Legacy, Metaphore, Structure

 

It’s a big deal for me as I sit having sent my form group down to Assembly that I’m posing in my head how I will begging my conversation with Simon Sharkey, director of the National Theatre Scotland. I’m just thinking that I have questions that he can help me with but where do I begin? I don’t want to sound like a dick or come across as someone who doesn’t have a clue! The latter being the biggest fear as sometimes, especially since starting the MA, I feel as if I don’t have much of a clue about anything.

However the phone rings and Simon’s Scottish brogue picks up. He’s still in the car and on his way to work, we’re on blue tooth so as long as I can hear him he is hands free and we can start. It’s a good connection. Brilliant, I  get a grip and just think. He’s just a guy with the same sort of interests as me. Okay so he’s worked on some pretty big projects and pulled together thousands of participants that have worked with artists and designers on a major scale. It’s note worthy stuff. And here I am having run a workshop in Grantham with some fifteen people as part of a project stimulated by some quirky shops.

So what get him started, what is the starting point for him?

Sharkey begins by telling me it’s about an invitation, a conversation from somewhere. The potential of a story from somewhere starting from ‘a row of shops’, he uses my stimulus as something that very much would be a gauge of interest for him too and how that might develop.

He reveals more about his methods “We send a team of artists into the community, become part of the community” and rather than worry about what happens when they arrive the bigger part of the picture is what happens when we go. For Sharkey the focus was very much on the idea of Legacy.

His arguement here was wether the projects that they are involved in are just ‘social acupuncture’ or do we leave the with the infrastructure to make them (community) take stuff forward? Do they leave behind a scaffold for them to build on the experience they glean from the event. Sharkey described how his MO was not one where they ‘parachute in, make art and that’s it. It’s about having a lasting legacy’.

I began to Get a really good understanding and connect with Sharkey’s idealism when he began to talk about stories. I know this seems really obvious when in the business of creating and making theatre as of course we need stories to tell. For him it’s about the stories to be sure. ‘There are the stories that people think they want to hear’, he tells me. ‘Then there are the stories that are underneath, get them to see their community, get them to see what they pass by everyday, bring out humanity, knowledge, connections ‘.

For me here this is where Simon has hit it. I reflected on the process of the people I have met and the connections that I have made with those who got involved with the workshop.  The amount of richness in the lives of people’s stories that you may never be aware of unless your prepared to get into the community and dig. And there is the a wealth there and there’s is gold.

Sharkey spoke about how one of his projects was to begin to get people to reveal stories about their journeys. These could be real journeys, actual journeys or metaphors. They looked at two communities and they asked about a story and the story of a martyr came about. Everyone knew the story. Simon asked the question of what was the other story and the community came back with the ‘Ospreys’. This was the story of how the ospreys came back to nest each year and when they did they would ring the church bells. The bells would ring when they layed an egg and when the chicks had hatched. This was the metaphors for his storie about journeys. Finding the metaphor- what connects the story that you find is the ‘glue’, which stops them just becoming disparate stories.

Again the emphasis, to lay out the tools were: Legacy, Metaphor- the actual stories and the structure to connect with them with the community.

Sharkey related to me the idea of the Empathy Museum and their piece A mile in my shoes. The trailer for which I have shared in the blog above. Like this idea he formulated a sense of what he took from the quirky shops I had started with. The gift shop.

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For Sharkey he went on to look at what stories he could get from asking the Question What gift would you buy someone? This would create stories and give a scaffold tothen be able to find the form.

We were back in the real world during this part of the conversation, Assembly had been dismissed and the noise from the corridors suddenly flooded the classroom where time had flown, a surreal moment passed as I tried to continue the conversation in amongst the throng of students making their way to lessons and me to the peace of my room.

Back in the sanctity of my room I pieced what Simon was saying about how he would use the gift shop and what lead he would take in following a line of questioning to develop the metaphor and seek out the stories. Here he also moved onto the form. The idea of playing around with different access points for people.

This was all about how to find ways to cultivate a dialogue. Asking him how he gets participants then there might be quirky nand engaging ways, perhaps advertising that they are going to be set up in a cafe for a day, run a workshop.

As part of the journeys project Sharkey revealed the story of Ron, a man with one arm who everybody knew to be a ‘charming gentleman’ but nobody had ever asked him how he lost his arm. As part of the dialogue he was asked and the story emerged how an accident with a thresher machine on a farm had been the cause but the more revealing story was the surgeon who had saved his life. The surgeon had made ground breaking surgery on th3 young boy and years later reconnected wit( him, and all this unravelled through the telling of his journey to the hospital. Now everyone knows the mans history.

