Archive for November, 2009

Update on School and Community Project

November 26, 2009

Since the last School and Community blog, soooooo much has happened!

Class 5 saw the show in the Mander Centre and were wowed by it.  The resounding desire afterwards was summed up in Randeep’s comment: “We want to do our own Corner Shop production now”. So our task is set. 

First job: research! And we’re doing it thoroughly! At the City Archives we spent the morning looking at old maps, photos of Whitmore Reans’ main shopping street as it has been in times past, and images of old shops. The class designed their own shop fronts: there were bakeries, sweet shops, butchers, toy shops,  motor bike shops, just-about-anything-you-can-think-of shops!

Where do I live?

map work - where's my street?


shop front designers


Victorian toy shop design


outside the old Molineux Hotel - now the City Archives

Next up: gathering stories! We prepared for our trip out to the local shops in Whitmore Reans to interview shop keepers about their lives.

Six groups of five children visited a total of 18 small businesses along or near the Newhampton Road.  We had a fabulous afternoon. Each group came back not only with recorded interviews and documentary photos, but also with something from the shops: cake, fabric, Indian sweets, fish and chips, fried plantain, fried dumpling, drinks, scissors, foreign newspapers, computer cases! Most of these things had been given to the children.  The verdict afterwards was: “Whitmore Reans shop keepers are  very friendly and very generous.”

outside Q Inn Chippy


inside West End Stylists


inside Shere Punjab


outside Pak Continental

Having stuffed ourselves, we then shared stories and started working on our first possible scenes.  

But the children realised that there were still stories we haven’t heard: those from the other side of the counter, from the customers, the people who live and shop in the community.

So the next thing is tea and cake with local shoppers, whom the children will welcome into the school.  Aprons on then, Class 5!  Thankfully there are plenty of keen bakers in the class. It promises to be a wonderful exchange of delicious cakes and fabulous stories.

Lisa Harrison, Education and Outreach Co-ordinator


“Prepare for tomorrow, lights off, set the alarm …”

November 9, 2009

Last day, last shows, last blog. Yesterday (Sunday) saw last minute shots being filmed before and during our final performances, and some audio was even recorded for our appearance on Radio 4’s You and Yours this Thursday.  So it’s end of the run of our show, but of course the discussion of the state of the business of corner shops continues.

Last warm up

Warming up before the last show

There was a lot of mention of ‘lasts’ yesterday. “This is the last time we’ll warm up together” “Last time we’ll open these suitcases” “Last time you’ll reset that fruit and veg”. And there was the inevitable pre-last show buzz of energy when you see your last opportunity to give it your all, stretching out ahead of you.

The company gathered on set after the final performance to toast The Corner Shop and it’s successes.

To The Corner Shop

Post show toast!

It was strange seeing everyone gathered in one place. The shop unit has always been full of people, but over the past few weeks we’ve been scattered about the place in different rooms, building, making, rehearsing, directing, thinking, writing, talking. And there we were, all together on the street. The scale of the company was immense really – stewards, performers, designers, directors, musicians, producers, administrators, project managers.

Mick kicks back

And many of the team were back in the shop bright and early this morning

Cleaning up

The clean up begins

to get stuck into the two day get out that lies ahead. It’s a huge job. Somehow, a street, two general grocery shops, a sweet shop, a Caribbean food store, a living room and a dining room have all got to fit into Foursight’s warehouse storage space. To say that Frances looked daunted last night as she sized up the towering ‘brick’ walls on wheels, I would say would be an understatement.

At the end of the run last year, people were saying ‘you should do it again, more people should see this’. So we did it again and more people have seen it. This year, people have been saying ‘this needs to tour, more people should see this’. I wonder how soon it will be before we can say that The Corner Shop is coming to a shopping centre near you.

I took a bit of time to really look at our exhibition during this last week and I spent a long time reading the material that was produced for it, and the quotes taken from the initial research interviews. So much of our script used direct and very poignant quotes taken from those interviews. At the end of each performance, the character of Pearl tells the audience that running a corner shop “didn’t feel like work, it felt like life”. It’s amazing to think that a shopkeeper chose to say those words and really meant them. Now you don’t get that in a big supermarket.

Another section of the exhibition looks at the future of corner shops…


Exhibition image

There is a limited time in the business that I do, specifically grocers…I would say a minimum five years and a maximum twelve years, you won’t see a grocers, a butchers and it will be like a domino effect, the newsagents will go, the pharmacy will go…” Robert Evans of Bob Evans & Sons, West Bromwich

We’re all human. We mostly want an easy life. To hop in the car and jet off down to the supermarket, to grab everything that we need in one fell swoop. Or do we? One audience member told us that after watching a performance of The Corner Shop, they felt compelled “to shop more in the local corner shop”. I can’t help thinking it’s a lucky thing that committed corner shop owners are prepared to, as one owner told us, “open until 10pm or until the customers stop coming…” I’ve got a shop just like that round the corner from my house.

