We got back from Battle medieval fayre late on Monday night and awoke early on Tuesday morning to rain, rain and more rain. So by the time I’d unloaded and reloaded the trailer I was wetter than a cods belly button. Despite this we were in good spirits as we were taking our kids to a 5 day long circus skills camp for home educated children. O.K. so our kids aren’t home educated, but as part of the deal we struck with the organizers our children were allowed to take part.
This was our 3rd year at the event. The first year I was just booked to perform in the evening show, but when I saw what great work they were doing with the children and how well run it was I decided that I wanted to be part of it. So for the next year we arranged that I’d teach and perform and Jester Dragonfly (who is also a level 3 child care practitioner) would run the toddlers area at a very cheap rate on condition that all our children were allowed to take part.
Our kids really enjoyed the event and loved taking part in the talent show (where our eldest performed a magic linking rings routine) and the end of year camp show (our son, then aged 3, got to show everyone his new found tightrope walking skills).
This year we were booked to perform, run the toddlers area and also be part of the ground crew, helping out as and where needed.
We arrived Tuesday afternoon, the day before the camp opened to the public and, because it was still raining, Jester Dragonfly dropped me off with all the kit and then took the kids home again as it was only an hours drive away.
At first I thought “great, a night out without the family. Time to party”. It was only after I’d finished setting up that I realized that I was in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest pub and without beer.
After an early night spent laying in my sleeping bag, trying to sleep as the rain bounced off of my tent like a heard of kangaroos (Is “heard” the correct term for a group of kangaroos). I awoke and finished setting up for the event, then awaited the arrival of my over excited tribe.
About the site
Time for the boring bit, what was there.
The camp site was divided into two fields, both of which were no smoking areas (after all, its a kids camp). The lay out of which was as follows:
As you drove into the site, on your left was a long marquee which housed the admin desk, a juggling stall (all equipment was priced at good value for money), a tea earn with endless free cups of tea, coffee and biscuits, A brilliant face-painter (great art work and a really good way with the children), a sort of soft play area for babies and several settees where parents could sit, drink tea and chat.
To the left of this was the toddlers area run by us. This had our large medieval tent, all kitted out with sheepskins and loads of wooden toys. This we tried to keep as a quiet space for kids who found the excitement of the camp a bit to much. Outside of this was a lawn, enclosed by hay bales and mini, brightly colored wigwams. Here we had our circus workshop equipment and ran games, including dragon racing. This involved us making an race course with various tasks too perform whilst bouncing along on soft, blow up dragons. This game proved so popular that we ended up repeating it several times a day. Even adults raced each other!
Next to this was another marquee where “pop up” workshops could happen, E.G. If someone wants to do a talk on something home-ed related, they could do it here. Next to that was an old wooden barn in which were various art and craft activities. Where kids could make hats, puppets etc to the sort of high standard that only their parents could appreciate.
In the building in front of us was the cinema. Here, from 3 in the afternoon until midnight (or earlier if it was raining) circus related films were shown. In workshop hours they were films aimed at younger children (Toby’s traveling circus etc). Then in the evenings they showed films of various circus acts etc so as to inspire the children.
By the side of this was a path that lead up, past some toilets (one of which was for the sole use of disabled people and children under 4. Which I think was a nice touch), past the shower which, tardis like, seemed a lot bigger on the inside than the outside (it also had loads of hot water). The path ended at the camping field.
This is a very large field that could of easily housed twice as many tents. This allowed families to spread out and have run around space outside their tents. It also meant that parents could scream “Put that down,” “I wont tell you again” and ” if I count to 3, there will be trouble” without causing to much disruption to other families (well kids will be kids, regardless of the type of education). It also had a large communal space which included a large yurt. Handy for eating in on wet days.
At the far end of this field was a gate that leads back into the front field. To the left of the gate was archery. This cost £2 a go and although I didn’t get to use it or talk to its crew, Jester Dragonfly (who is also a medieval archer) spent a lot of time there chatting to them and watching how they ran it. She said that they are very professional, nice people and related well with the children (ours loved playing there).
Turning left you then had a supervised fire pit surrounded by hay bales where, in the evenings, parents would teach their kids how to burn marsh-mellows. After this you then had two circus tents. Here from 10-12 30 and 1 30-4 the workshops would happen. Which tent you were in depended on your age and workshops included not just various types of juggling, but also clowning, trapeze, tightrope and lots more. All run by professional performing artist with years of training behind them. Although the children were encouraged to attend for the full 5 hours, they were free to come and go as they liked.
In the evenings these tent were used for the various types of entertainment, circus shows, a kids disco, live music, story time etc. Walk past these and you end up where you started, at the entrance where, if you wished to smoke, you could step outside and do so.
Now the not so boring bit. E.G. what happened:
Circus Skills Workshops
The first couple of days the weather wasn’t that good (wet and windy) but because they limit the number of children allowed to attend the event (The circus who run it also home educate and as such run it not for profit, but because they believe that its an important thing to do) so there was more than enough room in the tents.