What comes of the conversation is a recognition that with participatory theatre it’s a way of connecting, whether it’s through gifts or a mile in someone’s shoes, as Sharkey discloses and as indeed do many who engage with this art, everyone wants to share a story and in doing so they want to hear others’. Working as Sharkey does is about offering a window. Appropriate, I thought.

in terms of time. These projects were big, some of sharkeys work 9 months in the making, the shortest projects in the region of six weeks.

At the moment he is fully engaged with a focus on North Lanarkshire, a look at lives through the lens of work, with everyone touched by work. Communities that have been reinvented from steel and coal industries to see where things are heading with artificial intelligence and the impact and thoughts that that has on people. They are fully immersed in the quizzing of work and community that will have an end project on a large scale as a side specific event in a steel yard.

As part of the engagement of this they have a hundred trucks going around with lockers that may rock up in a Tesco car park and they just invite people in for interviews. Using a question format with some 20 questions on it that will then illicit ideas and end up as a multimedia rave style event!!!

I touched on the inclusivity of his projects, as ever it’s something a the forefront of much participatory activities, Sharkey explains that this is something they are always conscious of. As well as making sure there would be captioning in performances for the deaf, there was an element of actively seeking out that then allows them to have a sense of ownership, it was important to realise that not everyone who engages is ready to be part of a performance. He mentioned work that was done with a group of women who meet, their background was sensitive, but they sat and made tiles, this for them had a medicine process to focus on their story. The tiles gave a form of art.

i had to ask how all this was funded and the Scottish government make a lot of this possible, funding 20 events a year, Simon may be involved in one major one an£ a small one, starting off with a team of four at the beginning of the consultation process before its time to brin* in th3 artists and designers and the finally the tech teams…

So what draws Simon to this field, Why?

the short answer was “I love it”

followed by the fact that it gives him the license to go in and ask people about their story, he says it also comes from his own background. He was introduced to story and theatre and it opened doors for him. He mentions a selfish gene, but I can’t see there being anything selfish in wanting to share your passion for people’s truth and history. We are all one of the people. One of the significant things that has effected me in engaging with people is one my need to hear their stories, the connection of sharing a moment with another human being is tangible.

Sharkey’s thoughts are clear, art is everything outside conscious bias, it transforms life and community.

I would go so far to say that it transforms who we are and what we think we might be.

He tells me as artists we have a responsibility to give it form, it changes people. We can’t have Westminster, politics etc without learning something. I think I can add my perspective on this also in that it is a reminder that we are human and there is ever a need to find the empathy with our fellow creatures and remind ourselves of the many voices we have and the diverse impact we can have when we truly engage with people around us.

The importance of language

 

I arrived at the The Ark T centre, Oxford on Tuesday evening to make observations of a well versed practioner in intergenerational dance as part of my research for my Final project.

Cecilia Macfarlane welcomed me to the centre and listened to what I had been up to and then she said that she hoped that I was going to join in. This really pleased me. So caught up in the academics of the MA I had completely got my studious head in the game of sitting there making notes while I observed. Of course I was going to take part. Why wouldn’t I ? Cecilia rattled through what a class of hers would look like and the format that she used. In terms of integenerational, she said that it wasn’t a description  she really used when describing the class but of course that is what it was. Her concept and what she truly and passionately advocates is Any age, any body, any dance.

 

What I got that evening was a real sense that everyone, no matter of ability were able to participate to their fullest capacity. The age range was early 20’s to 70’s, Cecilia herself is still practicing her craft, something she didn’t think she would be doing in her 60’s. Two other participants who fully engaged were a wheelchair user and a young woman with Down’s syndrome. Cecilia showed me the average attendance, a committed number that have come for years, new attendees and some that came and went. Along with me there was a lady who was in her 70’s that was giving it a go for the first time.  Cecilia said that she often worked on themes and in blocks of 2-3 weeks where these themes were developed. The movement was based on very simple structures, themes already looked at were breath.

 

Cecilia had been using the skeleton as a stimulus in this block. The body being something that everyone has and can relate to. Last week had been the ribs and this week it was the pelvis.

She spoke about translation, explaining that anything that was not physically possible to participants is translated by them in to the best version of what they thought that move or dance would be. This was something that I could relate with having just run my workshop with people of various abilities. It had occurred to me then about how I take care of people and this is not the case. It is allowing people to take care of themselves and be comfortable in the knowledge that they can make their own version of events, I can see how this would be an empowering part of the process and development for those taking part.

The workshop for me and those there that evening was a focus on the pelvis. Starting  on the floor, eyes shut often an the beginning of a session to focus the senses. Moving the pelvis until it engages with the rest of the body making the connections. This then moved to the feet and then to travelling around the space. We were instructed to observe others as we used the space and choose to imitate someone, making conscious recognition of how those movements were different and then moving onto someone else, this gave us a a pallet of two or three ways to travel and move in a space. First part was about self then working in the room  The next part of the structure was to work with a partner. This encourages contact, just loosening off tension and manipulation of the pelvis.

