Sunday, 1 October 2017

Italy: La Città è Tua Part 2

Monday- Friday. The school.
I had the lesson plans we'd been given, and my adaptation of them. I had 12 lovely, very Italian children in front of me. I ran through my lesson plan in about half the time, and ended up doing both lesson plans together. Mental note: slow down. The children were lovely but I lived in fear that they hated me. What if whenever they spoke Italian they were telling each other how terrible I was? No, stop it. You're a good teacher. You wouldn't be here if you weren't. You can do this. We went through the basics 'My name is Emily. I am English. I live in Nottingham. I like reading books and playing netball.' Simple, but useful. They picked it up easily and we made some nice posters and laughed about universal pop songs. 'I'm blue dabadee dabadi!' I made it through the first class, and as the week progressed I felt more confident in those English classes. We did adjectives (to describe our characters), directions (for games!) and stage directions (upstage, downstage, stage left, stage right). Everything linked in with the drama classes, but I can't take the credit there. I used the initial lesson plans much more, just changing the games to my preferences, and have never been so grateful for such a supportive team.

The drama classes were easier, I was on home ground there. Even with a language barrier, I could settle into myself a little. I demonstrated games, made a true idiot of myself, and finally began to win the children round. There was a moment when I was on my hands and knees mooing like a cow, where I practically heard them all think 'ah yes, she's a fool'. It seemed to work.
I told them we were doing 'Annie' and was greeted with silence. Apparently that one hasn't made it over to Italy! Never mind, on we went. I knew the option was there to choose a different story, but I wasn't confident with anything else and decided to stay strong. So it was Hard Knock Life as a song, and Jess Glynne 'Rather Be' as a dance. I'd done both before, and was surprisingly adept at making up a semi decent pop dance on the spot.
Now, Annie is a story I have mixed feelings on. I knew it growing up, we all do, but I had no feelings about it. Ginger girl gets adopted, I love ya tomorrow, got it. The first time I did Annie, was in America. For those that don't know, when I was 19 I did a summer in Connecticut at an all girls YMCA summer camp. It was equally horrific and fantastic, and absolutely changed me as a person. I taught drama and set design, and had a cabin of 14yos. I'll let you decide which bit was horrific. 
Now, when I did Annie at camp, the script we had was the film script. We basically copied the film verbatim and the show was lovely, and I was miserable. I did four shows at Camp, Annie, Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast and the Wizard of Oz. It took years for me to recover from performing those shows, it was such hard work in such hard conditions. I swore off Annie and the Sound of Music for years, I was scarred by a horrific week and I never really liked them anyway. Then I took on my theatre school, and the first play we did was Annie. Desperate to try and enjoy my term, and to make a name for myself, I watched the new version with Quevenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx. A modern upbeat sound track, a handsome male lead, I was sold. Starlight's version of Annie was modern and fun and I loved it. Still wasn't 100% an Annie fan, but hey, my kids did great. So I chose Annie for Italy because I know it so well. A Hard Knock Life is burned into my brain forever. Over this week, I found a new love for the show.
First I had to simplify my script. I'd brought in my Starlight script reduced to 6 pages. This was too much for the language, and I spent Monday afternoon scribbling down a new script while the kids watched (and loved!) the film. It became about 8 minutes long, just the plot points and character introductions.  Listening to the Italian accent struggling with some of the names 'Mis 'Annigan', having to simplify it so much, made the story seem new to me. It was suddenly soft, friendly, kind. The children who played the 'villains' Rooster and Ms Hannigan stole the show with their hilarious acting, and the lovely young lady who was Annie was a sweetheart who smile the whole show through. My favourite moment? One of the girls who had been practicing all week and who every day told me no, she couldn't remember her line, spoke it clearly and precisely on stage, looking straight at me the entire time. I was so proud. The show was simple in the end, and in England I would have been disappointed. But to these children they did an entire performance in a second language! That's incredible. 
Every day, regardless of the heat, we would spend an hour dancing, an hour singing, and an hour of games and blocking. They were hard working, they'd ask to practice again and again and again, they laughed, and they definitely talked about me in italian, but it was positive. 
We made a poster for the show, and they made a statue of liberty to be used in one of the scenes. My favourite actually. I played 'The City's Yours' by Jamie Foxx from the Annie 2014 soundtrack, and Annie, Grace and Mr Stacks did a 'tour' of New York. The others walked behind pretending to also be in NYC, and they had the statue of liberty in the middle. It took longer than any other scene, with the language barrier and the newness of the idea. It was about 1minute long in the end. It was wonderful. After the performance on the last day, my class all signed the back and gave me the Statue of Liberty to take home. It was too big for the suitcase but I persevered. I'd spent a week wondering if they got me, and they so clearly did.
I think I learnt more about myself as a teacher in that week than I ever have. Since being back, I've noticed a change in my teaching style within my usual classes. I speak slower, I simplify, everything has a gesture to help along. By the end of the week I'd learnt a few words in Italian, I could say let's go, after, repeat, useful one word instructions that I could translate into English. Not that there was much danger of this, but I knew that speaking too much Italian or attempting to learn Italian would hinder their learning of English. It was a long week, and there were times that I'd have to repeat something three or four times, in different phrasing, to make myself understood. But that moment where things would click, the mutual comprehension was exciting! Yes! Let's do this, we understand! Laughter, nodding, si si si!
Watching the show on the Friday evening, I have never been as proud of a group of students, or myself before. There is a video of the show, and during the end dance the camera pans to me dancing with a huge smile on my face. I hate videos of myself, but I will savour this video forever.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Italy: La Città è Tua Part 1

Note: I started intending to write all of my Italy experiences in one post. This is not going to work. So, have day 1.

On Sunday August 27th, at 930, I found myself walking through departures in Gatwick Airport, my heart beating fast as I waved cheerily to my mother. I didn't want anyone to see the panic I was suffering. Flying fills me with fear, but that wasn't the only reason for my fast beating heart. I was excited, nervous, and yes, scared. As I walked through the wide corridors to arrive at security, I was looking out for a man I had met just once, over a year ago, who had hired me based on recommendation alone, to teach English and Drama in a small village in Northern Italy, and stay with an Italian family for a week. Impress the theatre company, the school we would work for, the students and a host family? There was a lot to be nervous about.
Now, I could write a detailed report of how I met with everyone, how we had tea at the airport and my nerves for flying grew as I began to relax about work. I could talk to you about the silly putty my sister won for me, which caused strange looks but helped me calm myself on the plane. I could complain about expensive sun cream at the airport, and the terror of broken headphones. The sinking realisation that I'd forgotten to choreograph a dance. But that all disappeared into the back ground as I, bravely!, peered out the window as the plane lowered and my ears began to feel that awful pain. I looked out, and saw the city in the sea. The city I had dreamed of since I was 11, Venice. That was the first time it really sank in. "I'm going to Italy!" I said this out loud, and the woman in the seat next to me (who was already disapproving of my silly putty antics) gave me yet another strange look. The plane landed, I managed not to cry, and I ran off that plane as fast as I could, grateful to be on solid land.
We found our fourth and final member of the group, and bought bus tickets. Suitcases in tow, the heat of Italy was like a wall as we left the airport. Lovely. From then, it was travel. Buses, trains and cars (the first man I met in Italy was called Mario and this gives me great joy) all of which I stared wistfully out of the window. Italy.
And then we were in small town, Trissino.  It was about 6pm. I still couldn't believe it. I'd seen the Romeo and Juliet castles through the car window, the mountains and vineyards. An Aperol Spritz in front of me, the reality rather than the romance started to sink in. I was at a table with a large group of lovely, friendly Italians. And one of these families was going to take me home for a week. How do you live with a stranger? What if I forgot something? or started my period? Or what if they didn't like me?
The four of us were assigned a family, and mine seemed lovely and equally wary. We were whisked off into cars, and as I sat in the front seat making polite 'sorry I don't speak Italian' small talk, it occurred to me that being driven into the mountains by a stranger is the start of a terrifying horror story. What was I doing? I don't speak Italian!
This was not going to be the first time I cursed my lack of language skills.
After a shower, some more small talk, and then a lovely evening where all four host families and teachers came together for a lot of pizza, I started to feel better, more relaxed. I could do this. I managed to fumble through ordering my pizza in Italian, laughed and shared stories of England, of our various acting and dating disasters, and began to know my family a little better.
I went to bed in an 8 year olds room, he had been evicted to stay with mum and dad, and in my Star Wars bedsheets I looked out at the door I'd propped open onto the Italian hillside and couldn't believe my luck.
(The gratitude had waned somewhat when I awoke in the morning covered in mosquito bites. I swear a memo goes around as soon as I arrive in a new country 'She's here! The one with the tasty blood!'. I am convinced mosquitos have a hive mind and won't hear anything to the contrary. )
