Before the two week course with frantic I had looked at some of the frantic YouTube videos and used the exercises with classes in school and in my youth theatre. I had some really lovely moments but I felt stunted about how I could move on from these and as suggestive as the work was on their own probably only looked at these as standalone introductions to getting groups to work in physical theatre.
The two weeks for me was more than just the building blocks but the whole understanding of how useful they are in an approach to creating movement. And as fantastic a tool the videos had been if you can’t do a frantic workshop, to have Scott personally take us through the devising blocks was a vital part of the resource. As a practioners these blocks had been borne out of necessity, the action needed for performers to play and experiment with ideas . Knowing Hymn Hands was specific to a performance and how relevant it was to Scott and Stephen (Hoggett) when exploring the context of the story of men dealing with the grief and loss of a childhood friend through suicide gave a certain clarity as to what devising blocks are. Scott doesn’t want a wave of new practioners churning out material that just revamps Hymn Hands.
Funnily enough a young group of performers I recently watched do a production of Frankenstein had a moment of Hymn Hands. It worked but it didn’t really add anything to the performance. It did ring a little of “we have done a frantic workshop, how can we stick it in?” The students did a fantastic performance and nothing took away but equally it felt like it was done for the sake of it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want my students to experiment with building this into their work if possible.
Not long before my experience of the course I had wanted my youth theatre to try something less naturalistic as a way to just get them moving and not thinking too hard. I set them off with a task of choosing a word. Working in threes they were to add movement with this word. As an example I gave the word pizza just to show it could be any word. I set them off, my younger group stuck with pizza. One of my older boys stopped and wanted me to explain some more. I think he needed to see where he was going with this. So I said ‘freedom’ and then demonstrated saying the word but standing in front of him. I did a couple more moves and I could suddenly see the penny drop. There didn’t need to be a big discussion- experiment WORD/ACTION
Watching the groups back we then had some really interesting stuff, of course the pizza one was funny. The freedom one had huge connotations and so much room for development but it also gave the students that realisation that this started off as a simple word/action repeat scenario but very easily could be the starting point for dialogue/story/character.
For me the devising blocks are about play, the ones that particularly stood out for me were the ‘on blindness hands’ borne from British sign language a play to experiement dancing with hands. A good exercise to play with unison and build up a string of material but even more interesting was how the group played with the pairs and experimented with the direction. Pairs had worked together facing one way in unison we got a chance to set them facing each other, move in closer, slow down speed up. The results were varied and hugely interesting and watchable. Each movement had come from 4/5 sign language moments that had been exaggerated played with and transformed.
The ‘passive’ was also a really interesting one for me. The fact that the moves are not even dictated by the performer but just remembered . Again the key result was watching, with music and observing how that outside lens perceived the narrative when the moment had an audience.
Going back to the exercise I used with my group, I could now look at playing around with text, movement and sound tracking the events to see what other layers can be delivered in an attempt build devising blocks of my own. This was a lot of what I got from the two weeks. The devising blocks are a source of getting practical answers from performance and performers but taking the ‘crooked path’ to use the imagination in search of finding new narratives. Taking the actors on that collaborative journey too.