The Business of Naming by Lenni Sanders

Harry mentioned in our last blog post that, as you might’ve noticed, we’ve changed our name! We’ve been iOrganic since 2015 and now we’ve become Curious Things – we think our new name is a more helpful indication of what kind of work we do and what kind of guys we are. We called ourselves iOrganic when we were first collaborating on our piece Empty Kitchen for Contact’s Sensored Festival, and we chose our name before we’d written the show, and while we were thinking a lot about food and technology. (I very often am thinking about food but I haven’t written anything really about food since Empty Kitchen.) 

Our name change was managed over Facebook chat: we like to throw lots of ideas around before we settle on one, so there were some pretty silly suggestions! Let me tell you some of the thankfully vetoed names we suggested: ‘What If’, ‘Trapdoor’ (‘because the participant is falling through a trapdoor into an immersive performance haha idk’ as I eloquently justified it), ‘Imagine it’. Somewhere in an alternate universe somebody is asking me what kind of performance stuff I get up to and I am explaining that I work under the name ‘Trapdoor’ because seeing something we’ve made is like falling through a trapdoor – scary! Unpleasant! Probably against health and safety! It is not a good analogy at all. 

Curious Things works because it captures a sense of inquisitiveness, and is very fitting for the research based work we make for heritage contexts, so we’re pleased that we went with it as a name. 

Lastly, here’s a little round up of some cool opportunities you might be interested in! Meraki Collective are great, they performed a very funny and playful dance investigating etiquette at Turn Festival at Contact on Friday, and they are currently looking for artists to apply to take part in their next Meraki Sessions event: There is also currently a call out from The Lowry for artists and companies to submit proposals to create a new production about coming of age which will premiere at Week 53 Festival next year: These are the two tabs open on my phone that I keep returning to most. Exciting!


Orange Canals and Three Legged Cows by Lenni Sanders

Last week was a busy week for Curious Things. We delivered three days of workshops for Year Five groups, performed our Muddy Fingers Fête and re-branded (goodbye iOrganic). Phew! That was a busy week indeed. It was also one of our best. We were in full force, challenging ourselves and doing what we love with new audiences.

The story of The Bridgewater Canal is one that, predictably, has so much to it. There’s the story of a Duke that everyone wrote of at childhood; the mines that industrialised this rural hamlet; the orange water that royalty visited; a Georgian three legged cow… We got to learn this from primary source material, spending time with Kate, from Est.1761, Salford City Council’s Bridgewater Canal project, and our favourite way to learn, having a cup of tea with a local expert.

The first challenge was to devise a workshop for 20 Year Fives at a time to find fun and engaging - taking with them the key Science Week message of ‘Change’. The solution, as always, is poetry. Noise Poems. Inspired by Ernst Jandl’s avant-garde poetry, we decided to create noise poems, or noise stories, with our groups, following the theme of change. One group would evoke ‘Country Life’, the other ‘Deep Dark Coal Mines’ and the last group would evoke ‘Industry and Machines’. After telling stories and leading some theatre games, we supported this groups whilst they made their noise poems. I was struck by how mature and engaged these Year Fives were as they worked hard making excellent work. We were so chuffed at what each group made over the three days.

With the workshops aside, we went on to focus on Muddy Fingers Fête - a mash-up between an archeological dig, a museum and a fête. It was a truly muddy day with rain falling pretty hard at times, but the crowds came. They played Basket Weaver’s Quoits, did the Story Spinning Wheel, the Lucky Dip, guessed the nails in the jar and perused out definitely, 100% real, archeological finds. Visitors of all ages had a great time.

When we were packing up, trying not to get covered in mud, we were both smiling so much at the great week we had had. Long live Curious Things!


Under The Green by Lenni Sanders

Spring is coming! Days are (gradually gradually) getting longer – blossom is blossoming out of the trees – and we're working on something for the Great Outdoors. We've been working with the Est.1761, Salford City Council’s Bridgewater Canal project, to produce a performance for their family day Under The Green on Sunday 19th March, on Worsley Green. We're also working with them making a workshop for Year 5s about the area's rich history,which we will repeat several times in the week leading up to Under The Green. Next month we will get to share these which we're looking forward to a lot! Worsley is a very pretty part of Salford, and you would never guess from looking at it that Worsley Green used to be a bustling work yard at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

We've been really enjoying thinking about ways to capture the Year 5's imaginations and get them thinking about what Worsley Green would have been like. We'll be thinking a lot about the sounds of the work yard – our workshop will be focussed on creating noise poems that evoke the scene of Worsley Green at different times in its varied past: the mechanical noise of the factories, the clatter of the railway (a trace of which cuts through the green to this day), the trickling of the little brook that used to run through it. The last workshop we ran was totally different to this – it focussed on exploring ways to write interactive performance with already fairly experienced writers aged 16 and up – so this will be a very refreshing change!