I didn't sleep that first night. Despite exhaustion, as the light had clicked off I realised that as lovely as my first night had been, tomorrow was work. Now, I must confess that had I been doing a week long holiday course in England, putting on a short musical in a week, I would have had similar fears and probably not slept well. It's part of the job, especially when you care as much as I do. What games do I do to start with? I know I've written a lesson plan but what if I forget? I've not choreographed a dance yet, so shall I start that tomorrow? Or Tuesday? I've got to teach singing god I hate teaching singing. Then, with a bang, I have to teach English. I don't know what level of English these children speak. I know I'm working with 12 year olds and try to think how much French I knew at 12. Shit. Not much at all.
What Italian did I know? 'Ciao' 'posso avere?' and 'grazie'.
I wish I spoke Italian.
I had been told that breakfast would be at 740, just myself and Camilla, the daughter of the family. She was 13, beautiful, and had been very shy on Sunday.
At 745 we sat down to have breakfast, and after some polite small talk (she spoke fantastic English) she asked about eyeliner. I promised to teach her, and from then we were fine. More than fine. By the end of the week, Camilla was like a sister. We talked make up, and boys, and she asked about my husband and my family, and told me all about hers. That first breakfast was quiet, but we came to an unspoken agreement. We were both tired on a morning, we would have a quiet breakfast and then we could both wake up to deal with the day.
A grandparent who spoke pure Italian to me collected us to take us to School, and off we went to explore our classrooms, find out our registers and start the day.
First lesson, English. I don't think I've ever been more worried about a teaching job. The chalkboard was worryingly blank, the children loud. I started with the register, and as I pronounced the names terribly, I realised just how much of the things I say as a teacher are completely irrelevant, and not worth translating. 'Okay so if I say your name wrong let me know and I'll try again' was met with blank looks, but when I pronounced a name wrong, they corrected me anyway. I also learnt very quickly that I speak to fast. 'Can we move the tables to the sides please' was understood only the third time I repeated it, slowly and clearly, with some hand gestures. This week was going to be learning for us all.

Saturday, 24 September 2016


I've not written a blog in over two years. If I'm honest, I've not really written in over two years. However, I'm excellent at re-reading my old writing and dying on the inside. My attempt at a novel (all 6000+ words of it) is mediocre at best, and so very A level. Some of my poetry is less than murderous, but excessively cringeworthy. Odd paragraphs and writing prompts are scattered everywhere, but I am a short and sweet writer and as such, looking back on words I wrote at age 16,18,21, is not fun. I won't delete these posts, I won't deny my past self her emotions. I will worry very much about starting a masters degree, admittedly not for a while yet, and having to get back into the habit of writing.
However, reading the blog posts from this blog, from two years ago, I feel proud. But not that my writing is exceptional, but seeing how far I've come since January 2014. There's a lot that hasn't changed. And a lot that has. I could easily list the things that have changed, massage my ego, give myself a much needed boost. On the other hand, I could very easily list all the things I wish had changed. All the things in my life I am unhappy with.
You will be thankful to know I'm not going to do any of those things.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Still flying, just about.

