Languages & Creativity: THE BIRDS – using theatre to explore multilingualism by Holly Bateman

The European Literature Network is delighted to be collaborating with Creative Multilingualism – a large-scale research project led by the University of Oxford, which studies the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. In our new series of blogs entitled Languages & Creativity, ELNetter and post-doctoral researcher on the project Heike Krüsemann will curate a selection of Creative Multilingualism posts for a fascinating glimpse into the world of language research. Over to you, Heike!

It’s official – languages and creativity go together! Who knew? Well, clearly not everyone, so the Arts and Humanities Research Council gave us money to do some research and spread the word. Don’t you just love it when things fall into place like this? Our intrepid research teams right now are busy studying the creative power of metaphorthe construction of a meaningful world in nature (that’s naming plants and animals to you and me), intelligibility between languages and communitieslanguages in the creative economyworld literaturescreative possibilities in translation, and creativity in language learning. While we’re doing that, we’d like to share some of our findings and related musings with you, dear ELNetters, in bite-size chunks and blog post format. Do let us know what you think – we’re always happy to hear from you!

By Heike Krüsemann

Heike Krüsemann is a UK-based researcher, writer and translator with an interest in Language, Culture and Education. Blog: German in the UK, Twitter: @Dr_Heike_K. Heike’s #RivetingReview of Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf; Heike’s #RivetingReview of Bühlerhöhe by Brigitte GlaserHeike’s Short Story with a translation twist: German Cinnamon


Blog post 23:

THE BIRDS: using theatre to explore multilingualism

Did you know that corvids, the crow family, are native to every single continent, and found everywhere except the polar ice caps? Consider how many languages they must encounter throughout the world, how many different names they must have.

Imagine five nests, all belonging to different species of birds, all with their own unique language skill set, and primary school children being encouraged to meet them, join them, learn their language and teach the birds elements of their own home language. 

This was our starting point when developing this project. We wanted children to be encouraged to embrace many different forms of communication, and see that a wealth of languages can boost their creativity and ability to communicate. Each nest has a puzzle to solve, be it through sign language, music notation with a non-verbal Robin, multiple spoken languages or using an emoji dictionary. If the children can help the Birds realise their multilingualism can be beneficial, maybe the bird flu outbreak can be averted! 

THE BIRDS has been created by Applied Theatre students at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in association with the Multilingual Performance Project. The interactive performance project toured Birmingham schools in November 2018, with the final performance taking place at the BirminghamRepertory Theatre

The initial stimulus for the piece came from a brief introduction to some of the research being undertaken by Creative Multilingualism’s Strand 2 team who are looking into, amongst other things, the different names and myths associated with the same bird as it travels over different countries and cultures. This gave this creative team the initial spark to look at birds speaking different languages with the challenge of needing to communicate to build bridges.

THE BIRDS was a great success and both actors and the participating schools have commented on how much they enjoyed the project:

“After weeks of rehearsals and a long intensive week of polishing scenes, organising props, gathering costumes and face paint, we are all extremely proud to say we have a full-blown show. As it is drawing to a close, it’s a perfect time to start reflecting on what has been learned during the process, especially thinking about how the concept of language is being used.

Throughout the performance there is a wide range of different communication skills being used. However, after polishing the scenes, I noticed a lot can be said physically with body language. Then questions started popping up  I am portraying a crow, how do crows move? How can crow characters show emotion through physicality? After the exploration of crows, I figured they are quite crooked. So, when exploring emotions through physicality we created this crooked body language. For example, when we laugh our shoulders shake up and down, in a tense manner.

Personally, I have learned an incredible amount of useful information throughout the entire process, especially how language is vital in everyday life. Not only have I learned aspects of sign language and how you can teach through song, I have also learned skills that I can take on and use in my own practice. From performing to devising the show, I have been enlightened on this whole new adventure by language and how it can be used as a tool. Not only can our show THE BIRDS encourage children to learn different ways of communication, and learn from their fellow peers, I believe there are ways it could be adapted for adults. I believe there are lessons to be learned from the performance about how important it is to understand the concept of multilingualism and the different ways of communicating and using languages.”

— Katie Hoare, actor

“Our children are so used to coming into the hall and sitting in lines for assembly or to watch a show, so it was a real different experience for them to walk in and become part of the performance straightaway. The children came away from the performance full of joy; they had experienced something new, they loved the “story”, it was interactive and fun, and they also understood the overall message. When we got back to the classroom I could hear things like “this is the best day ever!” and one girl said “If I could give it a number for how much I liked it out of 10, I would give it 10!”. 

I thought the actors were brilliant with the children, and they spotted children who were a little nervous or needed some support.”

 — Sophie Fleming, Colmore Infant and Nursery School

This blog post was written by Holly Bateman, a theatre practitioner at the Birmingham REP and director of THE BIRDS.

See photos of THE BIRDS rehearsals below:

THE BIRDS in rehearsal
THE BIRDS in rehearsal
THE BIRDS in rehearsal
THE BIRDS in rehearsal
THE BIRDS in rehearsal
THE BIRDS in rehearsal

This post was first published on the Creative Multilingualism site on 4 December 2018.


Read previous blogs in the Languages & Creativity series:

Blog 1: My love affair with eight languages by Alice Sze

Blog 2: A tale of two city guides: multilingual identity, writing, and translation by Heike Krüsemann

Blog 3: How language learning can be inspired by a fictional world by Emma Huber

Blog 4: Do you have butterflies in your stomach or little deers jumping in your heart? by Marianna Bolognesi

Blog 5: Creative translation: bending to rules to keep it personal by Philip Bullock

Blog 6: Why translation matters by Julie Curtis

Blog 7: We are Children of the World

Blog 8: Helping to balance the European argument – John le Carré speakes out for language learning by Katrin Kohl

Blog 9: “Reader, I went through a wedding ceremony with him”: Translating Jane Eyre by Eleni Philippou

Blog 10: How curiosity led me to learn 7 languages by Yulia Polishiuk

Blog 11: How I produced my first-ever (multiligual) school play by Ann Poole

Blog 12: How learning languages can help in a career as a film producer and writer by Jessica Benhamou

Blog 13: ‘Lessons learnt’ by a professional translator – adapting the same play three times over three years by Noah Birksted-Breen

Blog 14: Creative translation in the classroom by Charlotte Ryland and Lucy Christmas

Blog 15: Korean pop – BTS and fan translation by Sowon S Park

Blog 16: Translating a Russian play into Hip-Hop theatre – a conversation by Rajinder Dudrah and Noah Birksted-Breen

Blog 17: Are creative or functional teaching approaches more effective in the language classroom? by Suzanne Graham and Heike Krüsemann

Blog 18: Tracing prismatic rays of translation by Matthew Reynolds

Blog 19: Research update: identity and multilingualism in South Tyrol by Jamie Green

Blog 20: Guide to directing foreign-language plays by Noah Birksted-Breen

Blog 21: How I discovered the best motivation for learning a language by Amy Varney

Blog 22: Growing up in a multilingual family by Sheela Mahadevan

Category: Languages & Creativity

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