Tag Archives: performing arts

Impro For Elders – back by popular demand!


Back by popular demand, Impro For Elders is starting again at Church Street Library! The project is a 8-week pilot programme starting tomorrow, Wednesday 17 May, 3.45pm to 5.15pm (ask at the library for more details).

This grew out of a project delivered by Improbable Theatre in partnership with Church Street Library between November and December last year. It was funded by a local community fund, Create and Arts Council England. Directors Andre Pink and Caroline Williams worked with over twenty 60+ people local to the Church Street Ward to explore improvisation and storytelling, aiming to give older people from the local area access to the uplifting shared experience of improvising together. You can read about what happened last year on a previous blog post, Improbable Impro.

Impro For Elders appeared at The Cockpit in a double bill with Improbable’s improvised show Lifegame on 30 November and 1 December 2016. In a special version of Lifegame, one of the Impro For Elders participants was the on-stage guest each night.

We received some fantastic feedback from both participants and audience members:

“What I have gained out of it is immense and given me positive energy which I was certainly lacking before taking part in the project.”

“I actually feel years younger! I was surprised at how much energy I had and how my body could do things I thought I could no longer do.”

“I thought it was the best theatre experience I’ve seen and felt this year. Inclusive, moving, funny, full of possibilities” 

“A thoroughly enjoyable evening – both shows were filled with joy, humour and passion. I always enjoy Improbable performances, and the Impro For Elders concept is a fantastic one.”

Given the extraordinarily successful outcome and subsequent demand from local older residents, Andre Pink from Dende Collective has offered to continue on a voluntary basis whilst Improbable will be sponsoring him to make it more sustainable.

The project will work again with the same group along with new participants. Visit the Dende Collective’s website  for more information about them and their upcoming events.

‘As a company rooted in improvisation, we believe that it is a deeply democratic art form that fosters a sense of community and empowerment amongst its participants and audiences alike. In an age of increasing digital complexity it is determinedly live, and about the people who take part, their energy and what they offer.’ Ben Monks, Improbable Executive Director.

Visit Improbable’s website for more information about them and and their upcoming events.

Debora Gambera (Church Street Library)

Ben Monks (Improbable Executive Director)

Improbable Impro

Church Street Library & Improbable Theatre present:
IMPRO FOR ELDERS & LIFEGAME – A Double Bill Performance
Funded by Arts Council England and Create Church Street

Impro for Elders flyer front  Impro for Elders flyer back

Church Street Library has proudly embarked on this fantastic adventure with award-winning Improbable Theatre. Impro For Elders is a free weekly drama group for older residents of the Church Street area. During ten weekly rehearsal sessions a well-assorted group of energetic and sharply witted ladies and gentlemen is working towards two public performances, created from scratch, based on the practice of Improvisation. It will be performed at our local theatre The Cockpit in a double bill with Improbable’s show Lifegame (details below).

In the very capable hands of Workshop Directors Andre Pink and Caroline Williams, the group is shaping their understanding of Improvisation, exploring some of the great pillars of this ancient practice, such as Space Awareness, Space Substance, Imagination, and Voice to name but a few. Going by what I have witnessed so far, they are certainly having a lot of fun! Paraphrasing Andre after his last session

‘the group is doing amazingly well! They are effortlessly playful, always willing to take risks, which is vital when improvising and moving together on stage’.

Some comments from the participants so far:

“As the rehearsals go on we are now more aware of where we’re heading.”

“It has been a very inspiring experience getting to know people with such fascinating lives. Most especially to witness a sense of trust developing within the group. It feels we’re now able to communicate with our own eyes and body.”

“Overall, quite a powerful experience from meeting like-minded people to the various drama games which make me conscious of what I’m doing and perhaps my own identity.”

Considering only a few of the group have had some drama experience in their lives, whilst a couple of others performed as professional musicians, they are quickly learning how to use voice and movement to act out autobiographical stories, thoughts and ideas, whether sharing their own or conveying the ones of their fellow performers.

Lucy Foster, Improbable Participation Director and Impro For Elders’ co-project manager, defines improvisation as a tool for social change:

“It is a deeply democratic art form that fosters a sense of community and empowerment amongst its participants and audiences alike and, in an age of increasing digital complexity, is determinedly live.”

