Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers
Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers was an exciting, engaging and memorable series of promenade performances that aimed to bring Wallington to life, revealing parts of the house from a different perspective whilst conveying the story of Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan who donated the house to the National Trust.
Title Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers: Unfolding Wallington Historical Sites Wallington, Northumberland Lead Artists November Club & associate performers Artwork Site-specific Performances & Installations Partners / Stakeholders National Trust, November Club, Arts Council England, The Lit & Phil, Newcastle Budget 75000 approx Development 12 months Dates Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers 7-18 November 2012
Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers was a immersive promenade performance created by November Club, as part of a three year programme to bring Wallington Hall to life, and tell the story of Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan who gave Wallington to the National Trust.
The performances took place during November 2012 with participants taken on one of three distinct journeys around Wallington that were designed to alter and enhance the visitor experience. Providing a momentary glimpse behind the scenes, they allowed the audience to ‘go beyond the ropes’ to access the spaces and objects that are usually hidden from public view and uncover different aspects of Wallington’s history, the Trevelyan family, and Sir Charles’s decision to give the estate to the National Trust. One of the groups was able to meet and talk with Janet Hall, one of Sir Charles's grand daughters, to find out at first hand what it was like to live at Wallington.
This was also an opportunity for staff and volunteers to see the rooms from a different perspective and observe the possibilities for room installations, sound, light and actors to enrich visitor engagement with the site.
The main objectives of the project were to:
- Work in partnership with National Trust to deliver creative performances as part of a three-year programme to bring Wallington to life.
- The work and resulting ‘product’ needed to support the key story of Charles Philips Trevelyan and his family as identified by Wallington staff and NT consultants.
- The product needed to be exciting, engaging and memorable - something that would exceed visitors’ expectations and have an emotional impact – these are two of Wallington's key drivers for visitor enjoyment.
- Make use of the archives left by the Trevelyans – photos, diaries, music etc and add to the archives by capturing on-going contemporary narratives and creating a mechanism allowing visitors to become part of the future cultural narrative of the house and the family story.
- The ‘product’ aimed to have an element of sustainability, including a series of semi-permanent installations that have remained in the house beyond the performances to support visitors’ on-going engagement with the Trevelyan story.
- To open up new areas of the House never previously accessible (West Wing Flat and Attic)
- Generate income; through launch events and a series of engagements.
- The ‘product’ needed to appeal to National Trust core segments – ‘Curious Minds’ and ‘Out and Abouts’, with some possible temporary additions or interventions for ‘Explorer Families’.
- The ‘product’ also needed to be robust in terms of its appeal in order to attract audiences to the property. Project budget needed to be identified to fund a vigorous marketing campaign. This required early involvement of regional marketing staff.
- It needed to be very much a collaborative project that engaged with staff and volunteers as well as visitors.
November Club worked with the National Trust on a project at Seaton Delaval Hall in 2010-11 and following that positive experience, approached the Trust about developing a new project at Wallington.
The development process took approximately 12 months during which time members of the National Trust staff were invited to see previous projects to gain insight into how November Club’s performances unfold, and the Creative Producer began bringing together a team for the project from the core team of associate artists and performers that they work with.
The outcome of a series of targeted workshops in 2011-12 with Wallington staff and National Trust consultants, resulted in the provocative story of Sir Charles Trevelyan and his family being identified as the focus for the performances, to assist in ‘bringing the property to life’ across National Trust visitor segments.
November Club carried out an artists’ residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland to create the structure for the show and sift through all the source material. As a visually led company the storytelling begins with the visuals then sounds and then text, with the performance aspect following on. They drew on the wealth of archive material that was available which included photographs, diaries and oral histories, and they had the opportunity to speak to members of the Trevelyan family that were still living in the Northeast. As the collaborative process of uncovering Wallington’s history developed some members of the family decided that they would like to take part- and became an integral part of the Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers performances.
A series of pilot performances called Beyond the Ropes were staged, that gave November Club and Wallington staff the opportunity to test out ideas, gauge visitor reactions and inform how the journeys would work from a practical perspective as participants moved around the house.
Each performance of Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers took three groups of visitors around the house, the three journeys happened simultaneously but the routes and encounters varied significantly, with different characters, diverse narratives, and access to different rooms in the house, but with all three using live music, actors and installations to transform and heighten the experience.
Each journey was given a name; Teacups participants followed their guide ‘Mr Martin’, through the ground floor rooms, with their knowing and provocative guide questioning Sir Charles about his decision to give the property to the Trust.
Zebras were led by ‘Patricia Trevelyan’ (one of Sir Charles' daughters) into the attics, where they discovered the stories of the evacuees who lived at Wallington during World War II, while Dancing Kaisers visited the West Wing of the house with the help of ‘Pauline Trevelyan’ (another of Sir Charles’ daughters) and were fortunate to meet Janet Hall, one of Sir Charles Trevelyan's grand daughters.
The journeys culminated in a tenants’ party in the Central Hall, with music, dancing, and a traditional ‘Ham Tea’, complete with cider and cloudy lemonade and Sir Charles made a very important announcement – his decision to give the Estate to the National Trust.
The 13 performances took place during evenings, weekend afternoons and evenings and over 700 audience members saw the performances, which were limited to 60 per performance to maintain the intimacy of the experience. The cast comprised 62 performers, with each event requiring approximately 35 people. An evening performance was organised for Estate Tenants, as well as a VIP performance and two dress rehearsals were made available to staff and volunteers.
The event was advertised as suitable for ages 12+, although a few younger children attended and the Teacups route on the ground floor was designed to be fully accessible for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility.
An integral part of the Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers immersive experience were the visual installations created within a number of the rooms within Wallington, these ‘transformative spaces’ designed by award winning theatre designer Imogen Cloet, operated as visual realisations of the storytelling process, and had to be functional and support the performers in their roles as well as enhancing the promenade performances for the audience.