Next Cecilia works with the class, prepares for jumps and floor work and travelling, this was a sequence of choreography started the previous week, building on some exercise and keeeping focus on the pelvis.

The latter  stages of the workshop were to choreograph, Cecilia has been working with Anna MacDonald who has been looking into various acts of ‘holding’.

Here as individuals we were given the theme of ‘holding on to everything’. We were to interpret that into what we liked. I worked with the idea of holding onto the feeling of every tender touch. And so began an improvisation of movement focused on that and informed the choreography. Moving on we shared in small groups and then finally in those small groups we choreographed together, deciding on some form between us before sharing with the rest of the group. The pieces were lovely, quite moving.

The structure of the workshop was very reminiscent of the simplistic nature involved in the building blocks for the movement used in the Frantic process and how that could bring together choreography without a laboured process. The difference here was that we did work to a theme that we were made aware of from the beginning. This was somewhat in opposition to how we arrived at choreography that came from the frantic process. The difference here was that the theme gave us focus to work on and gave meaning whereby the  frantic process was one that showed the potential for meaning through directing and devising. One thing that stood out was the language that was prevailent in the workshop, the inclusivity and the valuable collaboration that happened because of the we engaged not only in the process but the words that allowed us to feel part of it but certainly how as participants we can translate our own interpretation of what is asked of us. This is what makes seeing a practitioner with 30 years valuable. The discourse they can have with people due to their experience, ability and belief in the importance of what they do is immense and the benefits are apparent in the response of those who take part.

Magic Moments

 

I was a nervous  on Monday the 23rd of October starting my workshop in the church hall where I have help many theatre making workshops and events over that last seventeen years, this was different. In some respects all rather artificial and contrived as the project is forced within a certain time frame that is, in some respects unrealistic. Working to a deadline set by the structure of the MA course I am on, meant that the true purpose of the event is more of an experiment.  So of course the nerves are all part of the ‘ have I done enough to make this final project start successfully?’ By success, what I meant was do I have enough people coming to my workshop this morning? Will I get what I need from this in order to continue and help me with my research.

I had spent the previous Sunday  gategrashing the coffee morning after the 10am Mass at church in order that I actually might be able to capture some of the older participants I needed in order to have that generation represented within the workshops. I had called a colleague the night before to remind her and her son that it was on as otherwise as my colleague had suggested she would find it hard to motivate her young son to get out and do something. I work with young people regularly at school and through my youth project work at weekends but this was an opportunity to explore an idea to work with various age groups. A community project that has legs in as far as the potential to make Theatre I haven’t made before. An idea brought on by my interest in some shops that are in my town, a piece that would be very much about the town and for the town by member of the town. Jeeze I never thought I would be so interested in old Grantham town. But it has a bigger picture than this it’s the stories that could develop. The nuggets of narrative that could create magic moments. And that’s the purpose of the workshop.

However here I was on Monday morning, having created events and taster sessions on Facebook, left fliers at local arts center for their youth groups, contacted the members of my choir and the local tennis club, who I knew would have the mix in ages I was looking for and on this morning at 9.30 there was only one participant, I waited a call from another who was on the way and finally by 10am my colleague and her son turned up. I had been expecting at least 4 others, but it meant that I could get on. It was a productive and tiring day. I got to explore some ideas for movement but Tuesday was to be an altogether different experience.

My gate grasping at church had paid off, a couple who said they could make it were prompt and ready to go. We made tea and we waited for the rest to arrive. Everyone from the day before and the ones who hadn’t made it Monday. 10 participants in total. It was a great day. The mix of ages was just about what I could have hoped for with an age ranging from 11 to 81. A busy physical morning looking at tools and building ideas for choreography led to a more sedate afternoon that had me explore the narrative through a session on automatic writing. The stimulus’ were

The customer is always right

The art of queuing

Impulse shopping

The ritual of shopping

some key things I want d to get ideas on to enhance movement and narrative.

The depth and individuality of the responses were varied, bizarre and in some instances poetical and magical. The experiences of the older participants especially my church couple gave me the desire to have more of the same things. Here I could see the wealth of moments and memories in abundance.