Through the initial stage of recruiting performers, Improbable has promised ‘the sessions will above all be fun with lots of theatre games and lots of laughing’ – well I can wholeheartedly confirm this has been fulfilled beyond every possible expectation! There is a lot of sparkle in the room and I trust the trailer will prove that.

(Filming by Debora Gambera and Susie Italiano, video editing by Lucy Foster)

Find out more and book tickets to one of the performances by visiting the Church Street Library events page.

IMPRO FOR ELDERS: The wisdom of making it up as you go along.
LIFEGAME: Part chat show, part impro show.
Lifegame has been performed around the world since 1998.  A different guest every show, a different show every night. In this special version of Lifegame, a member of the Impro For Elders group (also a resident of the Church Street area) will be the guest. What are the stories that only a Church Street local could tell? Join us to find out!

About Improbable
Lead by Artistic Directors Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson, Improbable is a theatre company that defies categorization. It presents shows on every scale from sumptuous productions in the great opera houses to tiny improvisation gigs in the tiniest venues; it is at the forefront of arts activism through Open Space and creates groundbreaking participation work. At the heart of its practice is improvisation. Following the Eldership Project at The Southbank Centre in 2014, Improbable continues to explore improvising with older performers. In March 2017 a new show Lost Without Words at the National Theatre works with a company of older professional actors to teach them how to improvise.



3D Printing, Break Dancing, Beast Wagon and more

Westminster BiPs logoDid you know that half of young people in the UK aged 16 to 24 want to start their own business? Well, Westminster Councillors certainly do and when they decided to launch Westminster’s first Enterprise Week , to coincide with Global Entrepreneurship Week 11-22 November 2015, the focus was firmly on young people and access to enterprise.

With this in mind, we hosted an Enterprise Fair at Westminster Reference Library, one of many events held across the council and in BIP libraries for Enterprise Week, showcasing the range of business support and assistance for enterprise and self-employment, creative courses, programmes, apprenticeships, funding and more, offered by organisations from a cross section of industries including fashion, music, dance, food, graphic novels and more.

We were delighted to have with us as stall holders on the day the London College of Beauty TherapyIndustry in the StreetsFashion Retail AcademyNatWest Enterprise,  Westminster Enterprise CentrePortobello Business CentrePaddington Development Trust, Maida Hill PlaceBusiness Launchpad,  Orbital ComicsRain Crew, Young Enterprise and Producer/Presenter N. N. D. who featured sound bites from participants for her programme on The Workplace on ResonanceFM.

Julie Bundy & Simon Aslaaf from Maida Hill Place, at Westminster Reference Library's Enterprise Fair, November 2015

Julie Bundy & Simon Assaf from Maida Hill Place

The day’s highlights also featured guest speakers who shared business journeys and industry insights. We heard from Julie Bundy & Simon Assaf from Maida Hill Place , a social enterprise offering tailored support for food industry start-ups, who spoke about food enterprise and the Pop-Up economy, and why food remains their passion – for Julie, it’s the power of food to bring people together under even the most challenging circumstances; for Simon, it was the food industry’s capacity to stay afloat despite the advent of the internet, where, as he reminded us, you still can’t fry an egg!

Clint Sinclair and Sharifa M Momad breakdance at Westminster Reference Library's Enterprise Fair, November 2015

Clint Sinclair and Sharifa M Momad breakdance

We were also delighted to have Westminster’s very own Clint Sinclair, in his guise as managing director of Rain Crew London Dance, a non-­profit company working to bring people together through dance, delivering classes, events, performances and community based projects. From Clint and guests we learned about the world of the break dancers or b-boys, and the dance ‘battles’ or competitions that take them all over the world. With fellow dancer Sharifa Tonkmor, Clint gave a brilliant live breakdance performance and then introduced guest Spin (aka Juan David Gaviria), a successful B-Boy dancer who spoke eloquently about how looking to his future, he successfully combined his dancing with enterprise by training to become a barber.

Beast Wagon, created by Owen Michael JohnsonThis was followed by Chris Thomson, Event manager at Orbital Comics who chaired a fascinating discussion with Owen Michael Johnson, twice British Comic Award-nominated writer & artist and creator of Beast Wagon, a black comedy comic book series set in a zoo, and Jason Atomic, artist and all round cross cultural creative & performer.

