Welcome to Fiona's blog page.

 

        Jan 2009

Happy New Year to Everyone

Last year was really successful thanks to all of you.  The courses in Cheshire are going from strength to strength, my new website is up and running as you can see and I have just returned from visiting a venue in Northants which I will be hiring for a week long summer school in August - very exciting. So, all my regulars, if you have friends or relations in that area, please give them a nudge and point them in my direction. I suppose it might cross your minds to wonder why Northants.  Well it's quite simple actually.  This year Paul and I bought a canal boat and we plan to moor it centrally so that we can easily visit family in Cheshire and be on hand for our other work in London.  I already had it in my mind that I would expand Great Shakes this year so it makes sense to use the boat as a base.

I am feeling revitalised as I write this having just worked for week for the YSC at an amazing school in Peterborough - mounting a production with their years 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Romeo and Juliet.  They were a complete delight and I am reminded yet again of how much potential children have and how we owe it to them to keep them inspired and excited about life and what it has to offer, because one day they will be adults sharing their enthusiasm and talent with the next generation. And I'm not just talking about drama or Shakespeare, its also about life skills, communication, fun, bravery, respect for each other, supporting and inspiring.  I'd better stop now, working with children makes me feel so privileged and lucky that I sometimes get a bit over emotional, bordering on flaky, so forgive.

I am aware, that although in Bollington we have now put on lots of shows, I don't really have  time to talk to parents much.  I just kind of landed in your children's lives and you have been supportive to them and to me ever since, but if you do have anything you would like to know please ask via email and I will try to respond in this blog. 

22 Jan

I have just returned from a very exciting and intense two days work with Dean Valley School in Bollington, Cheshire.  Working with years 3,4,5 and 6 we put on a work-in-progress production of MACBETH.  I had lots of wonderful support from the teachers and a very good turn out from parents to watch the show.  The children worked incredibly hard and responded really well to old slave-driver me

 
     

23rd Jan

My fees for school residencies are outlined in the schools page, but to all the schools who already take part in helping me publicise Great Shakes courses, I am happy to arrange discount.

This applies to any schools who are within a five mile radius of Bollington, so do get in touch.                                                  

15th March

Have been incredibly busy with my freelance workshops and also directing a production of Henry V with adult actors, but now it is time to think about the Great Shakes Easter and Summer schools.  The Easter booking are beginning to come in slowly but surely.  I do realise that in this time of financial difficulty, not everyone is able to fund the attendance of a child on one of my courses.  However I feel so strongly that if a child is interested enough to want to be involved, then they should not be excluded that I will therefore be intoducing scholarship places either free of charge or at a reduced rate. Please feel free to contact me.  It will be kept in the strictest confidence. 07930 653 145 or 0208 508 3880

15th April

Well I have now returned from our Easter course in Bollington.  It was very good to get back to the Arts Centre again, though I am most grateful to St John's School for hosting the courses last summer.  Our production this Easter was HENRY V.  We had a somewhat smaller group this time round, but as they have mostly been with me before, I was able to heap massive amounts of work on them which as usual they took in their stride and made it a wonderful show, not to mention a lot of fun in rehearsal week. 

 

Molly could not be with me for this Easter and she was sorely missed, not just by me but by the students as well, and though I had Paul for some of the time he kept having to go to Bristol for some filming on Casualty so here's hoping I can get the gang back together for the summer.

I am very glad to say that we now have sponsership for the newly introduced scholarship place. The P & G scholarship fund.  This is a glorified way of saying my mum and dad who have always supported me whilst developing Great Shakes  Whilst publicising the courses I have come across a lot of children who are desperate to join us but say their parents can't afford it,  and I will always consider charging a reduced fee, but if there is anyone else out there who would like to sponser a child, that would be fantastic.

20th May

So now I find myself in the run up to the Summer courses which are starting to book up now although it is clear that the adverse financial climate is affecting us all.  This summer will be bitter-sweet as a few of my students who have been with me from the very first production will be leaving this year.  It is very heartwarming though as they have all booked onto the same course so it will actually feel like a reunion celebration and I am really looking forward to it.  I hope we have lots of new students who can be a part of this to watch, learn and feel what it is like to be part of an amazing and professional team.

