Assessment 1:Self study log

Connect, affect, disconnect
It’s been a fair few weeks since I took the plunge and decided that starting an MA in Collaborative Theatre would be a good idea.

A two week introductory course with Frantic assembly was the carrot that I needed having dabbled a little in some of the techniques I had come across in my teaching.  The impact that this has had on me and how I perceive me moving forward in the arts and in my career has been recognizable.

Scott Graham spoke much about the ‘Crooked Path’ and the journey that we find ourselves on in order to get somewhere. I certainly started on my journey a long time ago with a belief in my self and a passion for drama. Following my crooked path took me to starting my own youth theatre, having been to drama school and not truly getting where I wanted to be. I returned to my home town and  found myself teaching and directing and writing for young people. I believed myself to be good at this; following my instincts and enjoying the various results that came from collaborating with young people, enthusing their creativity and building their skills.

When it came to working  I don’t know if I actually followed a process. I discovered ways to encourage and developed exercises to work with, even using key phrases with students to resonate with students and help them work in practical ways. There was always a vision and improvisation and devising was key. I have always naturally been drawn to telling stories in different ways, I used physical theatre or what my concept of physical theatre was. Something I have learned is that I do need to record more of how I develop and take notice of the process. So much of what I do is spontaneous,which has its place but from that spontaneity could be elements of my own building blocks, things that work for me and how they can impact on the way I want to tell stories.

My understanding of how I can use the devising blocks in my studio to investigate and create moments of theatre have been amplified. I have a drive and knowledge and confidence in exploring with these tools where previously I may have floundered. I want to attempt new ideas and make collaborative connections.

As part of my self study I made a conscious effort to reintroduce music into my rehearsal space. I have been using this with my classes in school and with my youth theatre.

I have used this in warm ups, they have always been an essential part of my practise. Games and exercises are a vital resource and this was reinforced over the two weeks with frantic. The music is like the weather in the room, you can create the temperature. Moving on from this was the capacity to use it within the devising blocks, using a soundtrack and giving a different lens to the moments that  are drawn together from the devising blocks. I  have played around with this  a few times allowing students to see the difference the music may make to a scene played with the movement of hands in the same way but with just a change in music. I have deepened my interaction with music, using the app Spotify to support my knowledge of artists and genres, helping me build up a repertoire of material that may be useful to me when creating work.

Part of being on this course made me realize the huge gaps I have in my own knowledge, so reading up on plays and practitioners- looking into companies and directors that have passed me by while I have been busy with work and family. The approach I have to teaching in class room now has more structure. I feel able to deliver cohesive lessons that will enable young people to grasp what performance is about and I feel more confident to steer them in a direction that will allow them develop skills that encompass a wide variety ways that they can feel valued and supported in the drama room. I have implemented changes that already have a clear process and add clarity to the Schemes Of Learning I have in place. I have formatted the Proposal, Attempt and Presentation structure that we worked on with Simon in week 2. I’ve also developed the Terminology of ‘fixing’. To fix something- duel connotations in rehearsal to fix and improve work. But also about fixing- to secure something in place when they know they have found something that is working. All of this has aided  my Dept development plan and given me a clear vision of how I see the progress in the delivery of my lessons.

I have been writing, using my blog to put down thoughts, feelings. I have scribbled ideas down for plays and performances. I have also worked on some Automatic Writing and sent a letter to my Pen friend as part of the task to get me in the habit of writing. All in all my self study has opened up a lot of potential for me to explore. I feel that there is still a lot more. The writing aspect for me is something I want to develop further and certainly requires more input and exercise but I feel happy with the direction I am going in.

Devising blocks…

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.

A letter to Posie

DSC_0001_4Eight sides of A4 mark my first letter to Posie in about 20 years…

Posie Danby was 12 years old when one Christmas after the dinner and the gifts were out of the way. Her grandmother who had bought some cheap  Christmas crackers from Woolworths was about to discard the cardboard box in the fire when she noticed the writing on the inside of the box….

The summer before had seen me helping out my mum, making crackers from home-transferring crackers from one box to another in a bid to earn some extra pocket money. In the repetitive boredom of the task I found myself writing my name and address in the bottom of a couple of boxes and therein that moment of happenstance a friendship had been conceived although I would not know it until the following January when a letter addressed to me with a Canadian postmark landed on my doorstep.