 

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Weds we were down to 6, taking into consideration the nature and physicality of the work my older couple we good to come back on Friday, where I hoped that we would have the added element of working in the old gift shop that had been owned by one of my shopkeepers who had sadly passed away. There was certainly an element on my part that I didn’t want to put my church couple off by having to commit so much time and energy, despite their fabulous attitudes and ability I felt that too much would be over kill and it gave me a chance to explore the ideas of narrative that had come form Tuesday and how I might use that. So Wednesday was looking deeper in to creating duet work with my 6 participants and looked at a flocking exercise that came from that and working from the idea of some script that had been formed with the idea of rituals.

we didn’t all meet again now until the Friday. It was a boon that I had got the keys to the shop. It was dusty and dirty but the space was fine. There was a large shop window that when my young people came in they instantly engaged with, making out like mannequins staring at the passers by and getting their attention. It was lovely to see that energy and spark that it created, the way that they had engaged with the space and this is what made it interesting about it being site specific. Although realistically there wouldn’t be a performance in this space anytime in the immediate future, just having the space altered the perspective and dynamics of what we were doing. I had organised refreshments and sorted toilets, these little things that added comfort and reassurance to the day and so we continued to work and refine some ideas throughout the morning.

My church couple though able worked on the flocking exercise we had looked at previously, here trying to capture the unison was difficult and it left me wondering what I could do? These people are not professional, I could never see myself pushing them to get this right it just would be right, most things were adaptable and within their ability, where they really had the chance to shine was a moment that had come out of Tuesdays automatic writing. It was one line “meeting Jean at the bus stop”.

Individually I set everyone off on an independent writing task and I set off my church gentleman with elaborating on his meeting Jean at a bus stop.  The effects we played out in our ‘Shuffling queue’ as I filmed the moment it was just magic. The open and frank honesty of it. The true and genuine feeling and the complete reactive ness. I think I like best that I went to give him his piece of paper that he had wrote down the events on and he said ‘I don’t need that’ and of course he didn’t. I felt kind of foolish then for contemplating offering it to him.

So having had my week and the fairly successful turnout over all. My nereveS were warranted it was hard to say what the week could have been like and I think it’s fair to say that in creating a performance there is still a long way to go. The upside is there are already some very keen and interested participants who are willing to pick this up should we decide and it’s certainly on the cards to look at this for a festival next year. Knowing this now means that the planning and preparation won’t be at the behest of a final project and course deadlines but in the genuine want to find what more there is to this project and all the lovely magic moments that are waiting to be unveiled as part of it.

 

On The Eve of Optimism

Stressed? Not so much. Panicked? Maybe a little. Realisation sinking in? Oh most definitely. It struck me this week that having spoken to Cecilia Macfarlane, a dance artist with over 30 years experience in intergenerational projects I perhaps needed a bit more time than the couple of months I have for my final collaborative project for the immense recruiting drive necessary to tap into the various spectrum of ages that would be ideal for such a project.

Where as some things seem to have aligned themselves nicely, I’ve already done two taster sessions over the last couple of weeks and I did have a mix of people to work with. However in order to pull off a project like this and I am realising that time is certainly the key factor. For me, I juggle a full time teaching job, raise a 4 and 6 year old and at some point have to deal with laundry and floor sweeping duties. And for my participants I’m asking a couple of days commitment over a half term. Reason for half term, well I’m not at work, my husband can have the children. I optimistically think that offering young people a free workshop over the holiday is the stuff of parents dreams but then for every plus there is a minus. People go away, have plans, I am desperately seeking older generations and it seems my active oldies are well, active. So when I talk to Cecilia and I ask her how she recruits, it’s a matter of longevity now. She has been based in Oxford for a long while with a well established community of people who are keen and enthusiastic. She asks me what I put on my flyers and I followed all the advise that Sharon at Frantic Assembly gave me. Big bold picture, few words and offer refreshments. This was a new tactic that I thought was excellent. Of course some of Cecilia’s projects are 18 months in the making, however she has knocked out a performance in 3 days, but as she told me, she has an orchard to pluck from now. Many of the people that she works with started off as youngsters and are still with her through to teenage and in to their adulthood. She has mothers that bring their daughters and many of her classes work on that concept that there maybe two, three or even four generations of one family. Mothers, daughters and granddaughter, mothers and sons, fathers and sons. For her she finds working with these relationships the most interesting.

I think of my connections, I have talked to people at the rugby club, left flyers! And

of course I have created events on social media and today I took on some more of Sharon’s advice and that was- pester people. So this morning saw me pop down to church. I know there is a coffee morning after mass. Father Chris the jolly priest who has kindly allowed me to use the hall for my tasters and workshop for free has no problem in me popping back into the hall this morning where I do the old fashioned thing and talk to people. They are not all strangers which is nice. Having been brought up at the Catholic Primary school there are a few people who remember my face, ask how my mum is but most of all are quite keen to listen to what I am up to.