12th July

What I love about my work is that there is always something different around the corner and when not working on the holiday courses for Great Shakes, I am freelancing as workshop leader or director.  I have recently just spent one of the hardest and most rewarding weeks of the year at a wonderful school in Northamptonshire where, along with my equally hardworking colleague and friend we worked with 45 teenagers and in the space of four days mounted an amazing production of Hamlet. Phew - that was some tall order but the results were fantastic; in great part due to the talent and original thinking of the students, and as is always required the support and enthusiasm of the school during rehearsals and the parents and audience on the last evening.  We left feeling elated, exhausted and full of great memories.

14 August

Well I have finally found time to sit down at my desk and look back over the last couple of weeks in Bollington.  Knowing that I was going to lose some of my older children I decided to put on Macbeth for a second time.  The last time some of these children performed in the play, they were just nervous little people on whom I hesitated to put too much responsibilty. This time however, I had the joy of giving them loads of Shakespeare to learn - which I have to say they had mostly down pat by day three. Having been with me for the past four years, the stage technique that I have been drumming into them has become second nature, so that left us lots of time  to concentrate on character development, motivation and emotional understanding -  so satisfying for me as a director- and I think they felt very fulfilled. The final show had the hairs on the back of my neck prickling and by the end of the production I was in floods of tears.  Tears of great pride but also genuine sadness that I must say goodbye to these children who have been coming and working with me from the very beginning.  Needless to say there is an open invitation for any of them to come back and work with me in the future.  This year I had the lovely Tamsin coming to me for some work experience.  Her last production with Great Shakes was The Tempest.

Here she is with Sophie - our wonderful LADY MACBETH

 I have quoted below some words which Sophie left me with.

"GREAT SHAKES helped me fantastically in coursework on Romeo and Juliet, as I was able to relate to the characters better.  As for me, it has helped me feel completely at home on stage, and has helped me be a better actress.  Fiona pushes you again and again to be better, and the results are amazing!  I will miss the sense of family between the cast.  You make great mates and it is the best fun ever.  I will miss it all terribly!'

Here are our lovely boys and they also wrote some parting words. 

JAMES:
'I have been in 6 plays with GREAT SHAKES  and have enjoyed them all.  I have met new people and stayed in contact with them after the shows.  Fiona is fantastic at changing a long, difficult-to-understand- play into a fun, interesting, easy-to-understand, quite brilliant, top-class production!!!'

LUKE:
'
I have spent 5 years at GREAT SHAKES and have done 9 plays.  My confidence has increased a lot.  I met Tom and James at GREAT SHAKES. I am always very impressed by the way Fiona finishes the play within a week.  I was always impressed by how professional the show was.'

TOM:
'I have been with GREAT SHAKES from the beginning and my confidence has increased exponentially.  I made a lot of friends and was consistently thrilled by the professionalism of the final show, particularly considering it is only put together in 5 days.  It is great fun and is an unforgettable experience.'

So there they go, out into the world.  It has been a privilage to work with these young people, and as they leave, another group of youngsters come and join us. What a joy! 

 

     Click here to see an unusual entertainment. http://www.greatshakes.org/Untitled.wmv

Week 2

The second week was very different from the first.  It was a larger group, with many more girls than boys and only one really experienced student - who became another amazing Lady Macbeth. Because of the difference I drove home in the middle weekend and re-wrote the script for  the new numbers and the new boy/girl ratio.  It turned out to be an excellent show and I was so pleased that everyone bonded beautifully and worked together towards their success.

      9 Feb 2010

  The booking are beginning to come in now for Easter and Summer and I am about to start working on the scripts for this year.  A secret as always.

24 April 2010

What a great Easter project we had this year performing our production of QUEEN Lear. There are never enough parts for the girls so I had the Monarch change gender.  It worked very well.

Apologies to anyone looking for the updated gallery or awaiting DVD's of the show. Unfortunately since Easter, Paul's dad became very unwell and has sadly died, so everything else has been put on the back burner.  I promise to get around to this when I have time but you may need to be patient for a little longer.