All talked about how drawing as youngsters shaped their future careers and the economic & creative challenges of working in the comics/graphic novel industry. The panel discussion was recorded and is scheduled to be featured on Orbital as a podcast early next year.

We had 3D Printer demonstrations taking place throughout the day, engaging and entertaining visitors, who also had fun with the 3D goggles.

The 3D Printer - guest star at Westminster Reference Library's Enterprise Fair, November 2015

The 3D Printer – guest star!

We enjoyed the day and especially the opportunity to promote Westminster Libraries Business Information Point services and our special collections in fashion, art & design and performing arts here at Westminster Reference Library. We would like to thank everyone who took part and supported the Enterprise Fair.


A Cinema Pioneer

Clapper board / reels of filmIn 1921, your school or university careers adviser would have been unlikely to recommend you the profession of ‘film critic’ for the simple reason that it didn’t yet exist as a full-time job. While film-going was already the most popular entertainment for the masses, the movies still weren’t taken seriously by the intelligentsia and were mostly reviewed in trade journals.

So when Caroline Lejeune from Withington, Manchester, fresh out of university,  announced her intention of becoming a film critic, there were probably a few dropped jaws in the family home. Luckily for her, CP Scott, editor of the Guardian, was a family friend and encouraged her to move to London, take a postgraduate degree and write a regular column in the Manchester Guardian which she kept up until 1928, transferring to the Observer until her retirement in 1960.

I was reminded of Lejeune by an excellent article in the Guardian which links to a few of her reviews. She loved Hitchcock (though abhorred Psycho), hated Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood and admired Eisenstein. Sadly, she’s probably best remembered now for her scathing review of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, mentioned in this blog a few weeks ago, but she deserves far greater recognition.

You can find out more about her life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (her biography is written Dilys Powell, another notable female film critic)  or from her autobiography Thank you for Having Me. But, most importantly, if you want to read her criticism, check out the Guardian and Observer Archive (log in with your Westminster Library  card). For more writing on cinema, check out the International Index to Performing Arts or why not pay a visit to Westminster Reference Library to explore the excellent Performing Arts Collection?


A Taste of Pearly

Ros and two pearly queens at the London Coliseum, January 2014Last Monday we were able to capitalise on our special collection of Music Hall texts for a special free display at English National Opera’s Coliseum, when the Music Hall came to town. ENO staged an afternoon of songs, music and entertainment with some of the best pearly kings & queens and talented musicians in town. They took to the stage together with performers from the Players Theatre and a group of students from the Sylvia Young Theatre School.

Westminster Reference Library's Music Hall display at the London Coliseum, January 2014

Most people there were over 65 (possibly over 75) so I felt rather young again – not something that happens frequently to me these days…

Eveleen and I talked to all the keen fans of music hall and variety of all ages, who cooed over Peter’s excellent Theatreland display and questioned each other over the identity of long forgotten Music Hall stars. We went down memory lane with a lot of people who clearly remember the good old days of attending Music Hall events as children, with or without their parents. We took this opportunity to plug our forthcoming exhibition and event ‘A Trace of Music Hall’ which we are organising in partnership with artist (and mad keen Music Hall fan) Patrick Clevberger and the British Music Hall Society in April (watch the Westminster Reference Library News & Events page for details nearer the time).


And the winner is… *

Clapper board / reels of filmWe’re starting to get exited here at Marylebone Library as the Oscar nominations are announced this week and we do love film! We don’t like to brag… but on this occasion we will: Last year we had pretty much a full house on the predictions, we had either bought or ordered virtually everything that was available on DVD on the shortlists in every category.

We have a real passion for world cinema and documentary so those are the categories we will be most interested in. Who could forget last year’s winner of the best documentary feature? Searching for Sugar Man – a story that draws you in and keeps you fascinated until the very end. Or Austria’s entry for best foreign language film (Amour) which was in French and directed by a Bavarian!

