John Hegley


John Hegley Carnival Conference March 2013

Here’s One We Made Earlier. The 2nd Carnival Archive Conference March 15th and 16th 2013

John Hegley

John Hegley Transcript (Click to read/hide)

Hilary Carty:

Please welcome John Hegley.

John Hegley:

I’m going to ask you to move in, bring the tables in is what I’m going to ask you to do. There’s no need for you to be as far away as that, I’ve been thinking that, so just bring the tables in, bring them forward, thank you. Bring them in, come on right in, what’s that gap for are you going to dance! I know it’s the carnival thing but it doesn’t look like there’s going to be dancing. Come on, bring them in, bring things nearer, just come on in, come right in. I’ll just give people a moment to settle down. That’s 3 minutes done already there. That’s it, just let people settle down, just get everybody settled. Just focussing on bringing one chair in over there, just let that happen, just get the focus of the room steady. Bring in the focus, very important. Just one more chair coming in there. I’m not starting until that chair is sat, settled, occupied; woops a daisy just pick that thing up. Actually I think I preferred it as it was! [ Laughter ]

My name is John Hedgeley. I was born in Islington and moved to Luton when I was 2. Luton is very important to me in my education and forming, so I’m very fond of this town.

I’ve not written very much down, because I’ve been observing this afternoon and it’s formed what I’ve decided I’ll do. I’ve written down here that I’m going to share with you my performance workshop spirit and practice, which may be of use in your carnival thinking and doings. I’m going to perform later on. You’re going to have me again at the dinner, unless you know when it’s going to be and you can go, pop out [ laughter ]. I’m going to do two things, the second thing later on this evening I’ll do last my performance, and observing what’s been going on here I thought I’d share with you some of my workshop practice.

Today I was working with some youngsters from Tennyson Road School in the library. I’m a great believer in using the library, bringing the kids in. We had the kids in a big circle in the library; people who were doing their internetting quite happy to have the youngsters in there.

[ Pauses to look at something ]

What’s going on, somebody moving about here, just got to check what’s going on [ raises hand in greeting to person ] You’ve got to watch out for the media even at an event like this. They’re everywhere, trying to sneak up, but if you’re sharp you can see them coming [ laughter ].

Tennyson Road, about 25 kids sat in a group, sat in a circle. I said ‘where does this word Tennyson come from?’, so one of the children said, ‘it’s the road that the school’s in, Tennyson Road.’ None of them knew that there was the poet Tennyson, and so we went and got from the library, using the library resource, I said to one of the youngsters, ‘go up to the librarian, use your resource, and see if you can get any information about Tennyson.’ The librarian then went and got a folder which had clippings of things about the school, which amazed me actually, and amazed the teachers as well. That was found, we looked through that, and I read out some of the things, they’d had a celebration of 90 years of the school and we read about some of the things they’d done. They’d done the Charleston, somebody had shown them what things had been done over the period, and the Charleston became quite a big thing in our workshop.

I do quite a lot of acrostic stuff and we did an acrostic for Tennyson Road, and I’ve got it here. I’m going to use what I call ‘old media’ [ flipchart ]. This was our acrostic for Tennyson Road. We did do Tennyson Road School, but ‘school’ wasn’t quite so good so we just stayed with what we got for Tennyson Road:


A nice piece of work that the youngsters did this morning. They were sat in a circle, and it’s been very interesting observing this afternoon, because it makes me think of how one might use some of the little things that I do in my practice, which is very small scale. I’m looking at this, I’m observing more some of the things that have been going on this afternoon, realising how to make them bigger is the next step, not necessarily a difficult step, certainly one you can imagine.

One of the things we did was I talked about the round table. If you haven’t read Morte d’Arthur, Death of Arthur, is the most fantastic poem, and it was something I wanted to work on with the kids but it was just a bit too complicated. Is it Bedivere the last knight, anybody know?

There’s King Arthur and there’s the very last knight, and he asks him to go and throw Excalibur into the water. He goes down and he thinks it’s too beautiful and he hides it in the bushes, he comes back, and King Arthur says, ‘what did you see?’ and he said, ‘oh I saw water rippling when I threw it in’, and Arthur says, ‘you’re lying, go on.’ He goes back again and throws it in, has to come back, ‘what did you see?’, but he didn’t, he hides it in the bushes, ‘I saw not just the waters rippling but there were billows and birds flying all around’, ‘you’re lying go and chuck it in.’ The third time he goes back and throws it in. I wanted to ask the children if they’ve had that experience, where they’ve had something that matches that, something where they have, lied is the wrong word isn’t it because it wasn’t a lie, there was a truth in what the knight did, because he thought it was too wonderful to throw away, but I wanted to talk to them about that form, but it’s quite a complex thing so I didn’t bother with that [ laughter ]. If I go back perhaps we could talk about that, because even now as I tell it to you, and I tell a story poorly, please read Tennyson and find it.