6 May

O.K. So finally getting round to a bit of updating.  Easter was great.  We put on a production of QUEEN Lear.  I do like to give girls a better crack at the whip than Shakespeare was able to do.  In fact I double cast the part giving two actresses the chance to act this demanding role. We had a really enjoyable week and so much fun as you can probably tell from the pic below.

This is what we like to call Human Jenga.  Really not to be recommended, but would they be told.? See the gallery for lots more pics of rehearsals, games and the production.

It was very nice for me to have my son Tom on board for the first time.  However much I try to explain to people  how full-on the week is, you have to experience it first hand to really understand. It is exhausting, frustrating, challenging, exciting, funny, and truly exhilerating.

Just a note to parents to say if you are thinking of booking your child in for summer 2010, now is the time to get in that form.  You can see the dates on the site.  If possible I would like a few more for the first week rather than the second which is already filling up nicely.

8th July

Glad to say that booking have gone really well this year.  The second course only has a couple of places left on it and what a great gang of people there will be.

The first course although a little shakey numbers-wise at first is doing very well now and I am really looking forward to getting the summer courses started.

21 July 2010

I am now in the final stages of assembling the first summer production. Everyone should have received their confirmation of a place, please let me know if you are uncertain. Sometimes I reply through Great Shakes email and sometimes through Google mail and I think that may confuse people.

I am very happy to say that this summer I have Sophie working with me as well as Molly back in the second week, so Sophie's heartfelt words above about missing it all terrribly, at least for the moment needn't be the case. It is a great joy to me that former students want to come and work with me so they can use their developing talents and acquire even more as they move into adulthood.                                                                                                     

  14 September

I can't believe it has taken this long to update, although I do now have lots of albums on Face book, but I know not everyone subscribes so I do intend very soon to upload pictures to the gallery very soon.  The first week of summer was wonderful.  We put on A midsummer Night's Dream with I think 12 children. It was such incredible fun, I loved every minute of it.  Sophie was a fantastic help and quite as exhausted by the end of it as I usually am, but sterling work.

Pyramus and Thisbe.

The second on week was full on, with 21 children, Oh my!!. It was brilliant.  Both shows were excellent and so funny. The audiences loved it as indeed did we all.  I had Molly with me again and that was really lovely. Actually I had a plethora of helpers.  So nice to know that people choose to spend some of their holidays at the Arts centre with me, but I think it is because they have all bonded so well and made such great friends that it really is the most fun place to be.

Rehearsing a Morris Dance.

22 September 2010

I am already looking ahead to the courses next year. I have not yet updated the online booking form as the Summer dates and venue are not settled yet but the Easter course will run from Easter Monday through to Friday as it did this year. I am tentatively looking into doing a Christmas classic (Maybe Dickens) from 27th December to 31st.  This does of course include New Year's Eve which could be a problem.  Please let me know if you might be interested as it is only once I have a viable number that I can make concrete plans. 


5 October

Thanks to all who were interested in joining me for a Christmas course.  It turns out that The Arts Centre is not available for that period so for this year at least I am putting it on hold. At the moment I am looking into finding a venue for summer as I am pretty sure once again the Arts Centre will be having major work done on it. Hopefully this will soon be sorted. Watch this space.

7 November

Well things have been pretty hectic recently.  I have been travelling around schools with workshops on Romeo and Juliet, and interspersing this with some directing for an exciting new theatre company called Captain Mermaid. They previewed their show Captain Murderer and the Morcambe Mermaid a couple of weeks ago at the Dukes Theatre Lancaster and it was very well received. This bodes well for the tour they are going to undertake next year.  Very exciting stuff.

Left: myself with John Barber and Lisa Howard. Right: the mermaid herself  Miss Lisa Howard

I              

 

13 December 2010   COURSES   2011

I have to say it is all  a bit frustrating when it comes to finalising the details of next year's courses. Firstly the fact that the Arts Centre may or may not be closing next summer, but as I  have to get publicity out now, I need to fix on a venue so have been enquiring into MADS Little theatre in Macc.  It is a lovely space to work in and I know the children would love it, but the cost of hire is much greater than that of the Arts Centre so I am trying to negotiate a reduced fee and am waiting to hear on that.  The Easter course although still at the Arts Centre has been foiled by the Royal wedding which will take place on the date we would have been doing our final show, so I am now looking at the possibility of moving to the earlier week which means the show would be on Good Friday. I have emailed everyone who's details I have, but if I do not have your email address could you let me have your thoughts on this change please.  