Anyway, all this thinking and writing and blogging has got me gasping for a cuppa. But I’m out of milk. Now where am I going to get a pint of milk from, at this unsociable hour? I know just the place…

"Don't see the front door from the moment we open to the moment we close"

Rochi Rampal

Not a feat for the faint-hearted

November 9, 2009

As I popped out for a coffee on a break last week, I  noticed a sandwich board with a Corner Shop poster on it.  I stared at it for ages, watching all the early Christmas shoppers zoom past.  I was thinking to myself, “Amazing.  Theatre in a shopping centre”  I was crouching down to take this photo, and trying to ignore the stares and gawps I was receiving from people walking passed.  Julia Rosenbaum, our steward co-ordinator, passed me by and giggled.  She was probably the only person who didn’t think it strange that I was photographing a sandwich board.  Julia has been working with Bobby and the stewarding team to ensure that audience transitions from scene to scene runs smoothly and efficiently…

Rochi Rampal

DSCN1920 a shopping centre?!



So, how did I, a Birmingham-based school teacher, come to be one of the most public faces of The Corner Shop?  How did I come lead a team of volunteer stewards?  How did I come to be encouraging to stewards to assertively guide – or, as I like to put it, ‘boss around’ – a 60 person-strong audience in the unlikely setting of Wolverhampton’s Mander Shopping Centre?

Well, a little over 6 weeks ago, Bobby Tiwana of Black Country Touring made good on his promise to find a role for me within the organisation. As I walked into their Oldbury office, I had no idea of the trust that was about to be placed in me.

An hour or so later, I left with the task of recruiting a team of 30 or so volunteers to act as stewards for the upcoming performances of The Corner Shop.  I was also to brief my team; produce a schedule to ensure that we had enough stewards for each performance; and, along with Bobby, generally make sure that all things steward-related ran like clockwork.  Not a feat for the faint-hearted!

Next day, the search began… It wasn’t difficult to be enthusiastic about the project. The Corner Shop embodies everything that good theatre should be: Brilliantly acted and scripted?  Yes.  Engaging?  Certainly.  But also, comic, tragic (to the point of my having to hold back the tears), and deeply, deeply relevant.  For, though many of the tales of the production stem from decades ago, what could be more relevant in today’s recession-plagued society than a piece of theatre which touches on themes such as making a success of a small business in hard times; people’s bigotry and fear of immigrants; and the desperate need we all have for a sense of community.

It was, as I say, not hard to enthuse people about a production as inspiring as The Corner Shop but I was also aided by the fact that the stewarding roles on offer were so different from those of a more usual theatre production. Stewarding for The Corner Shop, always promised to be a little different… Members of the audience go on a journey through both the drama, and the performance space itself, so the stewards’ role involves guiding the audience through the different scenes, making sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time and, overall, ensuring that every audience member has a great experience.


Julia and just some of the stewards from the team of 35


Was it easy to get people involved?  Well, there were hiccups: turning initial interest into commitment; getting the right number of people for each show; and jogging potential stewards’ memories without making them feel harassed!  I did, however, get a brilliant response from many people eager to get involved. Additionally, others put themselves out: spreading the word by making announcements; forwarding on my numerous emails; and even scripting advertisements to drum up support! I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank all those people who helped to spread the word.

By the time the run began, I’d assembled a fantastic team but I still needed additions to it and there were stewards who were forced, through situations outside of their control, to drop out of performances at the last minute. These moments seemed to fall into sync with those when Bobby would tell me I was doing a ‘sterling job’. Coincidence? I don’t think so. With this support from Bobby; that of Frances and Steve, Deb and Mick; and, of course, the wonderful commitment of the stewarding team, we have yet to be left in difficulty.

Briefing new stewards, a role which continued at almost every performance, continued to be a joy, as did watching the faces of each steward during their first show and talking to them immediately afterwards: Every single person involved has been full of enthusiasm for the project. As one of the members of my shiny, new stewarding team said after watching the dress rehearsal, ‘I’ve paid no attention to the route; I was so involved in the characters.’ This is a testament to power of the unique theatre experience that is The Corner Shop.