The first circus skills workshop involved a demo of all the equipment (how to use it safely etc) and a quick talk on the aims of the camp. This was followed by a chance for the children to try out all the different equipment. Some, those who already have circus skills or had been to the camp before, knew what they wanted to do, others, those who had never tried circus skills had the chance to find out what they liked and the main stream educated siblings had the chance to stand around thinking “This is weird, no ones shouting at me or telling me what to do”. However, they soon got the idea of self motivation and quickly joined in.
Over the next couple of days the weather improved (we even saw some sunshine) and the older children (8+) concentrated on their chosen skills whilst the younger ones ran from one bit of equipment to another.
Wednesday evening, after the workshops had finished, like every evening, started with an adults workshop (after all, there nothing worse than being up staged by your own kids) and story time. My son loves story time and every evening he would run to the tent where the story teller would be wearing a large coat, the inside of which is covered with pockets. He’d choose a child to pick a pocket, remove the contents and tell a story based upon the chosen objects. I cant think of another time when Stormageddon has sat still for so long.
After the story time there was a circus show put on by the organizing circus with a special guest appearance by a great comic, teenage magician. Despite his age he was truly funny and good and has appeared on T.V. before. The only down side of his act was the fact that he used several lines that I was intending to use in my show.
Thursday evening it was the turn of the other circus family to put on a show in their tent. This ended in a funny clown routine that included lots of water going everywhere. After their show it was my turn to perform (on a now wet and very slippery floor). The kids were hyped up after the last routine and very loud and unruly. Which was lucky as that’s just the way I like them. As per normal, Stormageddon made several guest appearances in my show, most of them unrehearsed and the kids loved the way he played his part (Oh joy, I’ve been up staged by a 4 year old…………. again).
Friday evening was the talent show. Here kids could sing, dance or do whatever else they felt like showing us all. It was great for their confidence and often very funny. Stormageddon performed his balancing act to a massive round of applause (by now everyone present knew who he was, he’d made sure of that).
Saturday night was the hat parade. this was where all the kids who’d made hats in the craft area marched around camp with music and showed off their hats. This lead into a little kids disco, then live music from a band, followed by a fire show and yet more burnt marsh-mellows around the fire.
Sunday was the last day and the first part of it was spent preparing for the grand shows. A chance for the children to show us all what they had learnt. The children aren’t forced to take part in the show, but 99% wanted to. The first show was put on by the smaller children. Mass stilt walking acts (followed by mass falling off of stilts acts), diabilos, trapeze and clowning etc. Stormageddon performed a magic routine where he put a ball in my hand, made it disappear, only to reappear under his hat. I’m not sure who was more surprised by it’s re appearance, Stormageddon or the audience.
The second show was put on by the older children, including one who took on the role of ring master. My children performed trapeze, tightrope and poi. Obviously, as a parent I loved it and when our eldest girl came on stage her make up etc made her look so grown up that I wondered where my little girl had gone.
Then it was time for good byes, promises that our kids will keep in contact with their kids and time to pack down all the equipment and go home.
New home for Woodbine
But before that I had one last thing to do. There was a special needs teenager there who remembered me from last year. He is a wonderful person with a heart of gold and a very funny performer. He’d taken a shine to me and I had a favour to ask of him. Woodbine (my burping polecat puppet) was getting on in years and due to retire soon. The problem was finding a good home for him with someone who would love him and feed him copious amounts of pot noodles.
I explained this to him and asked if he would look after him for me. It may sound strange to you, but I get very attached to my puppets and hate giving them away. But when I saw the smile on his face (the child’s, not woodbine’s) I knew that he was going to a good home and with a little tear in my eye, said so long to woodbine the elder and, once woodbine was far enough away so as not to get jealous, pulled woodbine the younger out of his box and introduced him to the delights on Bombay bad boy pot noodles.
As I said earlier, they limit the amount of people who attend this event so as to be able to give lots of time to every child. It’s not run as a holiday camp, it’s run so that home educated children can have a chance to socialize and learn traditional performing arts. This year it sold out in 8 days and although they are trying to arrange a 3rd tent for next year, which in turn will increase the amount of children able to attend, I’ve been asked not to put up contact details on this blog as they don’t want to have thousands of families applying and being refused a ticket.
But if you get a chance to take your children to it, you really wont regret it and they really will love it.
Marks out of 10? I give it 15 (It would of scored higher but that child magician stole some of my lines).
Total immersion show at Oakleigh Fair – Cambridge
On a different note. This coming weekend we are performing our total immersion show on parkers piece in Cambridge. This is a free to enter event run by Oakleigh fairs. As always with their events, there isloads of acts, a fun fair and lots and lots going on. So if your in the area, then please come along and say “HI”
For more info, check out the following link: