Work Experience Blog - Issy

Despite only spending three days working at Gecko, I feel as if I’ve learned a lot about working in the more admin-orientated side of theatre. I kicked things off by scrolling through Gecko’s website, and familiarising myself with Gecko’s past and present work.

I then spent the remainder of my three days in an office, with a varying cast of interesting people, learning how to use Excel spreadsheets; something I’d been blissfully naïve of before starting at Gecko... ahahah. No, I actually felt as if I was gaining relevant transferable skills, I was pulling together a whole bunch of data from various different places to create a database of information on Schools and Universities, which would be useful for Gecko in the future when arranging tours and organising workshops.

It was also actually quite satisfying to how much data I’d accumulated in such a short period of time. I rounded off my work experience by interviewing Belinda about Gecko, and tried to unravel the mystery behind why the company is called Gecko (Belinda deduced it has something to do with similarities between the physical theatre/unique movement aspect of Gecko and an actual, literal, gecko). She also talked me through their business plan, which was interesting, and gave me an insight into the inner workings of a company.

I’ve enjoyed my time at Gecko, I feel as if I’ve learnt a lot in a small amount of time, and it has definitely furthered my I.T. skills and work place confidence. I’m extremely keen to experience a Gecko show in real life; to see the final product that everyone has helped contribute towards.

Physical theatre meets mental health

Production image from  Institute

Production image from Institute

Following Gecko’s Wellcome funded project around Institute in Autumn 2016, Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind, wrote the following article reflecting on the experience.

A project involving Gecko, a physical theatre company based in Ipswich, and charity Suffolk Mind has resulted in a new approach to addressing mental health.

Following a successful tour of their performance, Institute, which explores the themes of men’s mental health and what it means to take care of somebody, Gecko approached Suffolk Mind in February of 2016, initially seeking support with enabling their audiences to further explore the issues raised in Institute. But having attended training which introduced Suffolk Mind’s approach to mental health, they decided to take things further.

At the core of Suffolk Mind’s approach is the understanding that we all have emotional needs which have to be met for us to stay mentally healthy, and that we have the innate resources – skills and tools we are born with – to meet those needs. Gecko delivers physical theatre workshops all over the country and wondered whether their particular, visceral style of work could be a successful vehicle for people to explore their emotional needs and methods of caring for them.

Gecko was awarded a grant from Wellcome to devise and deliver a programme of ancillary activities around the autumn 2016 tour of Gecko’s production Institute to engage audiences with issues around mental wellbeing arising in the show.

The project involved four venues, Quay Place in Ipswich, HOME in Manchester, the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton and Liverpool Playhouse and was targeted at working age men with or without mental health challenges, who were non-traditional theatre attenders.

The programme included watching the performance; attending a post-show discussion with local expert mental health service providers and users on the panel able to answer mental health related questions; and participation in a specially developed physical theatre workshop combining Gecko’s physical theatre methods and Suffolk Mind’s work on Emotional Needs, created and delivered by Amit Lahav, Gecko’s Artistic Director, Helen Baggett, Gecko’s Associate Director and Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind. Each performance was attended by representatives from the local Mind or similar mental health service providers to offer support and share information about available services.

A free programme was created and given to every audience member with information about Institute, Emotional Needs, an article commissioned from Simon Anderson and Julie Brownlie, debating a possible correlation between the decline in industry and a rise in male mental ill-health and local mental health resources.

The project aimed to increase self-awareness of mental health issues and provide the knowledge and tools to help participants learn to support their own emotional needs leading to improved mental wellbeing. It also aimed to help break down barriers to engagement with local mental health providers, have a positive impact on reducing stigma attached to seeking help, and to consider any link between a decline in industry and a rise in male mental ill health. Evaluation was carried out immediately following a performance, post-show discussion, and workshop with the option of participating in a case study and being interviewed one month and three months later to measure immediate and longer term benefits. While researchers had expected positive outcomes, given the experience of the workshop leaders, they were taken aback by the results. One participant fed back that the  workshop “should be put on prescription on the NHS,” while another commented “my friend, he’s been in psychotherapy …, and he said in that two hours he did more work than in those eighteen months.”

Another suggested a reason for the success of the workshop was the creation of “an environment of trust, and of safety and of community.”

It was clear that physical theatre workshops were highly effective interventions for increasing self-awareness and engagement with learning on how to care for their emotional wellbeing; and for supporting emotional connection in people who have difficulty making said connections:

“I put walls up and what struck me was that there were no walls while I was doing that (eye contact) piece. I stripped myself totally bare  …  And … it felt ok.  So maybe it’s ok and I’m ok and I’m safe to start doing that in everyday life.  In friendships, in relationships, just in general.”

That physical theatre intervention can be effective means of communicating, through an immersive experience, the reality of mental ill health; and specifically, communicating the struggles of male mental ill health to women.

“The portrayal of emotion through movement was beautiful and thought-provoking. It highlighted how men verbally hide their emotion.  It showed how vulnerable men can be, no matter how much they distract from that.  The inclusion of foreign languages helps portray this verbal barrier men put up between each other.”