I now have a couple of people who can give me some time, not as much as I would like but this is the first time in doing this so I will take what I can get. At the end of the day who’s to say that this won’t be enough? The fact that they are keen and interested is one thing. The next thing is just to make sure that they come. It might mean that my week doesn’t quite plan out as I would expect it to but there should be engagement of sorts. In terms of looking at this as a project that could have some mileage in it. I think engaging with people like this morning over coffee was really beneficial. If looking to create a community project then I need to find my communities and church groups are something I now see as a bit of a ‘no brainer’.

Why I hadn’t thought of this earlier I don’t know.  The tennis club has a great community and I chatted to a lady very much within the venue who has put my info on their Facebook page, but to not much avail. Again I think this needs more of the old fashioned approach and the time to physically engage with people. My ladies at the choir, all nearly retired or with quite a bit of free time, unable to commit as they use the time to go away. But certainly keen given plenty of advance warning, I reckon about six months!

One thing I hope will pan out and this was also a suggestion by Cecilia, was the use of the shop that was available. With the passing of a relevant shop owner, an opportunity arose to get in touch with the letting agent and through speaking with them it does seem possible that I could use the venue before it is re let as a performance space. Realistically I know a performance is not on the cards but having the space to workshop could be a very close alternative. As cecila noted that would bring it in to the community and I could get some posters up on the windows this week perhaps to alert local people as to what is going on and they will be able to see the workshops through the shop window. So here I am on the eve of what will be will be. Regardless I and my participants will have a fine time. I aim to make it interesting and fun and engage with them, their history and their experiences in doing this I should fulfil some of my brief and observe how participate with each other.

A Mile In someone else’s shoes… how many steps have I taken?

I don’t think I have made any ground breaking steps and I possibly sure that for every step I have made forward with this project I am maybe taking three steps back however even little fairy steps are better than no steps at all.

I managed last Friday to talk to my lady who had a close connection with the shopkeeper who unfortunately passed before I could engage him in this project. This highlighted for me the vulnerability of the topic and the fragility of the nature of my course of enquiry. Time is very much of the essence when the shops and those that run them are of a certain age, the fact that they have managed a business for so many years is a tribute to them. I think even more so in the economic climate that we find ourselves in when the town High Street is in decline in many local areas.

When I asked my lady if he had many customers, she told me hardly any. Having been friend with Cyril the Squirrel since around 2008 she has been a constant companion to him in his gift shop. Watching the world go by and having a good laugh, usually at unsuspecting passers by from the confines of the shop window.

Their first dialogue opened with my lady telling Cyril “ You must have been a copper in a previous life!” As he watched her like a hawk on the afternoon she happened to come across his shop.

His response was “ You must’ve been a witch and would she like some batteries for her broomstick?” He watched her leave and asked if he would see her again, she told him “don’t look at what you can’t afford.” With that a friendship was forged. My lady was a constant visitor to the shop.

My lady has a fantastic memory of the town, born and bred here she is one of those characters who is ingrained within the community. I didn’t pry into her personal history I knew from her open and frank nature she is someone who has had hard times and relies on food banks and local community groups that provide breakfast. A petit lady she comes as someone who can stick up for herself and her friends and Cyril was one of them.

She spoke to Cyril during our conversation, turning sideways as if he maybe sitting on her shoulder. I asked her if he had a regular routine with opening the shop, she candidly replied “did he bollocks!” She went on to tell me how she would always check on the shop for him on a Sunday as she passed through town to ensure no windows had been smashed by Saturday night revellers and once discovered he’d opened the shop on a Sunday. This was as she revealed the early indications of a man with Dementia. At 81 years old he still got up and carried on with the business. I asked her why hw hadn’t retired and she replied as if mimicking him “What else am I going to do, sit at home and vegetate!”

He may not have had the most regular of opening hours as he got older, but my lady informed me that he always had lunch at 12.30

Fond of a Haslet and pickle roll or perhaps cheese and bunion as she animatedly informed me, another of their little in jokes. Or often they would drive to Marks And Spencer’s on the way home and he would enjoy the little sherry trifles and beef and Stilton pie from there.

When asked to describe her relationship she simply said “total insanity” and we paused for a minute and I saw the great sadness in her eyes. It has only been a couple of months since his passing and I could see the huge hole it had left in her life.

She carries around a picture of him, Cyril, a young police cadets in 1957-a fine figure of a man who went on to be a police officer in the town until 1973. That was when he opened his shop. His wife Pam, the only love of his life had looked after her parents toy shop and when they passed Pam and Cyril ran the gift shop but had taken on all the stock from the other shops run by Pams parents.