So what do we think for this year?
Our money is on one of the many outstanding films from our favourite documentary distributor Dogwoof. For best documentary we like:

  • Blackfish [DVD]Blackfish – the harrowing story of an Orca kept in captivity.
  • The Act of Killing – a bizarre tale of former Indonesian death squad leaders with designs on becoming movie stars as they attempt to retell their heinous crimes.
  • Leviathan – a compelling documentary that shows you the dangerous and gruelling world of the people who battle the elements to bring fish to our tables.

Our money for best foreign language film? It’s a toughie but we like The Great Beauty – Paulo Sorrentino’s stunning return to form sent in Rome. But our favourite is Saudi Arabia’s Wadjda – an uplifting coming of age story about a girl who simply wants to have the same freedom as boys, directed by newcomer Haifer al-Mansour.

Why not seelwhat you think – all of these films are available to borrow at Marylebone Library (Wadjda will be available when it is released on 3 February).

[Helen and Hilary]

* Yes, we know we’ve used this title before. But who could resist?

Irregular Observations: The Case of the Leicester Square Furniture Van

The following handwritten paper recently came to light in the Sherlock Holmes Collection.  Some of the more obscure references can be tracked down by visiting the Collection, the address for which appears at the end of the paper.

The Sherlock Holmes Collection arrives at Westminster Reference Library, July 2013It was in July ’13 that Sherlock Holmes and I left our old rooms near Baker Street for the last time. Impending redevelopment and building work would bring major improvements for habitués, but we had to move elsewhere. It was not without a tinge of sadness that I surveyed the 150 crates into which our books and artefacts were packed, relocked the 6 massive bookcases and checked the other furniture ready to be loaded on to the lorry. I was encouraged to see the coat of arms of a certain gracious lady adorning the door of that – a guarantee of quality.  How very different from the case of the Grosvenor Square Furniture Van that my friend had investigated some years before.

The Sherlock Holmes Collection settles in to Westminster Reference Library, July 2013The following day, a small army of very energetic young men brought everything into our new rooms on the third floor of Westminster Reference Library, just off the south side of Leicester Square. It was a blazing hot day. Baker Street was like an oven, and the glare of the sunlight was painful to the eye. Not the most comfortable day for such work. We had measured carefully and everything fitted into its appointed space. The young men were back the next day and unpacked everything, putting it all neatly into place.

There would be distinct advantages to our new location. The library housed major collections of books on costume and theatre – useful for Holmes’ research for his disguises and he would enjoy keeping up with the careers of those who had impersonated him on stage and screen. He would also no doubt find their extensive runs of newspapers and periodicals fascinating – he would be able to check every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century. There was also an extensive art collection, which together with the proximity to the National Gallery would satisfy that side of him that came from his grandmother, who was the sister of the French painter Vernet.

The hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan DoyleHolmes loved to lie in the very centre of London and here he would be surrounded by interesting locations. Charing Cross Station, from which we had departed on cases such as The Abbey Grange and where, despite his boxing prowess, Holmes lost his left canine tooth, was but a short step away across Trafalgar Square. As indeed were the luxury hotels of Northumberland Avenue, in one of which we had met Sir Henry Baskerville, newly arrived in England and facing a terrible family curse, and where my old friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle often stayed when in town.

Strand MagazineJust a little further away, east along the Strand, were the offices of George Newnes’ Strand Magazine in which I chronicled so many of Holmes’ cases. Also along there lay Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, where Holmes and I often took something nutritious after a particularly taxing case. A short walk to the west lay Holmes’ brother Mycroft’s club, The Diogenes, and nearby the offices where he worked ostensibly as a Government clerk, but was himself from time to time the British Government.

Sherlock Holmes exhibition 1951Back to the south of Trafalgar Square (whose name always reminds me of Clark Russell’s fine sea stories), tucked off to one side of Northumberland Avenue, lay the Sherlock Holmes Public House, still home to many items and the splendid facsimile of our Baker Street sitting room from the great exhibition held in Holmes’ honour back in ’51.

Yes, we would settle in here very nicely. Now, must note the new address,

Sherlock Holmes Collection,
Third Floor,
Westminster Reference Library,
35, St. Martin’s Street,

[Watson / Catherine]

Irregular Observations is an occasional series of musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster Libraries.  The Collection started life in 1951 and is now one of the most comprehensive in the world. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and want to learn more, have a look at our website or get in touch.