I'm writing at work, which may get me in trouble, but more likely no one will notice. For I have realised that is my life, unnoticed. A lifetime of being promised I'll go somewhere, I'll be someone and now I put 100% every day into being pure loveliness, and yet all I am is the nice receptionist.
As a teenager I realised I needed to work in theatre to be content, because the reality of the lies of theatre makes me feel safe and at home. And heck, theatre people are fun. I devoted every minute I had to getting experience, working hard. I travelled to America to teach, from the age of 14 I gave up every Saturday morning and most evenings, as well as my New Years Eve and the entire Christmas period to amateur dramatics. Eight years. As a student I juggled my degree, working 30+ hours a week and my rehearsals so there wasn't a gap in my CV, and I volunteered for 18hour days regularly working backstage at the university theatre. Yet despite this, I am a receptionist. Yeah, a good one. But no more.

I guess a lot of this is to do with the fact that the start of 2013 took the wind out of my sails big time, and now it is hard work to bring myself to do simple things, like apply for jobs, or some days even get out of bed.
I've also been rejected for two 'dream' jobs this year.

Things are not easy when you've been told you are special and gifted and will go far. Because the real world often disagrees with this. No one is special. Just being the nice reception lady is about as special as I feel I can dream of at the moment.

But I am trying. My wonderful boyfriend is giving me more support than I ever could have dreamed of, and I am slowly bucking up the courage to start the horrendous application process for a list of jobs. Surely there is a limit to how many times a person can be turned down for a job they are qualified for and experienced in?

The last few days, the start of 2014, have been some of the hardest days because the whole new year new start resolution bollocks that is everywhere has made me look at myself, and what I've achieved over 12 months. A great big fat load of bollocks is what. I'm living in a lovely flat sure, but my rent is more than it was, and yet I'm earning £300 a month less than I was. Yeah I've still got a full time job, but I never know my rota more than two days in advance, have to work until 11 then start at 7am some days, and I'm on minimum wage and treated like shit by the majority of people I work with.
At least I have some great friends. Truly fabulous friends, who are always there and know when to ask and know when to leave me alone. Friends for laughing and drinking and crying and living.
And being with Connor, although thoroughly unexpected, is exactly the relationship I need. Head over heels and made of laughter. I couldn't ask for more.

I guess things are half shit, half lovely. And it's the people I spend my time with outside of work that keep me going. And I am still going. Despite the threats, I've not thrown the towel in and started again elsewhere. I've not quit my job or run away. I'm still going, and things could be so much worse.

'We're still flying.'
'That's not much.'
'It's enough.'

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The True Story of What Is

Though I'm not really who I said I was
Or who I thought I'd be
Just a collection of recollections
Conversations consisting
Of the kind of marks we make
When we're trying to get a pen to work again
A lifetime of them

How things change! My circumstances since my last post have improved somewhat, largely due to my determination to get shit sorted.
I have a job I enjoy which I am good at, and it pays my rent and then some. I have a flat with a good friend, and I feel like it's a home. And my boxes are ticked.
That's what I said, didn't I? A job a like and somewhere nice to live. That's all I need to be content. But, am I content? I still feel lost and scared but in a safe way, I'm supposed to feel lost and scared after all. It's all part of being 22 and starting a life again.
The city doesn't sleep, it merely pauses. Sleep suggests dreams and this is not a city of dreams. This is a city of safety, and lullabies. The far off ringing of the Cathedral bells lull the world into a false sense of routine. Everything changes but those bells keep ringing. People laugh and cry and come and go and yet there is a constant. Seeing the Cathedral daily, hearing those bells. It helps me focus. It reminds me that time passes, and things have a way of keeping going.
Occasionally I have a thought of 'I can't do this'. Or 'I don't want to go to this place.' But sure enough, the time passes and it gets done. In June 2010 I lay in my bed thinking to myself that there was no way I could go to America alone. But somehow I did it. How? The time passed, I got there because that was what happened.
The world doesn't end. I've left jobs, boyfriends, universities. I've hurt myself, hurt others, risked all sorts. And yet the world doesn't end, nothing stops, judgement doesn't rain down upon me.
I have a very 'well, why the hell not?' attitude at the moment. Why shouldn't I flirt with that guy, or stay up that late, or go on holiday? Why shouldn't I take a risk and try something new?
The world doesn't end. The only constant is time. It just keeps passing.