Cyril and been interested in high end gifts and porcelain over the years it had included dolls and toys and even children’s clothes remnants of stock left behind. He hadn’t bought any stock in years but my lady assured me he would also bring things from his garage. When I asked about the sheers amount of stuff she said “I’ll tell you a story”

Back in 1983 a couple had come into the shop looking for a cuckoo clock Cyril liked to go out of his way for people and ordered a cuckoo clock, but of course this was in the day before Amazon and EBay, Cyril couldn’t order just one clock he had to order 6 so thinking it would be a good investment he got the clock, sold the one and was left with the five as dust collectors. He may have sold one other and my lady was given another one, however she has never heard it working “the destruction booklet”was all in Chinese and Cyril couldn’t recall how he’d managed to get the original up and running as it was so long ago.

Just as my lady saw the copper in him, he prided himself on being a vigilant shopkeeper, it was sad to hear the story of a distraction theft that happened in his store some six years before. He had sold a foreign couple in the store a beanie babie for their child who was with them, a young boy. It was a pound and they paid with a twenty pound note. The woman then asked to see something off of the top shelf while the father and son remained at the counter, when he had fetched the item down the lady said it wasn’t what she  was looking for and they left. He knew the minute they went something was wrong and headed back behind the counter. The tin in which he kept the paper money was gone and the precious coins he kept in the tin too. He took off in his car, locking the shop in order to find them. My lady spotted him in his car and he pulled over to tell her “ I’ve been had”. She said he wasn’t himself after that, that they had “ruffled his tree” he was quite embarrassed and didn’t want to report it to the police especially having been a copper. But the did and my lady told me they could paper the wall in letter from Lincolnshire police telling them how they have not successfully brought them to justice. Cyril’s shop not being the only ones hit that day.

My lady painted a full picture of this policeman come shop keeper, with a passion for brass bands and nothing he would like better than a night at the proms. They went to the theatre together last year to watch Christmas memories at the local arts centre and both joined in the singing, it’s on again this year but my lady doesn’t think she’ll go on her own.

One thing that strikes me now is the unique friendship that these two formed. Cyril left no children and his wife passed some years before, my lady now has Cyril’s cat Molly. The shop and Cyril gave my lady her routine and ritual in looking out for him and breaking up his day with her visits, she brought the outside world inside that shop. Cyril who couldn’t do anything else but be in the shop had someone to inject personality and life into a faded and worn shop that still retained an element of quality and dignity despite the dust and from the sound of it he looked after her too, the pair of them finding great comfort from the other’s company and humour. I know she will feel his loss greatly.

A Little Taster: MA Final Project

On Saturday afternoon a group of 6 people turned up for a taster session in physical Theatre as part of my Final Project for My MA in collaboration theatre making.

For me I did know all the participants in some way shape or form so they weren’t a complete group of unknown. For them the experience may have been slightly more daunting as they, for the most part had never engaged with this type of work before.

I was very pleased with the way they responded. Having participated in workshops like this I knew there would be challenges with fitness and working through the warmup. I encouraged everyone to be aware of their own body and what limitations it may present and that they were not in any competition. Drawing from my experience of being part of the Frantic Assembly workshops I knew that facilitating their comfort would draw hugely on creating the type of environment that would be conducive to allowing them to progress at their own pace.

For me it was a little strange being in a room with some of my peers letting them see the sort of thing that I do and am passionate about, it was also very relaxed, as the workshop moved on I found my comfort zone and we progressed quickly, it was good to see them having a go at something that was completely new to all of them bar one.

Many of the group were nearer my own age and the tasks that involved remembering sequences were a struggle for one or two of them. Having done this myself I was able to encourage them and show empathy in that they can all work to their own abilities. I reminded them to get their movements secure in there own head and not to worry where anyone else was.

By the time each group had worked on a sequence they were able to share with everyone else, we looked at the results of what they had created and added some direction so that I could allow the participants to see the very different narratives that evolved through sound and pace and focus.

The discussion at the end of the two hours was enlightening, my participants clearly saw that the movement tasks were given a whole new dimension when outside influences were changed, be it with the movement or the proximity of the participants. They were able to recognise the difficulty in trying to create the scenario they envisaged but discussed how interesting the movement was when manipulated into narrative where there had been no talk of this during the exercises.

All in all the taster session set up a good example of what to expect. There were six participants on that day although there were more that had said they were coming and didn’t make it. In an attempt to get material for my project I realise that the more numbers I have the better as I can expect at least half of those who say they are interested may not make it. So ideally 10 participants I need to be recruiting 20-30 people. So on with the task then.

 

Overcoming your optimism – Final Project MA Collaborative Theatre Making

Sometimes it feels as if the ideas are enough. That you have a vision that you can see through to create something wonderful.

Reality bites back hard, as if it wasn’t quite enough of a challenge to be doing a Masters in Collaborative Theatre making in a year, while holding down a full time teaching job, running a home and running after 3 children and still trying to think that you can get in a session at the gym. This week I have a pending taster session for potential participants for my research project. My husbands father is at deaths door and all I can think about is who’s going to have the kids for me tomorrow. Normally this would be where my mum could step in as she so often does for me but mum is away on a cruise … How dare she?

