Of chalk drawings and Henry IV Part 1

Isabel Feeney, English undergraduate at King’s and one of the winners of this year’s Cultural Challenge, reflects on her internship at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Judges for the 2014 final (image by David Tett)

Judges for the 2014 final (image by David Tett)

My internship at the Royal Shakespeare Company has definitely been a learning curve, but it is an opportunity I could never have imagined and an experience I’ll never forget. I came into the internship with very little knowledge of working in a theatre but it’s something I’d always known I’d love to do, and I wasn’t wrong. Working at the RSC is amazing – it’s such a friendly, creative environment and the hectic atmosphere of the theatre is something I enjoy. It’s also challenging: I was given quite a bit of responsibility and freedom to come up with some ideas of my own for the Events & Exhibitions department. Although this was incredibly daunting, it was also rewarding and I’m excited now to see some of my ideas become a reality. I’ve had a lot of support throughout my internship and am getting to work alongside some seriously talented and creative members of the team.

I secured the internship following my pitch in the King’s Cultural Challenge, in which I proposed that the RSC, along with the other cultural partners in the challenge, use heritage to engage wider audiences. It was clear that the Events & Exhibitions team had read my proposal and taken into consideration what I was particularly interested in because I was given the task of finding a way to connect RSC visitors to the heritage of the building, something I found really interesting and loved researching.

Isabel's Tempest themed mural

Isabel’s Tempest themed mural

A big part of my role at the RSC has been helping with their summer family offering, Stratford-on-Sea. I worked closely with Laura Keating (Events & Exhibitions Officer), observing what was planned for this year and how it was received. I did have to work a couple of Sundays but I actually found this to be the fun part, seeing each event play out, especially when it meant helping to draw a Tempest themed mural on the Bancroft Terrace with chalk as part of the Stratford on Sea family events programme. The purpose of this was so that I could come up with some ideas for next year – very nerve wracking but I’ve started to develop some initial concepts with the team and hopefully I’m doing OK so far!

One of the best parts about being an RSC employee is that you get free tickets to each performance – yes, really! I managed to see Henry IV Part I, The Roaring Girl and Arden of Faversham, which were obviously all brilliant and definitely worth seeing. The Roaring Girls Season at the Swan was especially great and just proves the RSC’s commitment to interpreting Elizabethan theatre for a modern audience. Another highlight was listening in on a talk about Buzz Goodbody, the RSC’s first female director, with Erica Whyman (Deputy Artistic Director), Richard Santy and Buzz’s brother. I find Buzz to be such an inspiration: she believed that Shakespeare should be for everyone and broke into a male dominated sector to direct some truly groundbreaking productions.

I can’t believe I’m already half way through my internship, I’ve learned so much about the RSC and the creative process that I know will prove invaluable throughout my life.

King's Cultural Challenge 2014 winners and judges (image by David Tett)

King’s Cultural Challenge 2014 winners and judges (image by David Tett)



Anatomy and mending

The second blog from Dr Richard Wingate (MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s) and textile maker Celia Pym from the Cultural Institute’s Parallel Practices residences, in partnership with the Crafts Council, which sees the first artists in residence in the College’s Dissecting Room.

Celia Pym: ‘Is this a thing?’

The Dissecting Room staff and students have been very welcoming.

So far I have mended 15 items and have three things – a backpack, a cape and a cardigan – waiting to be repaired. I have mended sweaters, a knitted heart, pyjamas, a bag lining, shirt pockets, belt loops and a sports jacket.

‘Is this a thing?’ one student asked me – I wasn’t sure what he meant – ‘A thing – menders working in dissecting rooms?’ he said. No, I explained, this was a special thing, only happening in this Dissecting Room.

Image by Celia Pym

I am in on Mondays and Wednesdays. I have a table set up with yarns and equipment near the sinks and where students drop their bags and put on their lab coats. I have a board for displaying work in progress and photographs.

The smell of preserving fluids in the Dissecting Room is strong. I was told I would get used to it within a couple of weeks. This is true.

It’s a surprisingly cosy place. One former demonstrator said this to me and I agree.

There have been some tears and sore eyes and a couple students have mentioned feeling nervous about beginning to learn dissection from human bodies.