Recently we went to visit local historian John Aldred who shared his wonderful knowledge of Worsley with us. He kept us spellbound with some incredible stories about the area's history which we were absolutely enchanted by, and which we know must inform either our performance, our workshop, or both. (I especially loved hearing about the 40 mile stretch of underground canal – I am really interested in hidden, buried, and disappeared places. When we were on our residency last year at Chethams Library I was very excited to hear about the culverted River Irk for similar reasons!) 

Thanks very much to Est.1761, Salford City Council’s Bridgewater Canal project, for getting us involved in this great project! 


Mummy Auction - A Tale of Two TVs by Lenni Sanders

This month we were at Liverpool Museum for our third and, probably, final performance of Mummy Auction TV, so this is a bit of a nostalgic look back over the process of devising, reworking and performing a work (and Napoleon, our lovely cat mummy prop).

From the very beginning, this was a project we loved. Being invited by Anna Bunney to produce our second performance with Manchester Museum was a real boost for us, when we only had a couple of projects behind us. The story of the animal mummies coming to the docks immediately took us, especially the characters at auction and the uses for mummies.

The research took us to primary source newspaper articles and also accepting a couple of apocryphal stories that made the tales gloriously fun. We spent time in the exhibition and with the curators to make sure that what we were developing was factual and a good laugh.

Making the props was done by the sound of podcasts about various Egyptian pharaohs. It was whilst we were learning about Imhotep that Napoleon was born, the ragged mummified cat that would become our talisman. Making for this show was particularly interesting because we we ambitious with the staging - how to make a giant TV? TV No. 1 was a bookshelf with a hole in which we had to carry in two pieces. TV No. 2 was a dismantle-able frame we hung a sheet off. TV No. 2 about 100 times better.

Then changing the focus of the performance for families, that was calling on our experience producing family focussed programming separately from iOrganic work. We did this successfully and we got such great feedback from our audience and Liverpool World Museums.

Now Napoleon is entombed at a local landfill, hopefully with all his cat mummy pals that were used for fertiliser….


Looking Forward to Mummy Auctions by Lenni Sanders

After our Mummy Auction TV in November at Liverpool World Museum, we're looking forward to coming back again next month. It was great to set up our huge prop television set in the middle of a nice chunk of open space in this lovely, airy museum. We performed our interactive piece 5 times over the day and each time we had a pretty big group of families to perform to. 

Our performance next month at Liverpool World Museum will be the second using the new wooden frame we've made (to be our television screen) and we're really happy with it – it's massive! It's a very versatile piece of equipment as well, so we're going to have a good time thinking of imaginative staging ideas that allow us to take full advantage of it. 

It was a really interesting process adapting our piece Mummy Auction TV for this younger audience. We're really happy that Liverpool World Museum invited us to come and perform with them. We are also very thankful to Tom Byrne of the excellent Scallwags Theatre Company. Scallywags make lovely and imaginative work for children and families. Tom gave us some wonderfully helpful feedback on the original version of our script, and suggested some ways it might be adapted from a performance largely aimed at adults to a performance that focused on the under 7s. Thanks Tom! Such a huge help. 

It's been a blast revisiting Mummy Auction TV since it's a little while since the first performance of it – I loved re-reading all the old newspaper clippings from bewildered journos commenting on the 1890 mummy auction at the docks. I think my favourite news account of this strange event is the one where the writer talks about just mummified heads being sold at approximately half the price of the full mummified cat. 


A Mummy Auction for All Ages by Lenni Sanders

This month saw the come back of Mummy Auction TV, relocated just a few minutes walk from the very docks that we tell the story of, at Liverpool World Museum. It’s the story of tonnes of animal mummies being delivered to Liverpool Docks in the early 20th century and the farmers who ground them up for fertiliser, the collectors that got lucky and the painters that turned mummies into paint. There were so many uses for mummies, animal or human. It’s such an interesting topic! The challenge for us was to turn what was a playful performance for adults into a playful performance for families - which means a lot more than trying not to do swears more than usual…

What we decided to do was to take the immersive elements of this performance and amplify them. The poem which for adults set the scene became an immersive story-telling element with blue material for the sea that our audience could wave and hats for all the characters that our audience could wear. The story became much more about evoking a feeling that telling the specifics of a narrative. We made sure we hit some key facts, what we wanted our young visitors to go away thinking about, but we largely put the ‘poetry’ to one side and focussed much more on the feeling of being at the docks. We had more props and more energy and plenty of fun.

