by Author Laura Emerson

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Halloween Happening - 2017

On Saturday 28th October participants of the ‘Music in Performance’ strand of Jack Drum Arts’ ‘Wear Making Music’ Youth Music programme took to the forest for an evening of mythological magic and mayhem.

200 members of the public had the pants scared of them in Hamsterley Forest on our spooky Halloween Walk, based on the gruesome and gory stories from Norse mythology.

The project was a long-awaited partnership between Jack Drum Arts’ Jackass Youth Theatre from Weardale, and Turrets Youth Theatre from Teesdale. Jackass and Turrets have had ties for almost 20 years, and this project was particularly joyful as I had the pleasure of working alongside my old friend and colleague Rupert Philbrick, ex-member and current director of the Turrets. Rupert has had a similar trajectory to myself – we engaged with youth theatre as young ‘uns, he in Turrets, me in Jackass, headed off to university to develop our skills, and returned to our communities to pass what we learned on to the next generation of rowdy upstarts. Many of our formative creative experiences occurred during collaborations between the groups, and we’ve remained friends ever since. We’ve been trying to get the youth theatres together for a few years now, and we finally managed to make it happen!

The groups developed their scenes initially in isolation, then came together to rehearse in the forest. We trialled a few of the stories we had found in our research and the young folk were given free rein on phones, ipads, and laptops to find the stories they liked best. What began to emerge was the rich narrative of the afterlife. Well, afterlives to be specific, because in Norse mythology there are loads of places to go after you cark it! Those who died gloriously were picked up by the Valkyries – Odin’s all-female band of warrior spirits who scoured the battlefields for worthy souls – and carried to Valhalla where they would feast, and fight, and …. (you get the picture) all the way to Ragnarok (more on that gem later). Those who died in a boring, normal way got sent straight to Hel. That’s not a typo, it’s the origins of what we know as Hell. Hel was a huge expanse of cold, darkness, and misery, ruled over by ‘Hel’ (sensing a theme?). Hel was the most beautiful woman… on one side of her body. The other side was rotting flesh. We had a bit of a fight over who got to play her; kids are weird. We also discovered the character of Móðguðr, the guardian of the gate to Hel – again, a woman! The girls were having a field day. Usually it’s tricky to find good strong stories for our young ladies, but thanks to the Vikings, we were laughing! We also picked up some great stories about Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, The King and Queen of the Sea who lure sailors to their death, and our juniors tackled the hilarious Yule Lads – a band of Icelandic imps that terrorise the villagers at Christmas. Excellent stuff!

In early October we worked with Morwenna and Lucas from ‘Hand Made Parade’ – an arts collective specialising in bespoke outdoor arts. We had an amazing day building large-scale illuminated puppets, light-up shields, and Viking hats a-plenty. Everyone really enjoyed the making weekend and we’ve all decided that we’ll be having Hand Made Parade back to work with us as soon as is fundingly possible!

As we neared the big day in the forest, we enlisted the help of some of our friends and artist associates in the area. Some very kindly volunteered their time to act as guides, each taking a group of freshly-dead Nordic souls (the audience) around the forest to see the performances. We were also lucky to enlist Lucy Taylor to play the wicked water Goddess ‘Ran’ (consort to Mike Daynes’ Sea Ogre, Aegir), Sinead Livingston as an officious and darkly humourous Valkyrie, and Lizzie Lane as the Goddess Idun, lost in the world of the Dead, having been traded for a bushel of apples! All in a day’s (or rather, night’s) work for outdoor theatre-makers!

The event went down a storm, and the stars of the show were the Jackass and Turrets Juniors. It’s important that younger members of the team get the opportunity to perform early and often. This helps build their confidence, and a performance is worth 10 rehearsals! Us oldies weren’t too shabby either though, I hasten to add.

The props developed with Hand Made Parade looked amazing, all lit up in the dark forest, and were immortalised in epic style by talented photographer, Peter Fannen.

For some, it was a first performance and for others it was a continuation of a robust music and performance portfolio. For for me it was my 10th outdoor Halloween show but the excitement and joy was as palpable as ever. Roll on the next one!