23 January 2011

Just returned from some more directing work on Captain Murderer and the Morcombe Mermaid. Very exciting as we are re writing, devising and developing the play further. Keeping my creative muscles flexed.  It is now time to turn my attention back the the Great Shakes courses. I have  finished the booking forms which you can download from this site, fill in and send back in the post, or if you are cleverer than me, scan the filled in form and attach it to an email.  The courses are  Easter at Bollington Arts Centre- 18th to 22nd April and 25th to 28th (four day course).  Summer at MADS Little Theatre, Lord St, Maccclesfield - 25th to 29th July and 8th to 12th August. 

4th March

Life became quite interesting at the weekend as I was asked to play a part in a short film called 'Rising Star'. I played a casting director auditioning a young boy for a part in a film. It was a realy enjoyable experience. It's been a while since I was in front of a camera. I think the last time was a few years ago on THE BILL. The crew were really good, professional but friendly, and the two main young lads were sensational. They will go far of that I am sure. The shoot took place at the Midland hotel in Manchester.

 18 March 2011

I must say how shocked and saddened we were to hear of the death of Graham Lawson who has been such a big help to Great Shakes over the years. I know everyone who is connected with the Bollington Arts Centre will feel his loss badly. I hear from my mum Pat that there was a really good turn out to send him off and I know he would have been proud and happy to know how many lives he touched.

18 May

Well it has taken me a while to get round to updating the site. Easter 2011 was pretty amazing. Two projects one five day and one four due to the Royal Wedding. Although I had slight concerns about fitting everything into the 4 day, it turned out to be a wonderful show. Of course it helped that all the technical parts of the show  - lighting, sound, costume, set had all been worked out in the first week so that gave me back loads of time. Thank goodness it wasn't week 1 that was the shorter. So, two performances of Romeo and Juliet, both containing a wonderful dance routine from Shane and Nadhia Wardle-Porcelli. We had a lovely mixture of new and returning students all of whom worked very hard with great results. All DVD's are now sent out. If anyone put in an order and paid for one but has not yet received it please let me know. Booking is getting underway nicely for the summer and I am really looking forward to working at MADs Theatre macclesfield. I think it will be a great experience for all the children.

 7 August2011

Wow things are busy. Just getting chance to sit down and look properly at the photos from last week's show. What an amazing week we had 19 children. So much talent. I am going to name a couple of names actually. As I think back over the week, two people who keep springing to mind are Justin and Calum . They have the best attitude. They both work incredibly hard and even though I have little time to work on people individually, they take every idea I give them and then make it their own adding their own brand of imagination and energy. They are a wonderful example of  'it is not how much you are given but what you do with it,' and they always give so much. The overall team worked very well together in a new venue. I was a little daunted when I entered MADs on the Monday morning. The stage was covered in machinery, there was masses of equipment left by the Majestic Theatre company and the lighting desk wasn't there at all . Having said that I received some wonderful help from members of MADs who rallied round and really helped me to achieve what I believe was a wonderful show.

       

This year more than ever, word of mouth has played a big part in the ongoing success of great Shakes and a big thank you to you all.

17 August 2011

What an amazing couple of courses we have had this summer. I couldn't be more delighted. Both weeks were fully booked. Really good news as we held the courses at MADS which cost Great Shakes quite a lot more than usual. The venue was wonderful for the children to get their teeth into  working at a purpose built theatre and for me and my team it was a great experience.

I had ex students Sophie and Tamsin, my nephew Jon on lighting and Paul doing the set. That was the first week and on the second week we lost Jon as he had a holiday booked but Tamsin took on lighting and Shane helped with promt copy, costume etc. I have to say what an amazing job they all did working so hard and being so helpful, often knowing what I needed before I did. Invaluable!