As the story became a bigger focus, the ‘auction’ became a smaller part of the piece. We made a big deal out of turning the victorian tele on (the anachronism of which always got a giggle) and after that did a very short, energetic run through of all the strange things people used mummies for. Previously, we had focused on one item and gone in-depth, calling on whatever standup skills we might have to riff on that subject.

It was a challenge to change the focus of this performance but one that we really enjoyed. It was an absolute delight to rework a show that we had worked so hard on originally. Thank you to Liverpool World Museum for having us! What a great time we had.



Do It With Us Studios by Lenni Sanders

Last Sunday we were kindly hosted by Atticus Books for two events in one day. Atticus Books in Lancaster is a wonderful not-for-profit bookshop supporting The Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre in Indonesia. I used to live in Lancaster before I moved to Manchester and I would recommend visiting this shop 100% - owned by Tom Flemons, it has an excellent, extensive selection of second hand books. Atticus also is a regular host to an imaginative programme of gigs and events that see more people than you think would possible squeezing in between the bookcases on chairs and cushions. Check them out here:

On Sunday afternoon we made something called DIWU (Do It With US) Records – a series of drop in, loosely structured conversations with people about music. We invited people to answer several questions: what's your earliest memory of music? What's a song you really love (or hate)? If you could be in a band (assuming you're not already) what would you call it? It was a really interesting experience – people shared some great stories of life changing gigs, or how music connected them to people in their lives, and how a song can evoke a day or a year.

These conversations, after about 10 or 15 minutes, culminated in Harry and I offering our help to make a recording of a loved or hated song – by creating percussion, singing back up vocals, singing bass lines or whatever else would help. I think DIWU Records might have been half amateur music journalism and half participatory art, or maybe it was something else entirely, but I enjoyed it immensely and the people we spoke to seemed to enjoy it too. I am gutted that our recordings didn't work (new microphone playing up!) but if we did DIWU Records again, we absolutely would follow through on our offer to send recordings to everyone who takes part.

On Sunday evening we returned to Atticus Books to perform a poetry set and surrounded by the tall bookcases, with evening lamp post light creeping through the street facing shop window, we read some of our recent poems. A lovely day. 

Thanks Atticus Books for having us and thanks everyone who came to DIWU Records and to our poetry set! 

Next month we will take an adapted version of our interactive piece Mummy Auction TV to Liverpool World Museum! Last time it was performed it took place at an evening event in Manchester Museum – this time we have changed it to make it more suitable for a daytime family audience. We're looking forward to sharing the deeply true weird story of 19 tonnes of mummified cats getting auctioned off at the Liverpool docks in 1890 with a younger audience. 


The Story of and Emo and a Big Prop by Lenni Sanders

We’ve been invited by Atticus Books to create something for them whilst Lancaster Music Festival is on. As a couple of poets - we generally only do the lyrics bit and maybe someone might come along and want to do the music bit… so quickly forming a band and getting up on stage is off the table. Instead, we’re thinking about how we can bring our immersive, playful approach to something to do with the culture of music.

When Lenni and I started chatting about what to do at Atticus Books, we were mainly lead by the fact that we’ve recently built a frame that we can use at performances to hang things from and project onto. It’s pretty huge… it used to be bigger. It was a ridiculous size. Now it’s the size of a double bed and we’re very proud of it. Question is, is using the fact that you happen to own a giant prop a good foundation for an interesting performance. No. That’s the answer.

Once we’d (mainly, though, I) had got over the fact we had this big frame, we thought about why we, as listeners, care about music. I’m particularly interested in the music I love but which I know is categorically awful music. I spent most of my teen years pretending to be having an awful time and listening to My Chemical Romance, Funeral for a Friend and The Used (“Small, simple, safe price. Rise the wake and carry me with all of my regrets…”). I know this music isn’t very good, even in emo circles this is bad emo. It is tinny and whiney and formulaic. I love it. I feel so so so good when I listen to Helena, the first track of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Oh god. This is embarrassing. What interests me is that there are songs I don’t like that matter so so so much to me.

That’s what I’m thinking about. That, and the giant frame.