Monday, 2 June 2014


My first bit of advice – Never share the stage with a python or an unwieldy elephant when your audience is under five, as you’ll have a hard job keeping them off the stage and trying to get in on the act. Three to five year olds love nothing better than to play with a 12 foot long snake and however many times you arrange the coiled snake around the tree, turn your back and one (or more) of the audience will be unwinding it for you, before you can even begin.
And on the subject of an audience, resist having your grandchildren at the event. They will take the story into their own hands and try on the masks and be very helpful at inappropriate times. Although older grandchildren can be helpful because they prompt you loudly at the parts you’ve forgotten. You'll follow what I mean, in this sequence below – grandson helps himself to 'zebra' while I'm doing 'lion' act ... 
then dons 'zebra' while I'm doing 'monkey' act... 
Finally with perseverance 'zebra' finds his place at the right moment in the story worn by a non-related member of the audience while a non-related little girl is about to play the coconut clappers for zebra hoof sounds. 
Back to snakes –
If you are making a stuffed snake do NOT make it 12 foot long because you will be returning time and time again to get more stuffing for it from Peter Jones/John Lewis or wherever. Learn from nature. Pythons can swallow entire antelopes in a few gulps. This one swallowed 6 bags of stuffing and 3 metres of wadding and still it looked lean and hungry.
And do not make your elephant unwieldy never mind how large you want him to appear … because wire has a way of doing its own thing. So practice, practice, practice. (preferably behind a closed bathroom door although with space so minimal, the trunk keeps getting caught up on the towels.) Do NOT on any account make tusks for the elephant as you will contravene some Health and Safety law when you spear a child.
Also make sure your grown-up son is not in the audience because he is bound to take a video of you acting silly and then put it on Facebook so all his friends can see what a crazy mother he has!

And expect the unexpected. When you are in mid-sentence at the most dramatic moment of the story and drawing in a breath to make the most terrifying roar (that you have practised nightly behind closed doors in the bathroom) be prepared to accept an empty crisp packet from a little boy who has obviously been brought up well and hands it over to you with great seriousness and says: 'Here’s some litter!' 

And while we are talking roars, if you are prone to throat tickles, I can recommend a black lozenge called Vocal Zone that opera singers use before performances… except don’t breath on anyone especially the adults as it has a slightly alcoholic odour and parents will look at you suspiciously especially if there is dancing involved in your event.

And speaking of dancing – this is very important ­– go to gym for a few sessions to get your knees and joints in working condition. Limber up every day for a few weeks because if you tell stories you need to crouch down and jump and clamber and crawl and be a little crazy never mind that you are 60 years older than anyone else in the room! And then there is the dancing, so get into the groove and get some music on and practice, practice… get your hips swinging. African Marimba music is all about dancing! But be prepared to be no taller than the tallest child. Someone might need to stand 'in' or 'up' for you so your instructions can be followed.  
And finally …  thank you to everyone at the OMNIBUS Theatre in Clapham, especially Felicity Paterson and Marie McCarthy, for their amazing organisation for this event of THE MAGIC BOJABI TREE and for the huge turn-out they generated, with some people even been turned away at the door. What a wonderful child-friendly venue Omnibus is – with a lovely coffee bar and great atmosphere and even a chance to make snakes with glue and glitter and paint and afterwards an acting workshop with Hester Welch. THANK YOU! I had a great time! And thank you to Clapham Books too, for providing the books.

Most important tip – have fun! If you're having fun, the children will too. 

THE MAGIC BOJABI TREE, published by Frances Lincoln and illustrated by Piet Grobler, was on the nomination list for the 2014 KATE GREENAWAY.
ZERAFFA GIRAFFA, also published by Frances Lincoln and illustrated by Jane Ray, received a 5 Star review in Books for Keeps. 


Joan Lennon said...

You have started my day with a big grin and a strong desire to own a patchwork python! Thank you!

Penny Dolan said...

This sounds such an enjoyable event. A lovely post and pictures, as well as full of wise advice to remember, especially about limbering up first. Sitting long hours over computers makes you less supple than you imagine you are, in my experience. Thanks, Diann.

Susan Price said...

Thanks for making me laugh out loud, Dianne. Having witnessed your wonderful performance of The Hare and The Tortoise, I bet you left them begging for more!

Andrew Preston said...

Everyone looks like they're having lots of fun.

Penny Dolan said...

ps. Do like those continual battles with the python and his stuffing!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thanks everyone. I'm not sure where I got the energy from. What do writers say... one day in a school knocks you out for the next day of writing? I think this has knocked me out for a week! But it still makes me smile.

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