should become something of a 'beginners guide' by inviting people to create patterns based on one particular shape, eg: squares or triangles. Works created included: a woodland scene - a Pink Floyd sign - and a simple wave pattern, (waves were indicated by the veneer pieces gradually darkening from the bottom to the top of the image).
We decided to invite an experienced wood carver - Norman Atkinson - to run this workshop. Together with the kids he started by drawing simple shapes on small mahogany off-cuts. The kids were introduced to the technique of relief work and were left - under Normans watchful eye - to explore the technique.
When teaching the younger kids (4 & 5 year olds) Norman would often hold on to their 'chisel hand' to let them know how it feels to guide a chisel - leaving them to handle the mallet on their own. To Normans great credit there were only 1 or 2 minor cuts and bruises in the Wood Carving workshop during the whole playscheme.
When the kids had become used to the techniques and gained a 'feel' for the tools, a woodland scene - complete with leaping deer - was drawn onto a section of tree trunk. Based on this drawing a work was carved by about 20 different kids and adults - taking about 5 days to complete.
The collage workshop took place during the afternoon sessions and was mainly for the younger kids. They had the opportunity to paint tree-pictures or make tree-collages using images from magazines as well as actual twigs and branches. They were also able to venture into the world of sculpture, using cardboard tubes, scrap paper and card to make 3 dimensional trees.
There was a different game everyday - and all were based around the game of skittles. The skittles were in the shape of small trees. Having completed a game players were invited to create a leaf from coloured cardboard on which they wrote their name and the name of a place on Merseyside they would like to visit. As the workshop progressed, each leaf was tied to a real tree in the Ground Floor Gallery area. The workshops included afternoons of games in SeftonPark and culminated in a day trip to a number of places, destinations decided by picking some of the leaves from a hat.
The Dance workshops took place in the Basement Studio area of The Blackie. They were led by Jan and Lee - 2 professional dancers who had been invited by The Blackie to work in the playscheme. Jan and Lee arrived with the idea of choreographing The Tale of Johnny Appleseed. With a view to Equal Opportunities (many of the kids they would be working with were girls) we agreed to change the original tale to The Tale of Johnny and Jenny Appleseed.
Faced with a large group of kids of different ages (from 5 to 15 yrs) and of varying levels of dance experience, Jan and Lee decided to split them into 3 groups - more or less according to age - and work with them to create 3 dances.
Jan rehearsing the young ones
They invented a nursery rhyme to tell the (updated) story of Johnny and Jenny Appleseed - which was sung, danced and mimed by the younger kids. They worked with a group of relatively inexperienced performers in their early teens to create a dance called 'Forest Fire'.
Picture to the right fitting the Forest fire costume
And together with those kids who had quite a lot of dance experience already (much of it coming from their association with The Blackie) they created an energetic 'Tree Dance' - performed to Michael Jacksons 'Thriller'.
Rehearsing the Tree Dance
In the days leading up to the Final Performance of the 3 dances - given for an audience of kids and adults participating in the playscheme and their guests - the performers made their own costumes, learnt something about the art of stage make-up, and went through what seemed like endless rehearsals. They were ready just in time.
Rehearsing the Fire dance in front of the tree
The activities of a cookery workshop can sometimes seem difficult to relate to the theme of a playscheme. But cookery has proved so popular with kids of all ages - with the activity helping to spread a homely atmosphere - that The Blackie always tries to include one. The SPRING TREE-T cookery workshop featured the making and baking of cakes and biscuits using fruits and nuts from all over the world.
Each day featured a different fruit or nut. A large world map was on display in The Blackie kitchen. The map was bordered by pictures of selected fruits and nuts, with each picture connected to the country of origin of the fruit or nut shown by a coloured thread. Kids and adults got to make and bake, and at the same time found out something about the varied origins of their ingredients.
Tree of Names
The Tree of Names started life as a 6'x4' sheet of blockboard hung on a wall in the Ground Floor Gallery area with the stylised image of a tree drawn on it.Within the stylised outline of the tree there were also drawn some 90 jigsaw puzzle like shapes - each one about 8"x5" and filling the outline completely. People were invited to select one of the jigsaw puzzle shapes, trace it and then transfer their tracing to a piece of plywood and cut the shape out using a fret-saw. They could then paint their shape in any way they wished as long as they used one of the colours: red - blue - green - yellow. They could also paint their name on the piece in any way they pleased. The piece was then glued into place and helped to form part of the growing tree.
Kids always enjoy writing their own names - which made contributing to the tree fun and attractive to them. But they were also learning to use a fret-saw - perhaps an unusual skill for kids of all ages. The Tree of Names was about half finished by the end of the playscheme. It was fully completed some weeks later and went on display in The Blackie.
The Open Day
On the last day of the SPRING TREE-T, parents and kids were invited to an Open Afternoon. They were able to look at completed works created over the previous 12 days, see the workshops in action, and get involved with what was going on. Tea, cakes and buns were available, baked and served by the kids.
People were then invited downstairs to the Basement Studio to watch the dance performance. There was some evidence of stage fright - but the enthusiasm of the dancers (the little kids wanting to perform Johnny and Jenny Appleseed a second time), and the homely atmosphere created by there being in many cases 3 generations of families attending made it a very enjoyable afternoon.
Performing the Forest Fire Dance and The Tree Dance
In all 256 different people visited the SPRING TREE-T over the 12 days of the playscheme - with a total of 1,159 visits, and an average of 38 kids and 11 adults (ie: over 16s) per session. The highest attendance at any one session was 73.
Kids and adults baked some 15 different kinds of cakes and biscuits. They completed 40 paintings and collages, 8 marquetry works, 50 pyrograph plaques - and the 90 piece Tree of Names was half way to completion. There were numerous small wood carvings to go with the large communal carving of a woodland scene. And 3 dances were created, extensively rehearsed and performed.
Between the end of the playscheme and the summer holidays the theme of 'Trees and Wood' was continued. The Tree of Names was completed and went on display in The Blackie. A whole new series of pyrograph plaques were created for use in story telling games. A new communal carving was also completed - and a game was introduced to help the kids create their own designs for further carvings.
We would like to thank the companies and individuals below without their help the SPRING TREE-T would not have been nearly so successful.
G. Ashcroft & Co Ltd; Ashley Isles (Edge Tools) Ltd; Brytatt Ltd; Central College; Costins of Liverpool; Dave Cornick; Lancashire Pure Foods; Lewis' Food Store; Marks & Spencer plc.; M&S Glass; Terry's Timber; Princes Road Training Centre; Taylor Bros (Tools Ltd); Toolmail Ltd; Woodcraft Supplies; Veneers Ltd
Dermot Dunne, Neil Johnson, John McHale, Chris Rodis , Nina Avery, Dominique, and Kim; with Norman Atkinson, (wood carving), and Jan and Lee (Dance)