Panning for Gold

20 March 2018

Hazel Darwin-Clements

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As Hup, our classical music and theatre experience for babies premieres in New York, co-creator Hazel Darwin-Clements reflects on the process involved in creating music and theatre that babies and their adults can connect with. The building blocks for Hup grew from six months spent working in nurseries and family centres, exploring creative ideas with babies. Now, Hazel’s community engagement work with young parents in Fife is sowing the seeds for new work. ‘It’s been a long and organic process… the golden moments have been gathering over time and they are now bursting to be worked with’.

Definition of Golden:

exceptionally valuable, advantageous, or fine:

having glowing vitality; radiant:

full of happiness, prosperity, or vigor:

I spend quite a lot of time thinking about ‘golden moments’ between parent and baby. How can we create the right conditions to make them happen? Is there a formula/recipe for making them happen or are they just spontaneous, random things? How can they be ‘captured’?

I imagine myself wielding a big net and going through all the workshops, the experiments and activities I’ve led with families in the community engagement projects over the years, catching the most beautiful and interesting moments and collecting them together. It is from this material, these building blocks that a show begins to form. So, by the time the show comes together you will have an experience that’s ‘golden’ from start to finish.

I hasten to add that just a series of lovely moments isn’t enough to make a show. You also need a satisfying structure, a story, a journey, characters and so on. There has to be a palette of emotions, not just joy throughout! We’re striving for a richness and quality to the experience of a show. This is impossible to achieve throughout a workshop, where you are more likely to experiment and there are more open questions.

When Abigail Sinar and I began making Hup we spent six months in nurseries and family centres exploring creative ideas with babies, then jotting down the visual images and the pieces of improvised music that worked really well. We were always looking for a lead from the participants. An extract from our notebook might have read:

“They loved the ribbons! Like waves of sound. The new ‘bouncing’ tune made everyone move. A carer played peekaboo with her scarf and all listened to music on the little wind up toy. Explore scarfs and music boxes next week?”


Maintaining the right, supportive, creative environment for making these discoveries takes great care. How can you show up each day ready to play with your heart, ears and eyes open? Stresses of life and work weave their way into the room and inevitably inform, linger or bubble. We are all only human. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s one vital element, one thing that, if it’s missing, everything topples:

It’s essential to form an actively caring community – of artists, within companies, and within the groups I work with. Everyone’s included – all ages, all roles. We really consider each other. Once those genuine connections are in place, that’s where you find the gold dust. (You can add the ‘made with love’ tag if you don’t think it’s too cheesy!)

For a few years now I have been working with a group of young parents in Lochgelly, Fife. There’s been no pressure to create a performance with this project, but the golden moments have been gathering over time and they are now bursting to be worked with. It’s been a long and organic process- and has had enormous value in itself- with the group growing in confidence and the ideas becoming more and more interesting each week. It’s exciting that we’re at the point now where they’re starting to form into something quite original and fresh feeling.

Some of the young parents made the trip to Edinburgh on Friday to see a performance of Hup in Edinburgh. It’s a tricky journey with a wee one from Fife (especially if you don’t know your way round Edinburgh) and I don’t think some of them would have made it at all if the community element of caring for each other hadn’t kicked in. When I met one of the parents at the station she told me “this is actually the worst day of my life!” and an hour later she was relaxed, playing and dancing with her baby at the show. The bit in between involved offloading on her friends, sharing a journey together and having a laugh, feeling supported. As well as seeing the carefully crafted age-appropriate, beautifully performed show of course! As the show is crossing the Atlantic, it was a lovely reminder for me to check in with how it emerged – from the golden moments discovered out of connections we made in communities.