Celebration Series Blog 1: Follow Me into the Forest
Feral Productions tour Forest Libraries as part of Art of Libraries
In the first of our blogs leading up to the Art of Libraries Celebration and Learning event we would like to share the experience of Feral Productions when they tested out a new version of their production of Follow Me in Coleford and Lydney Library in the Forest of Dean.
“This is immersive storytelling at its best, taking you on an unparalleled sensory voyage through the landscape of dreams”.
How did you find working in a library setting?
Estelle, the Artistic Director shares her experience. “The Library staff were at all times welcoming and helpful. The relationship between Coleford and Lydney was well supported one and the communication that we needed to happen between the two was problem free. It was great to see the commitment staff give to the library, its users and its multi-purpose potential.
Free delivery of a ‘relaxed performance’
The feedback from all three performances was positive and encouraging.
Audiences at both venues were surprisingly strong in numbers (partially due to the library assistant’s opportunistic pouncing at the 5pm show in Coleford!). The first performance was the company’s first delivery of a ‘relaxed performance’ where children were invited to come and go as they pleased. We felt this worked very well and the response from both children and adults was powerful and rewarding.
The lack of orthodox nature didn’t seem to faze staff the library staff, who were all enthusiastic and helpful when it came to firstly learning about the show and how they could support it, then secondly rallying an audience together for us to perform to. The Front of House role for a well-being show is a particularly delicate one and requires a significant element of sensitivity, which they applied with ease, particularly once they understood what it was all about. It was heartening that they all opted to experience the performance for themselves and I think it’s so important for staff to know what they’re selling first hand.
Expect the unexpected
During the first showing the library was still open and that was slightly unnerving for us as practitioners but turned out to be totally manageable. I was aware of a bunch of teenagers sitting on the sofa watching us from a distance and I wondered what would happen. As soon as we finished they fled but came back with more friends for the second sitting! Again apprehensively we began the second sitting and they giggled a lot at first. I wasn’t sure they would stay with it but they did and the atmosphere calmed to something truly remarkable with this odd mix of restless teens and reverent adults. A good lesson in trusting the show for me!
What might you do differently next time?
Perhaps targeting the marketing more at the literary, contemporary arts and well-being sector.
What do you see as the main challenges of working in a library space?
For a company that specialises in site-specific work it was less of a problem to adapt to the space, but it may be an issue for companies who prefer having a natural performance area. The fact that the library’s open till 7pm necessitated the relaxed performance which worked surprisingly well given the immersive nature of the show but again that might not always be manageable for some shows. We once did an irreverent adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov in Hereford library and it was lovely to be able to plot it to the building itself instead of trying to wedge it in. Follow Me is designed to fit into virtually any room as long as it’s warm and carpeted so it worked perfectly in both libraries. Given the use of blindfolds there was no need to ‘dress’ the space in order to create a set design and there’s something wonderful about the books themselves providing the context. This was something that was fed back to us several times.
What have you learnt from the experience?
Follow Me is far from a conventional piece of theatre and we were concerned how it would sell to the Forest of Dean audience. With this in mind I think it was the right decision for Art of Libraries to subsidise the performances and invite attendees to ‘pay what you like’.
How would you like to grow your relationship with libraries?
Having tested the ground with Follow Me we would love to take it to more libraries in Gloucestershire. We are due to tour a very big project, 7AIRS throughout Herefordshire and Shropshire – a promenade piece that is site-inspired in partnership with Herefordshire libraries. Each performance begins and ends in the library and takes audiences on a walk round the market towns in age-relevant sites. This piece was commissioned by Ledbury Poetry Festival and represents Feral’s commitment to bring live literature performances to new audiences. It would be fabulous to develop something similar with the Gloucestershire libraries. A lot of the feedback suggested the Follow Me model would be applicable with other stories and would be a wonderful way to also deliver projects for children along the ‘Horrible Histories’ path.
What did the audience think?
“Thank you for a fantastic, thought provoking and stimulating performance, shared with young people today from @Hope_Support we have never ever experienced anything quite like it! WowD”
“I feel like a better person”
“I can’t believe it – I was somewhere else completely”
“Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”
Carolyn, librarian at Coleford Library and audience member commented, “as the performance was very self-contained it was easy to accommodate in a library environment. The performers were delightful and very flexible in their approach to staging the show as they were conscious that the library was still open to customers.
The performance was unusual in that the audience were requested to put on blindfolds at the start of the show. This was a novel experience and it encouraged a more focused approach to the story telling as once the sense of sight had been blocked other senses were heightened. At the end of the performance the audience left in a very positive frame of mind”.
What are you top five tips you would recommend to other companies?
Build a relationship with the library staff in advance of the actual show
Be aware of the differences in performing when the library is open and closed
Target your marketing to who you are specifically aiming the show at
Make use of the library as a backdrop and context for your work
Expect the unexpected!
Co-produced by Art of Libraries, The Courtyard, Hereford Libraries, The RNC and Wyldwood Arts
Funded by Arts Council England, The Elmley Foundation and the E F Bulmer Benevolent Fund.
More about Feral Productions:
Feral Productions was formed in 2009 by joint artistic directors Megan Barker and Estelle van Warmelo. Based on the Wales/Herefordshire border, they make innovative performance work for non-theatre spaces.