Sadly, the pandemic hasn't been too kind to the Story Stork. It's unsurprising that I've struggled, what with Story Storks basically being a theatre company. It's pretty well accepted that the arts sector has been one of the hardest hit and it's likely that the sector will be permanently changed. Let's hope for the better.
What's worse - last year was the year that I got a bit of a break. Story Storks had been asked to be the main Christmas Show at The Exchange in Twickenham. It's a bigger theatre than the ACT, but also has a dedicated Front of House and Marketing team, so I wouldn't have had to do literally everything. I was so excited. Not only would I have had a bigger team at the theatre to work with, but the money made off the Christmas Show would have meant that I could start to produce the literacy materials that I've wanted to do for so long. Dreams were coming true left, right and centre.
And then a flipping global pandemic struck. TEN YEARS I've worked to get that break. COME ON!
At the beginning of the pandemic, the only real funding option open to me was the Arts Council who have been given a whopping amount of money from the government to help out the arts. But Story Storks isn't big enough for the 'rescue' money, so instead, I had to apply for a grant for the arts which is measured against the Arts Councils' artistic values rather than whether or not I was financially viable before the pandemic (which I was). I was told, in a standard e-mail, that Story Storks wasn't getting a grant because my application wasn't as engaging/high quality as other applicants. I didn't bother to follow it up. The appearance of a '/' in the e-mail told me that the Arts Council was made up of a bunch of humans with an overwhelming task - I wish them well.
So I struggled on, and I got support in the places where I always get it - the Mums and Dads and Grandparents and Nannies who adore stories as much as I do and want to pass them on. So many of you have turned up to everything I've done. The online workshops attracted people from Essex, Scotland, East London and even Austria! Many of you sat through a heatwave with me down the Fairfield (my goodness I was ill after that one!) I've had support from the local Councillors and the borough's Parks team which was wonderful, and Kingston College has thrown the might of their work experience program at me too. We were accepted to be part of the Totally Thames Festival and they supported us to deliver the Whittington project. There were so many small acts of support that, added together, kept me going.
Being the eternal optimist, I pushed ahead with the Christmas Show, The Three Little Christmas Pigs. The Theatre were truly amazing, constantly keeping up to date with the COVID restrictions and rearranging the audiences as required. We locked down in November which, for us, was good news. It meant Christmas was more likely to go ahead. We were actually in rehearsals when we heard that London was being put into Tier 4 so I had to shut the production down. I had kind of planned for this eventually (it's what I'd applied to the Arts Council for actually!) and we managed to do an online show which went really well. But financially, it didn't touch the sides.
We moved the whole run to Easter (now The Three Little Easter Pigs), but sadly that wasn't to be either, which is why we've now moved it to coincide with Story Storks' 10th birthday on the 1st of August. It's now just The Three Little Pigs and it's going to be one hell of a party because it looks like it's going to be the last show for a few years.
Ultimately, Story Storks makes its money from regular term-time work in schools and nurseries and a big show once a year. The pandemic took out both of those, so I had to have a backup. Actually, I've always had a backup. Every entrepreneur does. Most entrepreneurs live with the feeling that 'any minute now this is all going to go wrong and I'll have to get a job'. For me, that back up has always been teaching. I hide it well, but I'm actually a scientist by training. I have a Pharmacology degree and had a ten-year career in the Pharmaceutical industry before having kids, and right now this country is desperate for Chemistry teachers. So...
...I've started! I have to do what's called an SKE (Subject Knowledge Enhancement) course for eight weeks to bring my science knowledge back up to GCSE standard, and I'm LOVING it. I've just reacquainted myself with one of the best stories of all times - the discovery of the elements and the atom. Of course, it's not being told properly and certainly not being wielded as the powerful educational tool that it could be. Don't panic - I'm on it! I start my full-time training with St Mary's University in September. By June next year, I'll be Mrs Lewis QT, teaching Chemistry, Biology and Physics, or Mrs Lewistry for short!
But this isn't the end for Story Storks. She's grounded, maybe even a bit wounded, but she's not dead! The plan is to keep her ticking over during my training and first few years of teaching which means there will still be workshops during the school holidays at The Exchange, Twickenham and The Rose Theatre, Kingston. Ultimately, what I've done with Story Storks is to come up with a model which uses storytelling to achieve educational outcomes. In this case, it's literacy outcomes with early years children. I'm hoping that I'll get to work with other Fellows of the RSA and theatre colleagues to further develop the model I've created and get it out into the community where it can do some good. It feels too important to let it go entirely. With limited time to work on Story Storks, I'll have to focus, though without the burden of paying my wage, there may be more scope for creativity than ever before. Despite it all, I remain optimistic.
But for the foreseeable future, becoming a full-time science teacher will be my priority. I'm hoping that I'll get the opportunity to do the same with science as I have with early years, although instead of dressing up as the Big Bad Wolf I'll be dressing up as Isaac Newton!
If you'd like to come and join us for The Three Little Pigs you can find out more here.
Story Storks & Co. are an Early Years Theatre Company on a mission to help and inspire every Early Years child to become a reader for pleasure. We do this with a blend of interactive storytelling and theatre, designed to fire children's imaginations whilst getting them ready for reading.