The first education thing I did was to work with Inter-Action. Inter-Action a fantastic company, some of you know it here, ED Berman the guy who hired me. The day I walked in I remember going down there to the workshop, I was accepted to be in the company, I walked back up and I thought my life has changed. They took me in and it was basically very much to do with what the name says, Inter-Action. That’s what I do in my practice, it’s very much interactive.

I do love acrostics, I think they’re a very good form, something the kids like working with. The first time when I was really startled by what the kids could achieve was when I went into Farley Hill School, St Margaret’s; Adam Chester, this must have been about 8 years ago, we did acrostic for ‘Luton’ and Adam Chester came up with:

Love the lord
Us your clay
Today for hope
One of us 
None of you

Two minutes a 10 year old. I suppose that was the day I realised what’s in there, what’s possible, and that’s what I guess we as artists we’re doing, we’re dealing with that calibre of stuff.

When I went to a school in Pudsey, Leeds 2 years ago somebody, when I went into the school, said, ‘by the way the money’s been provided by a peace organisation in Leeds, could you do something about peace?’ I hadn’t known that until I was in the foyer in the school being told that, so I thought what are we going to do. I’d also got the alphabets, so ‘a’ sometimes stands for ‘apple’, ‘b’ stands for ‘bee’, and on that day ‘c’ stood for ‘conciliation.’ It was amazing what those kids knew about trouble spots around the world, discussing with them how we might deal with those things.

When I went down to Gloucestershire not very long after that, I thought I’d like to do some more school work, I was working at Stroud Valley Art Centre, and I said to Jo who was booking me, ‘I need to get one of the schools, perhaps you can send the word out, but I don’t know which school we’re going to get, how we’re going to do it’, and she said, ‘well let’s think of something they can do’, and I said, ‘I’ll tell you what get the head teachers to draw dalek and the worst dalek drawn by a teacher I’ll go into that school and do a workshop.’ You’ll agree that’s fair isn’t it [ laughter ].

Stroud Community School, terrible dalek, absolutely terrible. I hope these people here are drawing daleks [ pointing to audience ], [ laughter ]. I went into the school and what I did with them was, ‘why are daleks so aggressive?’ carrying on from the conciliation thing. We didn’t know why, but when I said, ‘I’ll tell you what let’s try and give them something …’


It’s the voice.

John Hegley:

The voice, they’re aggressive because of their voice, that’s what makes them seem aggressive, but maybe even with that voice. I said, ‘what can we do to calm them down, let’s try and cheer up the daleks.’ [ Laughter ] Each child drew a dalek, gave them something to brighten up their lives, and hopefully be inside happy, love you love, love yourself love other people; let’s get the daleks to love themselves. A lot of them gave the dalek a friend, somebody gave a dalek some toast, and one of the daleks got pregnant [ laughter ].

Now in terms of carnivalising it isn’t difficult to see how people might make that into something that would be something on the screen, the daleks made by the youngsters, it’s not difficult to see that is it, that jump.

When I was working in Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust are fantastic, I asked the children to write an acrostic of their own, and they really struggled, it was when we worked as a group, like we did at Tennyson Road. I got them doing that at Tennyson Road, still making the same mistakes, I got them to do it this morning I said, ‘do Tennyson Road School’, and they were really struggling, but when we did it as a group it was fantastic. When I did it in Scotland I made the mistake of getting them to do it on their own, but then we did it as a group.

We did Aberdeen, I went in there straightaway and I thought, I want to go in there and I want those kids to be doing stuff, I know it’s small but you know. It was:

Noon and night

It was fantastic, the kids went down, they wanted of course the red and yellow pens, there weren’t enough of them, they drew amazingly, it was a fantastic sight the youngsters beavering away, working away, which I guess is what those of you getting them to make costumes I can imagine that’s the hive of activity you’ve got.

I want to get them to work with stuff like Morte d’Arthur, like Tennyson, going back to Orpheus and Eurydice. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Orpheus and Eurydice, for those of you who are interested I think it’s still on the National Gallery’s website, a workshop I did with some youngsters in school.

Again it’s not difficult to see how you can take that out there, the big picture of Orpheus and Eurydice, or some way of showing Orpheus and Eurydice. At the end, if you know the story, he looks back and he loses his love. He’s not supposed to look back. He goes down to Hades, he loses his love because he looks back, does everything else right, gets past the dog. I like to tell that maybe in a bit of an East End way, ‘right I gets past a three headed dog, no problem; I’m across the river, nice one!’

He loses her because he looks back and I like to say to them, ‘it’s because he did all the big things but he missed out on the little thing, he lost his concentration, he lost his attention.’ So hopefully little lessons for them don’t lose your attention. As they say, attention is in the detail.

Anyway so I get them to write songs to the animals, because what he does is sings to the animals, Orpheus sings his song about what’s happened, and I get the kids to write that song, and I got some fantastic lyrics out of them. The first time, this is my mistake, I got them to write a poem about what he says, I got virtually nothing; I said, ‘write a song’ and I got so much, one of the lines, to give you an idea, ‘my lady’s in Hades’, from the kids. I think that gives you an idea.