We wrote, loyaly as good pen friends do. Having much in common – younger brothers, music, interest in boys. Years later I would spend the summer with her family having saved and worked hard to take my first flight at 17 on my own. Posie  visited here a couple of times, her last visit just a couple of years ago when she came with her eldest son,MacDuff then 5 and she had been here in 2003 for my eldest sons christening as she is his Godmother.

Oskar was 18 months when we visited Montreal, where Posie (actually christened Nicola but the nick name had stuck when her Grandma had called her that).

We spent 3 weeks in Montreal, I spent my days negotiating the subway with a push chair and getting to see the sights of the city. Picking up a bit of French on the way.

Posie who worked at the MgGill university as a translator, was at work some of the time during my stay but spending time there the distance in miles and time not seeing or hearing from each other for long spans were soon forgotten up as if the time that had passed between visits and letters were just days.

The letters we passed back and forth as teenagers had made way for email, but as life always does take hold our correspondence dropped off. We were busy making careers, making a life and making babies. And now it’s the odd post and comment on Facebook to check in and a long distance phone call once in a while.

So last night I did something I hadn’t done for a long time. I wrote a letter to Posie. I will stamp it and send it the old fashioned way. By the time she reads it, the thoughts and feelings of the moment when I wrote will have long passed. A week or two no doubt. Will they still be relevant? Will they still feel true? They will remain trapped in that time forever.

I wrote to her as I did when I was 12, on scraps of paper in bold purple felt tip.

Our letters were always colourful, different shades of paper, a change of ink- often many times on the same sheet. I stuck with the purple pen for the time. My words flowed. My news of all that has happened and of how I feel. And questions of what was going on with her and the family, that which wasn’t posted on her timeline. I hope she will send me a reply. The old fashioned way and I look forward to finding an envelope in her handwriting in the near future.

Potential drama

What a lovely afternoon with my youth theatre yesterday. After really good warm up I got them to start exploring the idea of ensemble more thoroughly. We had a go at the leading exercise and really ensuring the quality of the movement, reminding them to take their time. We foolowed the leader and they passed the focus quite well. They commented how certain members had their own style and when they took control they found themselves in a ‘Samism’.  This could certainly have its place in building characters to a see, certainly with a Samism it made it quirky and added humour as it was typical Sam moves. I urged them however to remain neutral for the time being.

We moved on to group movement the motion exercise where all students are moving and then they stop, as if they had received infor via secret headphones at the same time that made them react simultaneously. We did this a while. I explored adding different movement. So we had a start, stop but also a point in a direction and a touch to the floor. I let members come out of the fray to watch for a while and tap someone else out once they had made observations. When we had all had a go we stopped the exercise and listened to What they noticed. Common theme was that it worked like a wave rather than it being leader less. They realised how much they had to keep their eyes on the room. A couple of the younger members who were keen to lead, moved too quick. It was interesting to see that although this was clearly an advanced skill they recognised what the aim was and why we at some point had a zone (mainly when all focused on me). Yet I was taking my lead from them. The game mentality of wanting to be the one who stopped or started was lost on some of the younger members how ever it still made for interesting observations in our movement and the potential for drama and narrative to evolve.

I led the next task and looked at them in two groups. Maintaining focus this time on 1 leader. This was one of the exercises used in the introductory weeks and it made for really interesting group dynamics, showing gang identities.

My groups geared towards something similar when they reflected on what it felt like or could lead to they went along the lines of a ‘sass off’…

Samism led to this partly, the next part of the session was really exciting they liked this movement and it’s potential. They now just needed to explore where this could come from and lead to. Where were they? Who were they?  They keenly started scribbling ideas from competitors in a dance competition, rival clique gangs in school. I threw in the Shakespeare element, the Romeo and Juliet what if… so that’s about where we ended it. They improvised a confrontation between the two groups and that left us with the potential to revisit more movement to add to dialogue. Perhaps the round by through certainly lifts and falls and so the potential for drama was tangible yesterday. The promise of the groups cooperation and investigation of the work starting to embed its self in how we can explore work and begin to see what stories we want to tell.

So a few things to do…

In the up keep of my writing practise, here goes another blog.

pleased with myself that I have submitted a draft of my annotated bibliography and still a week to go before the deadline. I have managed to get on and read and respond to a few tasks that people have done and hopefully  I may even get to respond to another task before next week.

