Kate Stilitz is the writer who adapted my book, The Wolf's Footprint, and turned it into a musical. She agreed to tell us something about herself for this blog.
Sue Price: I could tell, talking to you that you really love your job. How did you come to be doing it?
Kate Stilitz: It all began in Mexico where I spent a year teaching English in a primary school after finishing my A-levels. I had a guitar with me and played a bit and soon found myself getting involved in musical activities. It was a great way of engaging with the children, despite the language barrier.
One thing led to another and before we knew it, we had created a bi-lingual song-cycle. I realised there and then how much I enjoyed working with children through music. After Mexico, I came back to London and have been running children's community theatre projects and school-based performance projects ever since. What really excites me about my job is having the opportunity to work both with the children participating in the projects and with artist from other disciplines to create something new. In the past I've collaborated with visial artists, other musicians and actors, and for The Wolf's Footprint I collaborated with a choreographer, Neil Paris.
Sue: Have you written musical plays before? I think we should be told.
Kate: Over the last 15 years I have written and co-written many different musicals, song cycles and other pieces for performance. These range from a theatrical exploration of the life of Mandela and the role of music in the struggle against apartheid, a performance piece about the Solar system using music, spoken word, movement and illuminated lanterns, a song cycle called Riversong , co-written with Jilly Jarman, which tells the story of a river’s journey through poetry, song and percussion.
Folk tales and legends have proved a great source of inspiration for new musicals and have led to new productions of The Snow Queen, The Return of Theseus and Little Red Riding Hood. There was a strong sense of folk tale in The Wolf’s Footprint which was one of the things that attracted me to it.
Sue: What’s the process of writing a play like that? I’m not musical at all, so I find it hard to imagine. Do you start with the words or the music?
Kate: The works I've written have emerged in a variety of ways.
In the case of The Wolf's Footprint, the starting point was 'The Song of the Peasants.' I had an image of the villagers out in the forest: night is drawing in and there they are, desperately searching for plants to eat as they have done every day since the crops failed. I tried to imagine the sense of frustration and hopelessness that the villagers might be feeling and the relentlessness of the work they're doing. With this in my mind, I started improvising on the piano and with my voice, searching for a clear mood that I felt captured the scene.
Once I had the music, the words came quite quickly and the play had its heart. It's not always like that -- sometimes the words will emerge first and I have to search for the melody and sometimes they come simultaneously as they did for 'The Song of the Advisors.' This song came about in response to a section of the story involving the King and his guards, as they are described in the book, and a need to shift the play rhythmically. Neil and I bounced ideas around and in our interpretation the guards became sycophantic advisors or courtiers. Very quickly and playfully, we sketched out a melody and some words and in a matter of minutes that song was born. The words and music for that song seemed to feed each other and it provided the shape for the characters in the play and led to a great scene.
Sue: It was a very funny scene -- and you could see that the children were having a ball with it. But I loved the whole play.
Kate, thanks for blogging!
The Wolf's Footprint
Adapted by Kate Stilitz and Neil Paris from the book, The Wolf's Footprint, by Susan Price (copyright 2003) by kind permission of, well, moi.
Music and Lyrics: Kate Stilitz
Directed by Kate Stilitz and Neil Paris
Assistant Director: C J Carroll
Sets/Props/Masks: Ramona Barsalona
Costumes: Caitriona McGarry and Miranda Mayston
Year 6 Teachers: Charlotte Houchin and Isabel Hamilton
And the children of Tiverton School
Other 'Conversations with...' can be found here.