The  physical theatre taster event was posted in Facebook, utilising the power of social media, but this is where I realise my network isn’t that wide. I’ve targeted staff and students at my work thinking that this is a great opportunity, and realistically I remember that like me teachers have very little time to commit. I have an article going into the Grantham Journal today, enough maybe to snare some interest. I can only hope.

I try to remain optimistic, even though a potential candidate who offered me valuable start to some avenues of research never showed up to a meeting. A second attempt also proved to be fruitless. Do I pursue? There was a definite interest on her part, do I make up the excuses for her because like the rest of us we get busy and life presents obstacles. Maybe she had no credit on her phone to call me back? Is this where being optimistic can run rings around your sanity? One thing I do know for sure is that things will not go the way I want them to and oI may have some little moments of perfection where the timing seems to be right for me, being in the right place at the right time so to speak. I am beginning to think however there maybe more right places and wrong time scenarios waiting to present themselves.

MA 21 Professional Studies-Skills Audit Checklist

Provocationthis week: To conduct a skills audit checklist

Wow,  this was something I felt really uncomfortable doing. It reminded me of the questionnaires you used to fill out in ‘Smash hits’ or ‘Bella’  those trashy teenage magazines that pose trite terrible conundrums like ‘ What sort of person are you in a relationship?’ and then you would work out who you were from the answers you gave. I found a lot of the questions didn’t really relate to me at all. Anyway it turns out I can remain calm under pressure. Who knew?

Well I knew….Certainly in a working environment I have learned to roll with the punches like when you are an hour from curtain up and I’m filling the parts of three people who suddenly are unavailable to perform their roles or  when stage fright overcomes a performer mid flow and I take the helm. You never know what will happen and you certainly can’t always prepare. One thing I think I have learned from that is that panic does not help. Take the reins and try to keep the waggon rolling and hope no one notices the wheels have fell off, yes sometimes it can be a bumpy ride…

 

Working with others and taking responsibility were also a strength. This is something I offered a lot when working on the M20 module. I enjoyed the opportunity of being in a room with others and having tasks that fed into the development of the project. I really thrived in that environment and was at my happiest.

An area to develop and certain one I think I don’t like to admit is: planning and focusing on detail. Now I do and I don’t. I know what the plan should be and I start off with very organised and clear intentions. A little bit like starting a new book and writing in your best handwriting, the first few pages are great but by the end of the book the handwriting has gone to pot, you’ve stopped underlining and it no longer looks like the same person who started the book!

Reflecting on the last point, the skills audit picked up on my energy and drive and in terms of learning, a lesson I take in developing as a collaborator is that it’s about having the right motivation.  Certainly putting me in education and training categories as well as creative and planning events I know I can work at my best with the right people. I thrive in a creative environment and can check in on terms of fulfilling a brief when there is a team there to support each other. When looking at the projects I was involved in, I loved being a part of them all. I want to take this forward with me, knowing that I can support and can be supported. This makes for the most agreeable environment and at the end of the day we all want the same thing. To be doing something we enjoy! Another strong comment that came from the results of the audit. After all we all want to do a job we enjoy.

Embracing the Arty Farty

As a performer and director for many years I never feel more privileged than when working with young people. Engaging with young minds gives me purpose to create  and feed not only my imagination but also those around me. This certainly wasn’t the dream that made me go out and haul my backside through drama school. My family all thought I would be on coronation street but fate and the need, I hate to say it, to earn money turned me in a different direction. And thank goodness it did!

20 years on I have created a range of works, from musicals to Shakespeare. Usually veering towards devised and original works, as they can so often take you in a direction you never thought when the ideas were first conceived. Also creating your own work is liberating, not only creatively but in these ever increasing times of pinched funding, financially.

I have ventured with  impressionable youngsters to the Edinburgh Fringe and know that for some it made a significant impact on their lives that has never been forgotten. This is a goal I want achieve again, to show young people their abilities can be limitless when they open themselves to possibilities.

My vision now is the continuing pursuit of making theatre with young people. Giving them the tools to be able to try new ideas and not to be afraid to experiment with drama in its many forms. I want them to react to the world around them and the stories that can be told. I want those that collaborate with me to see that they can be unique and bold in their choices. I want them to rebel against the mundane and expected routes presented to our youth. There is a need to re connect with young people and present them with alternative ways to express themselves.

I want to be able to present audiences with something unexpected. Original work that shows ideas of what young minds can achieve. I love working with visual imagery and exploring movement. My early pieces leaned heavily on trying out these forms and as I move on I want to develop more work that  can embody a performers movements and gestures just as much as the dialogue when exploring the narrative of a piece.

