PARK Bench Theatre’s hit summertime children’s show, Teddy Bears’ Picnic, will be streamed by producers Engine House Theatre from today (26/2/2021).
Performed by Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre actress and Story Craft Theatre interactive storyteller Cassie Vallance in all weathers last summer, it was one of three solo performances staged in the Friends Garden of Rowntree Park under Covid-safe conditions, with more than 1,000 adults and youngsters seeing the open-air show over 30-plus performances.
Now, director Matt Aston’s company, Engine House Theatre, is to stream the show, suitable for everyone aged three and over, newly bolstered by a Make Your Own Teddy Bear craft workshop video by Cassie, bringing her Story Craft Theatre craft-making skills to the online venture.
Tickets will give access to viewing for the whole event period of February 26 to March 7, priced at £5 at tpetv.com.
Teddy Bears’ Picnic was inspired by the much-loved John Walter Bratton and Jimmy Kennedy song and based on an original idea by Julian Butler, a freelance children’s theatre composer, lyricist and sound designer who has written several musicals with York playwright Mike Kenny and worked regularly with Aston.
Inspired by Butler’s suggestion when musical director for Aston’s production of Benji Davies’s The Storm Whale, starring Cassie at the York Theatre Royal Studio in 2019-2020, the 30-minute show was co-created by performer Vallance and Engine House artistic director Aston over a few weeks last summer.
Now, Matt says: “I’m so pleased to be finally joining the 21st century and having Teddy Bears’ Picnic stream online for people to enjoy at home.
“It seems such a long time ago that we all suddenly had to live and work in a very different way to bring live theatre back to York and I’m still extremely proud of the Park Bench Theatre season and of all the wonderful people who worked on it and helped make it happen.
“We didn’t have any plans to stream the shows, but once we’d gone into this third lockdown, we had a look at what footage could be used. We’re still hopeful we can stream the other two shows as well, featuring Chris Hannon in Samuel Beckett’s First Love and Lisa Howard in Every Time A Bell Rings [a play written by Matt in response to the lockdown].”
The director adds: “I’m also thrilled that Cassie has brought her crafting skills from her award-winning company Story Craft Theatre to present a short film so everyone van make a cardboard teddy at home.
“With the announcement of the Government’s roadmap earlier this week, there seems to be light at the end of the Covid tunnel. Hopefully, Teddy Bears’ Picnic will be another of those small treats to help families get through the final days of home schooling.”
In Park Bench Theatre’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic, every year, Jo’s family used to have a big family gathering: a teddy bears’ picnic. It was always brilliant, but then she grew too old and too cool for that sort of thing, so she stopped going. Now she has grown up, however, she wishes she could have those picnic days all over again.
Recalling the co-writing experience, where technology came in handy, Cassie says: “I’d write a bit, Matt would write a bit, and we’d share thoughts on Zoom. We then started working on the physical aspect of the show from the beginning of August, as I’m much more of an up-and-about physical person, and then we began running it.
“The main thing, when working on it, was to be flexible, with it being for children and an outdoor show. Visually, it had to have lots of big stuff, and our thinking was, ‘if we can say it physically, let’s do that’, but it’s also a play full of memory moments, which we’ve made more intimate.”
Now, Teddy Bears’ Picnic can be enjoyed all over again, online, teddy bear-making craft workshop and all. “Considering how life has changed so dramatically for so many over the past months, I once again find myself feeling very grateful to be able to be part of creating a piece of live theatre for families,” says Cassie.
Did you know?
The song Teddy Bears’ Picnic combines a 1907 melody by American composer John Walter Bratton with lyrics added by Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy, a Dublin University graduate, in 1932.
It has been recorded widely since Peckham crooner Henry Hall’s idyllic version that year, being used in television series, commercials and films. Recordings range from Bing Crosby to The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, while Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan recited the lyrics as a poem at the start of a recording of Bad Attitude.
WHAT was the CharlesHutchPress verdict last summer?
REVIEW: Teddy Bears’ Picnic, Park Bench Theatre, Engine House Theatre, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York, August 22 to early September 2020. ****
THROUGH stealth and goofy coming timing, Cassie Vallance had stolen Twelfth Night, the Jazz Age hit of last summer’s Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York before the rest of Joyce Branagh’s superb cast could do anything about it.