Julia Rosenbaum

Tick tock, tick tock

November 7, 2009

The clocks are ticking.  We’re into our third and final week of the run and we’re racing towards the last performance at what feels like top speed.  Time is running out. It feels as though we’re all very conscious of this – we’ve been lucky enough to get a second shot at doing a show we really love.  As with the end of any run, these last few days feel very precious.  I think our audiences are conscious of this too.  After the show yesterday, one audience member told me that she worried  “many people who’d hoped to catch the show last year would be left feeling frustrated at not managing to catch it again”.  Maybe she’s right.  Most shows so far this week have been sold out.  Last chance folks!  Get those tickets booked! DSCN1989

Our afternoon performance was filmed today by a fantastic camera crew, for future promotion and documentation.  We also picked up on most scenes once the performance was over and the audience had left in order to cover different angles. But this process gave quite a strange atmosphere to the set as our characters conversed with audience members who weren’t present.  It was a bit like going back to the rehearsal stage, even though it feels like we’re well and truly passed that.  And filming scenes that rely so heavily on meticulous timing must have looked hilarious. For our simultaneously running scenes, we attempted to keep time whilst off camera by frantically, but silently, mouthing words to one another.  The process of filming also gave some of us the chance to see scenes we’re not around to see now that the run is underway, as we’re normally hiding in other rooms and behind doors, out of the reach of the audience’s eyes.  I saw some parts of scenes I don’t think I’ve seen since last year.  I felt I was seeing these scenes as our audiences would see them.  I had to struggle not to giggle too loudly (and force a re-take of filming) at the divine Jean and her quest for her lost purse and I felt quite emotional at how touching I found this scene between customer and shopkeeper. DSCN1951 I suppose it goes back to my post earlier this week.  Our audiences really do connect with this piece, be it because of their memories of being the customer of a corner shop, or the owner of one.

“It was brilliant.  Bought back loads of memories.  We had a shop… and that split room – that freaks me out.  Because that was my childhood.  Mum and Dad booking up at the end of the week, fingers crossed it will balance, ‘cause if it didn’t you’d have to do it all over again…”Audience member

Rochi Rampal

The power of Class 5’s personal stories

November 4, 2009
speaking and listening

speaking and listening

Class 5 are brilliant listeners! 

“No! We want to carry on listening to each other!” they insisted, when after a considerable time of sitting in a circle, I suggested that we got on our feet and did some moving around. 

The class had been interviewing each other in pairs. They were so fascinated to hear each other recounting the discoveries they’d made about their partner, they couldn’t bear not to hear everyone’s story.

What makes a good interview? We began to identify some of the essential ingredients. Curiosity. We discovered we need to have questions we are genuinely interested in asking.  Next, we need the skill of asking the questions in such a way that it draws out interesting stories. Some pupils, having interviewed parents, grandparents or neighbours over half term, are already becoming quite skilled in their questioning techniques. Here are some examples of what they asked each other:

What was your life like before you moved to England?

What are the 5 most interesting things you have done in your life?

What do you do at home?

What sorts of disasters have happened in your life?

What sorts of things do you do in the holidays? 

This was a great session to lead into hearing the stories of the Corner Shop production. Yes! Tomorrow we’ll be snaking our way up into town to watch the 1pm show. Suffice it to say, Class 5 is VERY excited.

Lisa Harrison, education and outreach co-ordinator

Everyone’s got a corner shop

November 2, 2009

It was a busy last couple of days of the second week of the run.  There have been more set tweaks.  The boxes in the stockroom that climb the walls…


…encase the split room…


Steve and Gulshan stacking boxes


…and the week culminated in three performances on Saturday.  This felt like a bit of a shock to the system, but was great fun and enabled us to complete immerse ourselves into an intensive performance run!  And now, stepping back from the performances for a couple of days has been a refreshing opportunity to reflect on how the show has been going.   So many people commented last year on how they felt this piece of theatre should tour. It has hit me how much of our audiences this year are saying the same thing.

“Fantastic. Really glad I came up from London, this brought back a lot of happy memories.  Should be seen everywhere.”

We have been loyal to the stories that were told to us during the research phase and The Corner Shop is firmly rooted in the Black Country where our research was conducted.  But the owners of those stories have rich and diverse backgrounds, countries of origin and experiences.  These stories are universal. It’s no mistake that our nickname for our opening scene is ‘The Universal Shop’.

Our audiences have also been reminding us that what they see really speaks to them, that they feel moved to act practically…

“I will definitely be using my local corner shop more.”

I was talking with a shopper in The Mander Centre on Saturday, and explaining to her what the intriguing world behind the Sports World shutters was all about.  Her eyes lit up when she remembered her old corner shop.  She explained to me how happy she was as a young girl, being entrusted by her father with a few pence to go and fetch a pint of milk.  She told me how sad she was that they are “dying out and being put out of business”.  She shared with me her own stories of what made the shop important for her, and we talked at length about the changing nature of the business of corner shops.  This is what I love about this production: it can connect with everyone because everyone has got a feeling, a story, a memory about their corner shop.  I hope she comes to see the show.

Rochi Rampal