    

The second week was a bumper number of children. 21 to be exact, and a lovlier bunch you couldn't hope to meet. I was very moved on the last day and couldn't hold back tears of pride as the show finished.

    

I am working on updating the gallery. The videos will take longer. Please be patient. You can always check out my facebook page where I am in the process of uploading some Julius Caesar photos.

19th August

Things getting a bit mad shortly as I leave for Lancaster on Sunday to do two weeks directing then back to London to begin directing a production of Macbeth. Again apologies as all video DVDs will not get done for a while. Meanwhile I hope you all enjoy the updated gallery of wonderful photos - wonderful memories of two great weeks.

4th September 2011

I have just returned from two intense and wonderful weeks directing Captain Murderer and the Morcambe Mermaid. Following successful previews last October we have reworked and developed the play  further and the performances from Lisa Howard and John Barber at the Dukes Theatre lancaster were outstanding. The play was very well received and we are all set now to tour through the Autumn and next spring. It will be coming to the Lowry Sunday  23rd October. It is for OVER 15, so don't let the mermaid bit fool you into bringing children along.Posing for press photos on the beach

Q and A session at Dukes Theatre

Again apologies for delay in sending out DVD's. I begin directing Macbeth here in London tomorrow so still have no time to work on Great Shakes stuff at the moment. I will notify when discs are being sent out.    12 Sept. Discs done and being posted.

17 Sept

Have just finished directing and the very talented group of actors who have now taken to the road in a tour that will last into December.

January 2012

Happy New Year everyone.

The Easter dates are confirmed. The courses will take place at The Bollington Arts Centre. You can download the booking form from this site and post it off to me. The Summer courses I am hoping will be at MADS again. The dates I have requested with the venue are July 23-27 and August 6- 10. Hopefully they will get back to me soon and I can put those dates on the booking form as well.

I am very happy to report that the other projects are now beginning to take off. One of the things I offer is truncated child-friendly Shakespeare scripts to schools. Teachers who are first time directors, really appreciate this as I provide a tailor- made script to suit their children numbers, plus an interactive introduction for the children to the play and then a follow up consultation with the option of return visits throughout the term.

A teacher friend of mine requested this package and yesterday I kick- started a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for 39 children.


July 2012

Very hard to believe how long it has been since I have made an entry. Apologies, business and personal life have been very demanding. Easter was amazing. I just loved being with everyone again and the show - 12th Night was a joy. Since then I have been working on lots of interestig things, the latest being a commision from a  school to devise a workshop around the ancient Greeks and the Olympics. I must say it went down very well and was great fun, so if you know of a school that would appreciate this, let me know. Now gearing up for the summer.

The first week is in theory booked up though not all booking forms in yet so if you can only do this week let me know. The second week is very thin on the ground so if anyone can change from first to second I would appreciate it and also please keep spreading the word.

 

1 Feb 2013

Sorry everyone I have taken so long to get round to posting dates for next year. The Easter dates at Bollington Arts Centre are April 1st to 5th and April 8th to 12th. I hope you are all able to make one or the other of these two weeks.  The summer weeks are still awaiting confirmation from MADS which should be through any day, but the weeks I have requested are 29 July to 2 August and 12-16th August.  If you  know what dates you would like your child to attend and I already have your details on file, then simply let me know by email and pop a deposit of £20 in the post. Leaflet/booking forms will be posted out within the next week.

OCTOBER 2013

So sorry everyone for being so hopeless at filling this in. Life has become busy and at times rather complicated. We have had a fantastic year for Great Shakes. Word of mouth is really taking off and we are going from strength to strength. Apologies for no new photos. Unfortunately my camera memory card is in Bollington and I am in London so when the two are reunited I will upload some lovely pics. I will also be updating the booking form soon, but just a bit confused at the moment as to when the bollington and macclesfield schools have their Easter holidays. I have sent out an email to parents to let me know when their children are off at Easter.

 Easter 2014

 I am very happy to say that our Easter project was a a great success. It is wonderful to me that I have children coming back year after year which means I can adapt a script to accommodate very talented and experienced teenagers as well as introducing newcomers to the joys of Shakespeare. I have updated the gallery.

This week just gone I have had the great pleasure of working at St James School, Heaton Norris. We staged a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the children were absolutely fantastic. The challenge was to accommodate 18 children aged between  5 and 11.

They worked their socks off and were an inspiration. 

I was made so welcome by the Head, teachers, staff and children alike and I do believe the experience was a delight for all concerned. Myself of course included. Many thanks. 

 December 2014

I have just got the dates through for Easter 2015. They are now on the booking form which is downloadable from the Booking Form Page. Dates for Summer will be decided by the end of January. I am looking into the idea of hiring The Civic Hall for the Summer. Nothing decided as yet but, the people there are proving very helpful, there will be tiered theatre seating by the Summer, and it holds very fond memories for me as this is where I first performed as a girl.


Feb 2015

The dates and venues are now decided for Easter and  Summer. This Summer we are having a change. The courses will take place at The Bollington Civic Hall. It is lovely and spacious. It  has a stage that can be put up when required and it will have newly installed tiered seating.  This is my old stomping ground. I performed many times on this stage when I was younger and have many happy memories. Some of the shows included Gypsy, Lock up your Daughters and Blythe Spirit, so I am very excited to be returning. This will be our 10th anniversary and I would like to do something special, so as well as the play, I would like any older members who may be missing being at Great Shakes, to come back one again to  prepare and performe favourite speeches, duologues or scenes from past or indeed any Shakespeare plays.

August 9 2015

Still feeling so thrilled remembering how wonderful our 10 Year Celebration performance was. We had songs, dances, monologues and a brilliant duologue. The play itself (The Tempest) was an absolute delight with the Great Shakes young actors being so professional and so funny. I couldn't have been more proud and delighted. Here's to the next ten years.

 

 December 2015

It has been an incredibly busy year for me. When not doing holiday projects, I am visiting schools around the country delivering YSC Shakespeare workshops or running residencies and I must say the demand for this just grows and grows which is wonderful for Shakespeare lovers, wonderful for school children and wonderful for me.  I am by now pretty exhausted but have just done my last workshop of the year. My next pre Christmas project is playing Mrs santa and Paul is the main man himself. It is happening at Whipsnade zoo which to our delight is about 10 minutes from us.  I have just updated the booking form for 2016 which you can  now print straight from the website and not have to follow the link. I have decided to do only one week at Easter and One week in the summer, so it is very much first come first served. It will be our 10 year Easter anniversary and as the format worked so well in the summer I am again asking older and past students to join in and bring with them monologues, duologues, scenes and songs that they would like work on with me or Paul. I will also bring speeches that I think would work well. These will be presented before the  play itself which everyone will be involved with but the older ones will not necessarily have read roles. Happy Christmas everyone.

October 2016

Where is the time going?? Easter this year we mounted  a production of 12th Night  and in the Summer revisited our old favourite Macbeth. Fantastic 

 

 20 April 2017 

Well we have come to a natural end. As you may know one of my main reason for starting Great Shakes in Bollington was because my Mum and Dad lived there. They were a tremendous support for me and Great Shakes. They also had a scholarship fund which was wonderful for children who otherwise might not have been able to attend. I also felt I was carrying on a tradition as my mum taught children drama at the Arts Centre under the Janus Studios banner. I used to help out when a student at East 15 Drama School. We lost mum in 2014 and Dad at Christmas and it feels right to stop now. This doesn't necessarily mean Great Shakes will not rear its head in other areas of the country in the future.

I cannot bring myself to say goodbye for ever as I would miss the children too much. I will be arranging a reunion at the Arts Centre next Easter or Summer. Please keep up to date on the newly formed Facebook page for all past students to keep in touch. When I have worked out how to make it fully interactive, I hope everyone will contribute with memories, photos, updates on life in general.

Time has flown. Great Shakes has been an extraordinary, uplifting, exhausting, rewarding project and I have gained so much joy from working with all the wonderful children through the years.  So if you search Facebook for Great Shakes Actor, you can find us, like us and hopefully contribute.