After that Pop-Up Elizabethan theatre season on the Castle car park, Vallance has popped up again at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, presenting Crafty Tales with her Story Craft Theatre cohort Janet Bruce last Saturday lunchtime.
She would have done so again this Saturday too at 1pm but for the fact she needs to be at Rowntree Park for the 1.30pm performance of Teddy Bears’ Picnic, her solo performance for this summer’s Park Bench Theatre season.
For all her oodles of comic energy, not even Vallance can be in two places at once and so Janet Bruce will be bringing a picture-book story to life on her own on the patio this weekend.
In between Twelfth Night and Teddy Bears’ Picnic came Vallance’s starring role in director Matt Aston’s adaptation of Benji Davies’s The Storm Whale stories for the York Theatre Royal Studio’s Christmas show for children.
Now, Aston, artistic director of Engine House Theatre, resumes his creative partnership with Vallance for this season’s Park Bench Theatre resurrection of outdoor theatre for the post-lockdown age.
Together, they have co-created a new version of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic story spun from the threads of the popular children’s ditty and an original idea by musical director Julian Butler; Aston directing, Vallance performing with all that impish clowning, physical comedy and pathos that has marked the York actor’s performances over the past year.
If you go down in the Covid-secure Friends Garden tomorrow, or on various dates until September 5, you are in for a children’s show to delight three year olds and upwards. Take a picnic, take a child or two, or more, within a family bubble to sit in socially distanced pods marked out by chalk circles, with room to accommodate your favourite teddy bear too.
On arrival, you will pick up the necessary equipment to listen on a head set to the feed of Vallance’s storytelling, sound effects (from lasers to a send-up of The Six Million Dollar Man intro for the adults present) and reprises of the familiar song, complemented by Julian Butler’s incidental music.
Vallance is playing Jo, struggling with her big case as she tries to negotiate her way through the not very high gates to the Friends Garden on a sunny Thursday afternoon.
Eventually, she does so, taking up residence on and around the park bench beneath the linden tree in the garden corner, as a squirrel looks on, front paws in that distinctive squirrel position where they look to be on the cusp of bursting into applause.
Vallance’s Jo is in three quarter-length dungarees with yellow buttons and matching head band and anything but matching pumps (purple instead), her bravura attire denoting a funny woman has just entered the garden.
Jo begins to unpack the case, taking out case after smaller case, as if opening up a Russian doll. She puts up bunting, does a spot of juggling. Vallance has said nothing, as much mime artist or silent movie actor to this point, but once she puts on a pair of spectacles, she “realises” she has an audience and starts talking…excitedly.
She seeks to give this re-telling a context for Covid-19 2020, as Jo talks to the children about the experience of coming out to play again, to see friends again, to be outdoors again, to be enjoying a Teddy Bears’ Picnic again, after being stuck inside in lockdown for an eternity.
“It’s a bit weird,” she says, and who would disagree. “There’s been lots of Zooming,” she notes. “For a word that sounds so fast, it seems to take so long!”
Picking a banana from her picnic, Vallance’s Jo bounces around the audience, revelling in “just being”, “feeling happy”, “enjoying stuff”, but then her thoughts turn to memories. “All memories are important. They may not be happy, but that’s OK, they can help us learn,” she says.
At this juncture, Jo transforms into her younger self, recalling childhood Teddy Bears’ Picnics in Rowntree Park, surrounded by her teddies, all except her favourite, Kelly, who came off worst in an unfortunate encounter with her father’s Flymo mower.
Vallance’s crestfallen pathos at this juncture is a joy, so too are the Scottish and Welsh accents she adopts for Jo’s mum and dad (even though they are from Welwyn Garden and Fulford!).
Aston and Vallance’s charming short story ends on a positive and reassuring note in these strange times for children and adults alike, Jo saying that things can and always will change…and “change can be really, really good”.
Ironically, the only sting in this tale was, well, not a sting but a horsefly bite suffered by director Matt Aston pre-show. Kelly went to hospital in the story, Aston to A&E with his arm swollen. Is ted not dead? Did both have a happy ending? That would be telling!