Everybody who completed a questionnaire agreed that it had increased their awareness of their emotional needs and ways in which they could look after them. 74% identified positive changes they planned to make, and one month later 81% had experienced an improvement in their wellbeing, which they said was as a result of the workshop, and this improvement was maintained after three months. The results convinced the Gecko-Suffolk Mind partnership that it would be valuable to continue the workshop programme beyond the tour of Institute. Having run it as a standalone at Latitude Festival in July, they are now exploring making it available at sixth forms and colleges, in light of the recent attention drawn to the rising mental ill health challenges of teenagers and young people.

Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education, Suffolk Mind.

Ed Blog 3 | The Dreamer | EdFringe Top Tips

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As everyone gears up for the start of the festival this week – here are 3 top tips for enjoying the festival from our Associate Director Rich.

1. GO DIGITAL

Don’t worry about picking up flyers; social media is the new flyering! Save the trees – let’s go digital! Every time you walk down The Royal Mile you can end up politely gathering a huge pile of paper and card. You look at it once, write down what you want to see, then bin the flyers. Instead, make a note on your phone as you walk along, (or take a photo of the cast holding their flyer) take down all the companies that look interesting and the names of all the good people you meet, and check them out online. Always have a list on the go.

The Fringe has an app and Twitter has all the word-of-mouth you could possibly need… Also, why not get involved? Share feedback about the shows you see on Twitter and Facebook – help others choose what to see!

If you send us your poster with dates attached, we will happily add it to our Facebook album.

2. EAT SOMETHING GREEN

If you are planning to hit the Fringe head first, you may find yourself on the move for 12 hours a day (or more). So remember to eat proper food, ideally something to help you fend off Fringe flu! Healthy snacks in your bag will keep you going as you run between venues; and when you do finally sit down to eat don’t just tuck into the nachos in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar… or the delicious (yet insanely expensive) Assembly garden burgers… which are totally irresistible late at night… Also, beer is not food but Black Medicine coffee is in fact medicinal.

3. MOST IMPORTANT GIVEN THE YEAR WE ARE ALL HAVING – FEEL THE LOVE

Make friends with everyone: other companies, audiences, the lovely locals, anyone you can. If you are up with a show, never ever slag off a show in public – you never know who might be listening and why waste vital show watching energy. Every Fringe participant is trying; everyone is doing their best to make the most exciting work they can. Some people have no resources or time, others have everything they need apart from a great idea… The arts are up against it, but pretty much everyone at the Fringe is on a mission to make something brilliant. As artists and makers, it’s essential we stick together. Treat the Fringe like a competition and you are in for a hellish time. Treat it like a festival of art and make as many friends and positive connections as you can, and it’s an amazing place to be.

Click here to book tickets

Ed Blog 2 | The Dreamer | Article In The Stage

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For our second Ed Blog, we thought we’d share with you an article The Stage wrote about The Dreamer after its first performances in Shanghai last October. In it, Rich and Chris explain how the idea for The Dreamer came about, how Gecko and SDAC made the show together and what they hoped would be next for the show.

Click here to read the article in full.

Luckily, these hopes came true, and Rich and Chris are both currently in Shanghai again now re-working the show before its run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe 2nd – 15thAugust at the Pleasance Grand.

Click here to book tickets

Click here to watch the trailer for The Dreamer


Work Experience Blog - Harriet

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I first saw Gecko’s Institute two years and was captivated by the company’s effortless blend of dynamic physical comedy with aesthetically pleasing dance sequences. I went on to create a series of short pieces for my Drama and Performance Studies A Levels, inspired by their eclectic use of styles and techniques. Therefore, when I found out about the Work Experience opportunity, I could not wait to apply.

I was extremely apprehensive on my first day, but Belinda and Pippa were so friendly and made me feel very much at home. I began by having a scroll through the company website, familiarising myself with their work and core aims. This was extremely useful in giving me an excellent bank of knowledge for the tasks I would be given throughout the week.

My first task was to select appropriate quotes from participants and organisers of the many workshops and intensives Gecko runs throughout the year and compile them into a spreadsheet. Reading all the positive comments was lovely and really motivated me to take part in an Intensive in the future, because I have done workshops with Chris Evans in the past and found them invaluable as an aspiring actress and theatre maker.

I also got to update the company’s Wikipedia page, hence why intensely studying the website as my first task was so helpful. I particularly found reading into all the different shows the company has created really intriguing and uncovered that Gecko spend at least two years developing and show and are constantly reinventing their work to maintain its interest and accessibility.

Pippa likewise gave me numerous important research tasks such as planning Amit’s, the company’s Artist Director, journeys for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and looking at various British International Schools and hotels that the company could partner with, as just a few examples. I particularly enjoyed the tasks I was given, as I knew I was making a genuine contribution to the development of the company and they gave me a real insight into the administrative side of theatre. As someone who wants to ultimately have my own company and make my own work, this was invaluable at giving me an understanding of all areas of production such as budgeting and finance.