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I take my inspiration from companies such as DV8, Frantic Assembly and I have a huge love of how mask companies such as Trestle and Vamos engage with their audience. Each have unique story telling concepts that challenge the audience to take notice.

It is important for me to continue developing as a director and performer myself and find my inspiration, in this way I think I have the tools to inspire others and to get them to look at the world with a new perspective. For me it is sometimes the simple thoughts that won’t go away are worth looking at to see if there is a piece of drama unfolding or certainly a chance to start a journey that may reveal a whole new  potential to create and devise work, often  spontaneous improvisation can yield a starting point and shows that we can truly create from anything.

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As a performer I never got as nervous before a performance as I do when allowing others to step in that role and perform a piece. I know it may scare them to death for a multitude of reasons. But I know that the hard work of getting them there reaps so many benefits. The confidence and skills they build, the ability to mentally and physically engage with work they have an active role in creating. Having ownership on your efforts and the journey you take to get there is something real and tangible and a gift that can be given again and again.

 

Reflections on my Artist Statement

If someone had asked me to write an artist statement 6 months ago I truly would be thinking “for who?”

My first attempt at this was during the introductory module with Frantic Assembly and it is something I had never done before. The idea that I’m an artist was ridiculous. I just do something I love, the only way I know how!

It is a unique feeling, being able to acknowledge what it is you do and a deeper recognition in seeing the value of your own self worth. For me I have had the validation that yes, I have been able to have a positive impact on young people interested in making theatre, or even just signing up for something they never really knew what they were getting into. You accept this as a huge positive as a teacher it doesn’t always happen, but in the arts when it is something you feel passionate about and you know how richer your life is for this medium. You have to share it.

In writing an artist statement you truly do share. You accept that this is a calling. And it sounds like an arty farty  thing to say. You get used to hearing these phrases bandied about because what you do doesn’t seem as important as maths and science and it’s ‘not a proper job!’ Well I see plenty of these proper jobs on the credits of a film or in the programme of a theatre production. These people who don’t do proper jobs, enlighten, amaze and engage millions, via a goggle  box at home or with those who do actively engage to spectate with live performance or visual art or the many forms that arty farty may take. It makes the world an interesting place and for me I realise I need to embrace that I am part of the movement for making the place more interesting. My artist statement shows I have grown in confidence. So I can truly begin to realise what I do and actually why I do it.

M21PA A New Purpose…

Back in March, enthused by the introductory module in collaborative theatre making, working along side Scott Graham and Simon Pitman in getting to grips with how a company like Frantic Assembly create work. I was keen to embrace this style of collaboration. It made sense to me. Even though I feel I have always been someone who copes on my own, taking on all the roles needed to bring forth a piece of drama. “Jack of all trades but master of none”. Ultimately I realise looking at how I do things I am never completely on my own. Like being able to do this course. It would and only ever could be possible with the support of those around me. As my family and I juggle work to make certain things happen, check schedules and organise who needs to drop off children and pick them up.

It’s important that I do give up some of the reigns when looking at creating work. Intuitively I have had a sense of others building on what tasks I have given and therefore a collaboration has taken place but having a purposeful collaborative. When I first wrote my proposal in response to the Duane Michaels picture

This was a real opportunity to have a response to something and have more than just my perspective. This was an opportunity to be able to develop my ideas with people who had very different skills sets and talents to mine.

The proposal was quite intimate in the response it wanted, questioning how we might engage with the stories that we saw unfold? What did it unearth in our life and what resonance did it have today? The Michals images were very raw for me, issues with my eldest child,  very real and emotional topics to draw on. Something I realised at the time but in collaborating with others I would take my experience and have further insight into what version of this event could be explored. Hindsight in not having my proposal gave me relief. It’s fresh and still topical. It may have been difficult for me. Although I am not one to shy away from difficulties.

What the process has done for me is to look at things in a way I may have not before. To see stories not just that are bound to me but to look outward for more inspiration.  Things I have been interested in but dismissed now are perhaps a source of an idea. Why does it interest me? Why does something get my attention? It could be the most insignificant thing.

I have new purpose, something for me that is battling the depression inside me, that tells me that I can do better and can find something that will help me fulfil an ambition to create something worthwhile with people who can develop their skills along the way.  I’m already thinking of what it is that can make work more dynamic and engaging. Graham told us he isn’t interested in there being lots of Frantic clones, but the idea that we can take a format, adapt and evolve. That’s a purpose. For me I have got busy with life and it has run me and now I have to run my life with a bit more purpose. The first step for me is not to do it on my own. And in looking forward it will be about finding out how I can bring together a group who can trust in each other and have the same values.