Students seem to take the gifts the donor make of their bodies very seriously and talk about this often. My offer to them for being allowed to work in the Dissecting Room is to mend holes in their clothes or anything made of textiles. There is definitely something about gifts and giving in here.

Image by Celia Pym

Image by Celia Pym

My notes in my notebook say make something lumpy, tender and heavy. I have started paying attention to the back of the darning and back of things, back of heads, back of ears.

One mysterious towel turned up on my desk. The towel was a frayed in three places at the edges and the edging was coming away. It is light blue and pretty well worn. Don’t know who it belongs to – am fixing the holes and strengthening it with light coloured embroidery.

I have learnt:

  • That nerves have no give – arteries have give – this is a good way to tell them apart
  • What lungs feel like
  • That the liver is high up in the chest cavity
  • That there is a cavity in your brain with beautiful curly fibers that produce cerebrospinal fluid

Richard Wingate: Learning on the job

Image by Celia Pym

Celia’s pitch to the students has evolved over the weeks into a tightly argued case for mending, a gift for a gift, which makes eminent sense to the class. Each session with a new batch of students is an unintended opportunity for Celia to develop her message and an increasingly refined reflection of her role in the Dissecting Room. Her table in the corner of the DR is a ‘station’, a way-point on a journey, where students and staff pause to fill in a mending slip that explains the damage, small or large, to a deposited towel, sock or sweater. It makes sense.

Last week, we wondered whether we might hit a plateau where accepted might equal mundane: a point where we can’t really imagine the Dissecting Room without a mender. Almost as soon as this thought emerged, we moved on to contemplating what the project will look like as a completed piece. What will it record and how will it be recorded? Suddenly, the time seems short and a little more precious.

You can read more blogs about Parallel Practices on the Crafts Council website.

Image by Celia Pym

Rebuilding institutional memory

James Doeser, Research Associate, talks about the latest developments in the Cultural Enquiry into access to the arts for young people.


I’ve been spending the last few weeks on a journey through time. I’m examining the history of cultural policy through archives, published histories and the stories of people close to the policymaking process. It’s clear to me that cultural policymakers tend not to take account of what’s gone before them. Those who cannot remember the past are not only condemned to repeat it, but also likely to miss the insight it may afford them. That’s why I’m working with Deborah Bull, Director of Cultural Partnerships at King’s to research the history of policy designed to encourage arts engagement by children and young people.

Earlier in the year Harriet Harman (Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) initiated a consultation entitled Young People and the Arts. The consultation asked how future policy and practice might be effective in increasing the breadth and depth of arts engagement. The Labour government prior to 2010 devised and oversaw many substantial policies directed at achieving the ambitions set out in the consultation document. Since then the Coalition government has commissioned two major reviews by Darren Henley on how provision for cultural education can be reformed.

This got us thinking about institutional memory: the in-house wisdom contained within people or documentation that should ideally inform the development of plans and policies. It concerned us that either institutional memory no longer existed within cultural policymaking circles, or it was overlooked in favour of seemingly fresh new ideas. We could see the value in providing a much-needed historical perspective on this topic.

Extract from Arts Council of Great Britain Report of 1976

Extract from Arts Council of Great Britain Report of 1976

I’ve already learned a lot from digging through the Arts Council archive and through a series of informal interviews with key people in the historical policymaking process. For example: it was only in the late 1970s that major policymaking institutions in the UK began to seriously consider the role of the arts in the lives of young people. The influence of people like Jennie Lee and Roy Shaw cannot be underestimated. They helped to push certain agendas in the midst of vigorous debates about the role of public subsidy, education and the role of the arts in the life of the country. One of the challenges thus far has been coping with a lack of published research in this area.

In order to get a better understanding of this moment in the late 70s we are hosting a Witness Seminar here at King’s on 10 November; it will bring together key people from that time in history to share their experiences of making and implementing policy directed towards arts engagement by children and young people. The resulting transcript from the seminar will inform the remainder of the project and be of value to future scholars of this distinctly undocumented area of policy development.

If you would like to contribute to the Witness Seminar or the Cultural Enquiry more generally as it reaches its final stages please get in touch via culture@kcl.ac.uk.