A note as In The Woods comes to a close


As In The Woods, our research partnership with Leeds Beckett University and Middleton St Philip's Primary School comes to a close, here's Martin Riley capturing what it was all about ... The premise of “In The Woods” already existed. I had written a piece that was a story and a setting and a challenge and a quest for Farsley Farfield Primary School. In this version the children were trained as “problem solvers”, working with John Mee of Alive and Kicking and teachers from the school. The training took place in imagined and mythical circumstances around the world, where the class became a task force dealing with environmental issues within a cross-curricular framework. 
For this new project I created a bigger more watertight world, a back-story and a role for John and the children and teachers that encompassed the whole project. Of necessity there’s enough material in it for a children’s novel or a play or an immersive computer game and it took the same amount of care and effort and attention to detail. 
The key to the world is Tom Wayfinder, an imagined character that I created, like the bespoke tailor who was my great grandfather, to fit the style and person and heart of John Mee. Using all that I have learned from working with Alive and Kicking over the years and drawing on the insights of Dorothy Heathcote and Sue Jennings I made sure that this was a character with a question, a dilemma and a quest – someone who needed the children’s help, someone who was close to John but not John – someone he could BE without ACTING. 
The simple narrative is that he is a man who has known love and loss and is looking for a place to call home. However, when he finds it, the place In the Woods – it’s in trouble and the only ones who can help are the children. That’s why he’s here – that’s why they are important – that’s why they are at the centre of the drama – that’s why the story belongs to them.
On the first day he presents them with the problem. During the other days when he is with them, before they must travel to the woods to complete their mission – he trains them up. But the way he trains them is to put them in some of the places he has been, all around the world, trying their hand at imagining and bringing to life those worlds in their own way – and solving for themselves the dilemmas that he faced. They also find time to try their hands at connected and thematic making and riddle solving tasks which will sharpen skills that will prove crucial when it comes to “The Real Thing.”
Fascinatingly, I never get to a part of this process except at arms length and have the results reported back to me – adapting later narratives and structures to John’s feedback and needs and the reported responses of the children and parents and teachers who took part – all of whom I have written into the world so that there is no “outside” no place where an adult stands outside the fiction and tells the children what to do or deals with it as an invention. The whole quest is treated as reality in the way that children play games in the playground. They never “pretend”. You be the King. I’m the Queen. He’s the Knave of Hearts!” “You’re IT!”
The research uestion posed was about making Imaginary Worlds – so, to give everyone absolute and total control over those worlds there even had to be room made for the children and parents and teachers not only to work on the imaginary situations that Tom Wayfinder experienced but also to imagine some for themselves from scratch.

Finally – as a coda to the project, the children were given the task, still in role, still within the world of the story, to make completely other stories as bedtime stories for one of the characters within the story – The Wild Man.
In theatre we talk about “the willing suspension of disbelief”. Another way of looking at that is “Permission to Play”. This happens when you read a book, accepting the world and characters and living through the narrative and dilemmas – also in a game. And in all of these there are rules. These rules, these expectations are not there to hinder or constrain – they are there to enable us to play the same game together. 
I am privileged and delighted to be able to work as a maker of these games and deviser of these rules. It’s at the heart of my story telling and scriptwriting and role-play. It’s something that began when I was still at primary school and bored with playing the same old chase game, started to invent my own with my friends.
In this project I had the extra privilege of being there on the final day and playing one of the antagonists the children meet with – Old Man Winter and so was able to see the extent that they had bought into the game, suspended their disbelief and (this is the best part) were able to become co-inventers of the world and the rules of the world as they went along. It occurs to me, writing this, that it might be great fun to work with a bunch of older kids, who had already experienced our style, to create a role-play adventure for some younger ones - then it would be not only creating imaginary worlds but creating creators of imaginary world creating scenarios.
Then I really will have completed the circle.


Coming soon!

Hi everyone. We may be coming to the end of this academic year but AAK are in full swing booking for next year. Including our brilliant Christmas show Santa and the Goblin Market!
Also, please share our mini documentary among all the primary school teachers you know. Many thanks:

Dr Ferret on July 17 and 18

A fantastic review from Hazel Silver. Thanks Hazel.
A 5* + experience. John To all the wonderful people involved thank you for a wonderful afternoon.
I have sat and read posts about the wonderful adventures and experiences you have with school children and am in awe.
Today I and my grandchildren who do not live in your working area where transported to another time and place. It was great to see you at work though you all seemed to be enjoying working too much!!! Thank you so much for bringing this out to the public for us to see what some fortunate school children experience and learn from. A great teaching tool.

In The Woods review

Debbie Meeson, teacher from St Philip's Primary writes ...... "This was the most magical experience the children have ever had!! Wow!"
Here's what In The Woods is about .... we could bring it to your school!
In The Woods is a project for children aged between 6 and 8 years in which we create a series of events that will fire their imaginations and reward creative thinking. We are able to offer In The Woods to groups of up to 60 children.
Supported by adults and Alive And Kicking company members we play through a number of “training “ scenarios led by the character Tom Wayfinder before we face The Real Thing in which we explore the outdoor adventure of The Wild Man Of The Woods waking to find that Jack Frost, Old Man Winter and Lady Lackleaf have plotted together to bring Winter back forever. 

Jenny Silver's letter ...

 .... as promised in the Leeds Beckett University Storymakers' Dialogue article The Real Thing.  It's in the Alive And Kicking facebook page.
For more information about In The Woods please message Alive And Kicking.

Many thanks to This Green Moon


Many thanks to This Green Moon at Swillington Organic Farm just outside Leeds for hosting Dr Ferret's Wild West Medicine Roadshow over the holiday weekend. 
We will be back at This Green Moon in July but now it's on with our primary school programme that includes The Cave for Years 3/4/5/6.


Dr Ferret's Wild West Medicine Road Show

Our latest family show is at This Green Moon tomorrow, Sunday May 26 and Monday May 27, 1230 and 1700
Venue ... This Green Moon, Swillington Organic Farm, Swillington, Leeds LS26 8QA



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May 24 to May 28 An outdoor extravaganza

Dr Ferret's Wild West Medicine Roadshow
At This Green Moon in Swillington Organic Farm, Coach Rd., Swillington LS26 8QA Performances at 1230 and 1700
Times are hard but Salvation is at hand!
Delius Ferret and the Wild Man, have come all the way from the US of A 
By invitation of the Swilligogs 
with a wagon-full of Dr Ferret’s Miracle Elixir. 

It’ll cure baldness, a snotty nose, a boil on your nether regions. 
It can even turn bad kids good!
But don’t just take the good doctor’s word for it.

Over Fives with their Families, Schools, Scouts, Troubled Teenagers, Mithered Millennials, Grizzly Grandparents, short and tall, big and small 
Come and be part of his extraordinary musical and immersive story adventures.
Tickets from This Green Moon on 07730 496203 £10 per head with under 2's free

Special offer - a taste of Alive And Kicking

We are looking at new ways of making contact with primary schools in Leeds and the region. If you are a primary school teacher, school governor or PTA member you might like to help us by having a very low cost taster visit from Alive And Kicking.
Here’s the idea …. For a total cost of £100 (plus a cup of tea and possibly a biscuit!) we could bring one half day piece from our portfolio to one of your classes if you would invite a small group of teachers from other schools to see us work with your children.
We could offer 
A Sideways Look At Cinderella for Reception
The Bottom Of The Bottom Of The Bottom Of The Sea for Reception or Year 1
The Woman At The Top Of The Mountain for Year 3 or Year 4
There's more detail in other parts of this website or you could contact us by email at or by ringing 0113 295 8190 or 07775 782603.