Before I arrived, Belinda, the company’s General Manager, asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to learn more about during my time with the company. Based on what I said, I was lucky enough to spend time with both Belinda and Pippa, the Company Administrator, where they talked me through the company’s incredibly complex three year business plan, their Education Outreach and how the company goes about auditioning and hiring performers and their technical team. Belinda and Pippa were so helpful, answering all my many questions and helping me to understand this intricate area.

I completed my internship during the week of PULSE Festival, a theatre festival exclusive to Ipswich that showcases a variety of styles of theatre created by upcoming theatre makers in the run up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I went with Belinda to see Maestro by Kieran Hodgson at the New Wolsey Theatre, a comic biographic tale of his journey from an awkward teenager to a content young adult, set against the backdrop of classical music. Observing all the theatrical people Belinda knew, made me realise the importance of theatre contacts in creating your work and how much this can do for your art.

What I have cherished most from this experience, has been just being in the office. So many interesting theatre people would come and go in the office such as performers, people from the Arts Council, set designers and lighting designers and hearing all the passion and enthusiasm of the performing arts made me realise I do not want to work in any other area, but the theatre. I was particularly star struck, when Amit came into the office!

I have loved my time with Gecko and cannot thank the wonderful team enough for their patience, support and friendly, relaxed, tea-filled office. I cannot wait to see what Gecko gets up to in the near future!

EdLog | The Dreamer | Shanghai’s Marriage Market

As the team head back out to Shanghai to re-work The Dreamer, Rich reflects on one of the most influential moments of last year, and how that impacted on the creation of the show. The Dreamer is Gecko’s first ever international co-production (with Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre) and was created in 2016 as part of the British Council’s Shakespeare Lives programme.

“We were in the middle of devising a show, which focuses on Helena from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I found myself stood in a beautiful park, in the middle of a very modern city, surrounded by thousands of people desperate to find love.

That sunny day in the park changed everything, not only with regards to the show, but also how I thought about relationships. In China, they have a derogatory term for women in their late 20s who are not yet married… they are referred to as ‘Left Over’.

Being in the market itself is pretty much just a surreal walk through a very beautiful park, but at the same time it’s a bit like being inside a live-action-super-analogue version of Tinder. The main difference being that it’s the parents of single people who have set up a large proportion of the ‘profiles’, not singles themselves. Often the people who are on ‘offer’ don’t know that their parents have made a profile for them in the park.

If you haven’t heard about this unusual form of matchmaking, this video, which is doing the rounds on Facebook pretty much sums the place up. (Despite obviously being an advert, it does have a interesting message). The markets happen all over China, several times a week in some places, and they are really popular. You can walk for about 20 minutes through the market in Shanghai and still be in the market. It’s big. I tried to take some photos and interview some of the ‘agents’ who negotiate the ‘matches’ but every time I got my camera out, people covered their faces and told me to stop filming.

This video is a really positive attempt to break down the idea of ‘Left Overs’ and, on the whole, women in China found the market a strange place. Performers who took me to the park found the experience very uncomfortable. It’s obviously not for everyone, but it’s clearly a known way to date in Shanghai.

Making The Dreamer in Shanghai was really fascinating for so many reasons, but the day I visited this place, was the day I could see how a 400 year old character (Helena, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) might find love in Shanghai in 2017.”

To watch the video mentioned above in full, please click here.

To watch the trailer for The Dreamer, please click here.

For more information on the show and to book tickets for the Fringe, please click here.

Work Experience Blog - Becka

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Working at Gecko has been a great experience for me! My job was mainly office-based so I could receive a sneak peak of behind the scenes of the production work. I had the privilege of meeting some of the team, Belinda, Pippa and Terri, who welcomed me and made me feel at home. Belinda talked me through the safety hazards in case of an accident, which is extremely important.

During the first day, I browsed through Gecko’s website to gain more insight on the company and their past shows. The physical theatre movements were fascinating! They were well put together and it was easy to tell how much effort and time was put into the shows.

On my second day, I had the honour to help make scrapbook for Gecko using past and current show leaflets, posters and newspaper articles. This was my favourite part of work experience because I was able to use my creativity within the job. I also had the opportunity to join in the meeting with Belinda and Steve, who was part of the Ipswich Borough Council. They made me feel relaxed and comfortable because the meeting was in a small coffee shop and it wasn’t extremely formal as I thought it would’ve been.

Belinda had a lovely gesture and talked me through Gecko’s business plan from the past and the future of their productions. I had realised that Gecko is extremely successful because they put a lot of hard-work into their shows and fundings. This is an area I had a lot of respect for. I also had the chance to view the statistics of the audiences when Gecko went on their tour in the UK and internationally.

I was able to help Pippa with typing up databases onto excel for the international promoters, which was enjoyable until my legs fell asleep as I was sitting on the chair for three hours typing everything up onto the computer.

I really enjoyed working with Gecko and I appreciated their hospitality while I was there. I hope I will get another possibility of working in a similar environment in the future!