These evocative environments helped to convey Wallington’s history and a number have remained in place beyond the performances; Sir Charles’ Estate Office has remained open; the Attics Dreamspace will re-open in September 2013 with an added dimension as part of a new production Operation Pied Piper, and the Evacuee Storytelling Room has been turned into a WWll tea room called Tea the Trevelyan Way. Imogen Cloet advised the Trust on how to develop this room, guiding them with source materials and imagery, but the transformation itself was done by staff as part of the learning component of the commission, empowering them to work creatively with the house.
The original project budget was agreed at £60,000 but with additional costs escalated to approximately £75,000. The majority of money was spent on production costs and artist/performer fees and included paid internships, documentation and a promotional film. A small budget was set aside for the development of initial research and ideas and £9000 was put towards marketing, evaluation and travel costs, with a significant number of in-kind hours put in by November Club and associates.
A joint communications strategy was developed with November Club and the National Trust. Leaflets and posters were distributed nationally and locally, and a freelance journalist was contracted to write and place features in key publications, coverage was received in the local media including; The Morpeth Herald, The Journal, The Hexham Courant, Journal Culture Magazine, Northern Life, Northumberland Gazette, Northern Echo and The Independent.
November Club also commissioned Reed Ingram Weir and Topher Mcgrillis to make a short film ‘teaser’ that was posted on the November Club website and played on a loop at Wallington Hall.
The production was widely publicised through social media and November Club took over Northumberland Tourism twitter site for a week. November Club also took part in many interviews with radio and TV that were organised by the National Trust and this coverage was instrumental in bringing people to Wallington.
In addition, The Lit & Phil with whom November Club has a strong relationship, played an important role in promoting the production in Newcastle through a programme of talks, a two page spread in their newsletter and a direct mail of the flyer.
Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers was a collaborative project that engaged staff and volunteers as well as visitors. In addition to a targeted training programme, National Trust staff and volunteers were invited into the creative process and were able to build confidence, skills and gain new experiences that will enable them to further develop the use of room sets, sound, light, and costumed interpreters to convey the history of Wallington in an inventive way.
They were given guidance into how internal spaces are used and interpreted by an artist, how the story of a place doesn’t have to be linear and most importantly that visitors don’t have to be spoon fed– you can allow them to think about and not always understand- questions are good.
Throughout the project November Club also worked with different groups in the community including a week with Cambo First School in Morpeth.
November Club took members of the audience on a journey with them into the world of the Trevelyan Family, and by attending the performance the audience became an essential part of it, along with staff, volunteers, performers and the Trevelyan family themselves. In fact Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers blurred the boundaries between reality and fiction, so much so that some of the audience were unsure whether the characters within the performance were actors or real family members.
The overwhelming response from participants was positive - with audience members citing this approach to engaging with the history of the site, key to its success. At the end of each performance, participants rated it as excellent, good or poor; the total votes were 601 for excellent, 16 for good and 1 poor. A number of people said that they would have liked the opportunity to go on all three journeys so that they could have experienced the spaces, history and narratives that they had missed out on, and many audience members asked whether the performances would be staged again in the future.
Detailed formal evaluation was carried out in five strands:
- Formative evaluation of the performance, carried out by National Trust Wallington and November Club
- Internal evaluation with National Trust Wallington staff and volunteers, to consider practicalities of presenting parts of the house in a new way
- Exit voting at the end of each performance, for the audience to comment on the quality of the performance
- Using booking information to show the geographical spread of the audience
- An external evaluator was appointed to carry out an online (or postal) survey with ticket purchasers, and conduct two focus groups - one for the Zebras tour (attics) and one for the Kaisers tour (West Wing apartments)
- Budget – The biggest issue for the project was the limited funds available. To continue to achieve work of this scale and ambition a further 25K would be required. If in-kind costs, company time costs, additional catering costs and infrastructure costs were taken into account the budget would have exceeded 100k.
- Learning from Experience –Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers was not November Club’s first large-scale commission with National Trust. They had previously worked with Seaton Delaval Hall and the experience gained from that project was applied to the approach taken at Wallington.
- Relationships – In order to make changes within a heritage setting an element of trust is required that takes time to build. Time and energy needs to be put into establishing relationships and developing a common language. The National Trust is a client and has its own heritage based language – it is important to learn to speak that language and understand the visitor segmentations. The work needs to be championed from the top, and be seen to do so with the volunteers, and with this project the total trust and confidence from the Property Manager enabled extraordinary things to be achieved in the house.
- Training – By including training and general advisory services the property saw the commission as being real value for money. November Club provided training to both staff and volunteers as part of their contract with the National Trust. They have also more recently provided advisory services where Imogen Cloet has advised on the look and how to source materials for the new ‘Tea with the Trevelyans’ tea room in the house.
The main programme is continuing for a further two years, developing and learning from Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers.
Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers was winner of National Trust Award for Best Storytelling at a National Trust property in 2012 and one of three shortlisted projects within Northumberland, for Journal Culture Awards 2012.
Watch footage of the performances:
See the promotional film developed for the project:
November Club is an award winning performing arts company, making exciting site-specific theatrical productions in non-traditional theatre spaces, together with professional performers and artists, and people of all backgrounds who want to be part of the experience. The company balances high production values with a distinctive commitment to community engagement, helping non-professional participants to build confidence, explore their stories, creativity and heritage, and have enjoyable and profound experiences. This includes both indoor and outdoor site-specific public performances, training and volunteering opportunities rooted in an in-depth artistic research and development process. The company had worked with the National Trust at Seaton Delaval Hall in 2010/11 prior to this commission with Wallington.
Tel: 01670 457 808