9th April 2020

Culture / Mel Shand

Learning from Bees: An Original Interview with Some Good Ideas

24 8 mins 0

Melanie Shand has been friend and neighbour of Some Good Ideas founders, Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, at Glen Dye for over thirty years. Mel is an artist, playwright, director and teacher and a regular feature in our Camps at Glen Dye where she guides and encourages guests to release their creativity through dynamic art classes and methods. She once famously painted Spereag, Glen Dye’s Highland pony, to show her pupils form and structure.


It is clear that community plays a central role in Mel’s life, she works tirelessly to bring people together through art and theatre. Last year Mel wrote and directed a production, titled Bee Kind, here she talks about the inspiration, reason and love behind it.

Some Good Ideas: Last year you wrote and directed a play, Bee Kind, for your community, about community. Can you outline the message of the play? 

Melanie Shand: I was inspired to write Bee Kind after being struck by the similarities between bees and community. One singular bee makes only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. But a whole hive can produce up to 60lbs, and that’s a great analogy for what can be achieved when we work together. I also wanted to highlight the bees’ plight in today’s environmental climate and show what everyone can do by being more mindful.

SGI: How do you go about starting to write a community play?

MS: The process starts with a theme; in this case it was “to be kind”. I create an open casting and then I set upon a period of research, then finally writing begins. I write specifically for those brave individuals who volunteer or join in along the way and I’m very adaptable. I like to imagine them in a part that suits their character. The characters who want to be in it drive the story.

The idea that took seed in 2018 took me a full year to write for more than 90 people front and backstage, who only began rehearsing 10 weeks before the first performance. The cast brings colour and vivacity. They are the spirit of the production and always a complete inspiration. My favourite bits are those I can’t predict.

SGI: Did the story’s message change as you wrote it?

MS: Originally, I wanted to tell a tale of what happens when and why bees swarm. It’s quite tricky to cast a “virgin queen” in a small community without causing some sniggering…so I put the emphasis on working together, how the beekeepers were helping the bees and the bees were helping humankind.

SGI: Can you describe some favourite scenes from the play?

MS: We had a fantastic bunch of chaps playing the drones (male bees) – I specifically didn’t want naff “bee” costumes – so dressed the guys in jeans, brogues, smart shirt and waistcoat – they looked very Gareth Southgate very dapper, but their inability to synchronize singing and dancing was shocking and hilarious! At one point the new queen emerges by bursting onto the stage whilst the guys are all singing Deeply Dippy by Right said Fred. The virgin queen’s dad is a joiner and makes our props and he constructed a giant honeycomb frame which the stage manager filled with a banqueting roll for her to jump through – it was excellent! In another scene, we had a flower fashion show and the nine-year-old buddleia and a seven-year-old butterfly had a bit of a standoff.

The essence of a community play lies in its inclusiveness, bringing together people of different abilities, ages and backgrounds to inspire words and songs and dances that weave together in a special kind of magic.

Mel Shand

SGI: What drove you to create the community play and what about it is most important to you?

MS:  The essence of a community play lies in its inclusiveness, bringing together people of different abilities, ages and backgrounds to inspire words and songs and dances that weave together in a special kind of magic.The cast and company came from throughout Aberdeenshire, as near as next door and several up to a forty-five-minute drive away, so it takes their commitment as well as an audience, which I knew would be full of beekeepers, so it was important I got my facts right!

Once the cast and team come together, a new community is formed, and bonds are made that can last a lifetime. We had a school workshop where I challenged the children to come up with a realistic drawing of a bee which I turned into our logo; there were dance rehearsals, giant flower making workshops and chipper suppers; there were nerves, tears, laughter and lots of love. One of the cast said someone asked him, “what it was all in aid of?” His answer was, “it’s in aid of community spirit”.

SGI: Can you explain an analogy between bees and human community, what can we learn from bees?

MS: We need to be more like the bees and live with the seasons, work hard and work together to deliver the best outcome. The best thing I learned is that bees all think as one, it’s called the hive mind. They really work together for the good of the whole. I’ve been in community committee meetings where one person’s negative opinion can put a hold on proceedings because they personally object to something without necessarily seeing the big picture. Bees are not like that. They are very democratic. When preparing to swarm, scout bees go searching for a new site and then report back to the rest of the colony by dancing enthusiastically. In this way, the scout bee converts her fellow bees through enthusiasm. As more bees are enthused by the dancing, a democratic decision is reached by consensus.

Bees all have different jobs and roles to play. There are cleaners, scouts, nurse bees and foragers. They are not born knowing how to make honey, they are taught by example by the other bees. I also want to debunk the myth that the Queen Bee is at the top of the hive. She serves her entire community by being an egg-laying machine and lays her body weight in eggs every day, she is selfless and tireless. Humankind should learn to be more beekind and remember to be kind.

As more bees are enthused by the dancing, a democratic decision is reached by consensus.

Melanie Shand

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Mel Shand is an artist, playwright, director and teacher and a regular feature our Camps at Glen Dye where she guides and encourages guests to release their creativity through dynamic art classes.

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