DH Lawrence, I was telling them about DH Lawrence in Lincolnshire, something I was working on. I was telling them about how DH Lawrence was rejected by England, ‘I had been hurt by England’, is how the song goes; his paintings were turned to the wall in the gallery, some of you may know that, some of you may not know that; people know about Lady Chatterley’s lover. They turned his paintings to the wall. My girlfriend says it’s because they weren’t very good.

I’d written two letters to DH Lawrence in support, one was from a boy he’d known as a child, saying about how they used to play in the den, make colourful characters up, ‘you were always there inventing the stories’. He was a teacher in Croydon, some of you may not have known that, and one of the kids who he taught wrote to him and said, ‘what a wonderful teacher you were, you brought out our reluctant rainbows’, and I said, ‘okay what we’re going to do is we’re going to try and make that into an acrostic, DH Lawrence.’

Come on

Let’s hear it for the youngsters of Healing School [ applause ].

Any questions?


When you said that they get down and they beaver away, do they all come up with their own versions, say at Luton, and their own ideas?

John Hegley:

Luton that youngster’s on his own. Adam Chester came up with that, that was completely his own.


But if you’ve got them all working at it do you then help them select the best word collectively; how does it emerge from getting the whole group to do it, the final version?

John Hegley:

When we did that [ using last acrostic example ], we might have two or three words for ‘h’ and I say, ‘we’ve got that’ and I take the word and ‘harassed’ would seem to be it. You get the words that will come, you might get five.


But do you decide?

John Hegley:

I’m in charge [ laughter ].


This method is new to me. What comes out of the experience for the children, is it a new experience, do they own it?

John Hegley:

I think they do own it. I try to make that happen. I have that awareness in my mind. I sang their words. I had their words, I said, ‘write song lyrics’ and I said, ‘do you want to sing them?’ and they said, ‘no we want you to sing them’, so even though I sang them they were the writers, they were Shakespeare. That is what I want when I go in there. I want them to feel empowered, I want them to feel that they are artists, and then I want them to go on to the streets and help you create new practitioners of carnival, what you do.

I’m going to finish now, but I’m going to come back and do more I’m afraid, but the last thing I’m going to do is about the guillemots. The guillemot is a bird that goes ocean diving, one of the things I got them to do, and this is a way that they feel, I hope, empowered, I got them all to draw a guillemot, a group in Norwich, there were 16 guillemots, some of them not so strong, some would be strong, but the fact is there are 16 guillemots all put up like that, the power of the whole lot of them. It’s the power of the lot of them together. The power that they feel they’ve all checked into that, because they’ve all been there focussing, they’ve all been helping with the judging, is ‘harassed’ better than ‘harangued’, ‘harassed’ yes.

Guillemots I was thinking again that you could have the youngsters out there with their guillemots they’ve drawn on boards, and then you could have them all coming together, like they do on a ledge. A lovely poem by Norman MacCaig, he talks of the ledge being iced with droppings. That’s another thing, trying to get youngsters to understand poetic language that is a brilliant phrase, ‘iced with droppings.’ John Keats phrase, ‘earnest stars’, earnest, earnest stars, fantastic.

[ Plays and sings ]

So you can imagine the guillemots on the streets, if you’re a bit poor and you can’t afford much of a costume you’ll just be a guillemot. It’s very simple, I say I’m a guillemot, or it would perhaps you say, ‘I’m a guillemot’, so it goes, ‘I’m a guillemot’ [ flaps arms ] one, two, three, okay very simple. It’s two what we call preparatory movements and then really bring the energy together on the third, ‘I’m a guillemot’, one, two, let’s have a go at that.

[ Plays and sings ]

I’m a guillemot [ no audience participation ]; a few short term memory problems!

[ Plays and sings ]

I’m a guillemot
I use my bill a lot
I get the fish out of the wet
I eat my fill a lot
I live on ledges 
Vertical edges
Eating what I do not know what veg is
Don’t get me sherbet give me a turbot
My appetite for fish I cannot curbot
I am a guillemot

I know the drill a lot
I drill into the drink and get the drink and not the ink upon my quill a lot
So you don’t thrill a lot
Well listen humans very soon you will a lot
Did you know that I can go so deep I can even see through the porthole of a submerged submarine 130 meters under [ pause ]
I don’t think so 
Me sit and blink so
I come in hard and [??? 23:10] sink so
I am a guillemot

I do my perching
And my researching
Then underneath I go under and see urchin
I am a diver
A generarriver [?]
Underneath I go
I am skiver
I am a guillemot

I do my speccy reccy from my rocky window sill a lot
I sleep rough
I’ve got not stuff
But what I am will always be enough
I am homeless
I am homeless but I’m not gormless
I can go so quick it’s almost like I’m formless
I don’t do nesting when I am resting
I can sleep while I am standing on one leg
And so it doesn’t roll off when I stretch my wings or stroll off I’ve got an edge that is conical and eccentrically weighted so it don’t fall off the edge of the cliff face
I am a guillemot

I find the fishes tend to lose 1 – 0 a lot
But I take only what I need
I’m not a greedy bird
I am sustainable
Self restrainable
I am a guillemot
Am I not

Thank you.

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