Reading other blogs from my MA peers has been interesting this week. I’m struck by how well they are presented. I tend to be a bit of a waffler. And don’t always offer much structure. Sorry about that. Good to see how everyone is talking  about their self study and seeing that I’m not alone in my worries or concerns. I shall continue to dip in and comment on the blogs. I have really enjoyed some of the responses and the opportunity to discuss what others maybe thinking and feeling and investigate what that might mean to them or me. There is a real honest and openness that comes across in the posts. Coupled with a desire and underlying passion for the reason why we are doing this. It really questions the important aspects of where this will lead us and I can begin to see the direction that some of my  peers are leaning towards or certainly wanting to lean in a little further towards and make new discoveries. I think I share this with them and it is an exciting but also scary part of the journey as not all the fog has lifted.

I am a little frustrated at how incompetent I am at doing all the techie stuff, copy and pasting others comments so I can see reactions and responses. It must be an age thing  I’m  ok once something is shown me but absolutely terrified of discovering or navigating round it myself. Comfortable getting my thoughts down. Trying to process how all this will feed in to the work. I think even learning from my peers about how to use this stuff more effectively will help me so much. Already with Spotify and just spewing out my thoughts is a step in progress with using these forms of media to give me some clarity.


Doing all this and reading a chapter of The half Blood Prince as well every night with the 5yr old.

I’ve also been using the back of my book for impromptu poetry and thoughts. Topics to write about have been from long lost purses to  the little things that remind me of my eldest boy . The young man in my life who no longer lives with me and for the time being we are not speaking. Yet seeing a gum shield reminds me of him, watching ‘Grimm’ and seeing that the TiVo box has recorded ‘myth-busters’. Memories of a life we had together, of the activities we shared or I supported. All remind me of that there is something missing. A part of me feels lost.

I have a few things to preoccupy me. The reading list is extensive.  There a books that are continually added to the recommended reading list and ‘if this interests you try…’

with only a few weeks to go before our next stint in London I want to get a few of these  books under my belt in order to help me pursue my writing self study.

i have also had a few thoughts on how to facilitate more of what I have learned so far into my teaching practise. Having used the Forum Theatre in lessons this week as a way to reinforce that we can all collaborate and work together to support the work of our class mates.

I was having to fill out what actions I have implemented to get progress in the different year groups after our recent assessment point. Thinking of  my year tens and what they need to do, I was struck by how poor they are at giving themselves targets. So developing a program that I can incorporate into their learning where they recognise areas of skills that we need to develop but that they take an active level in talking about it. Mmmm maybe a blog?

Unfortunately we don’t have the facilities to accommodate this so instead I’m going to get them started on the ideas of video diaries. Giving them things to think about on the Showmyhomework website. We can begin this when our showcase is out the way. The first one will be a reflection of how well they performed in the showcase which takes place after Easter.

In mean while, having spent a lovely morning yesterday with Chloe, Merel,  and Jessi I caught up with some Moby on the Spotify today. That led me to a chill out album that played while I answered emails after work.

A variation on Grannies footsteps

So how am I getting on?

I have been back at work now, practising in the class room for a couple of weeks.

Each lesson , what ever the objective : has started with physical and energetic warm-ups. Not that I am adverse to that.

I like the shock that the registers on some of my students faces at the fact that  I am nearly 4 times their age so there is no excuse for them to be slacking. Most of my students actively participate and it starts the lesson off well, acclimatising the group to the weather of the class room.For some and it’s the ones you know who hate PE, or those who already at a young age are unfit and overweight and are already in that rock and a hard place of being at the mercy of their weight but if they can just start to try then they can get that bit fitter but trying seems so hard.  So mental as well as physical barriers.

I have banged on a lot about terminology the past fortnight.

One of the things I take away from all this is the spin that can be used in the classroom with new terminology. A new perspective takes away some of the fear of ‘performing ‘ in the drama room.

I have really looked at how the preparation for assessments can be broken down. The starting point in the class to begin work by allowing them to collaborate and just getting them to get to their first ATTEMPT.

The questioning is really helpful here as I get my students to investigate why I have chosen this word to describe what they are aiming for. And pretty quickly the responses I am getting is that they are just ‘ Trying ‘stuff out. They are ‘having a go’ at stuff. I am careful to tell them that this is the ideal time to try stuff out and maybe that first is attempt turns out to be the performance but at the moment they are playing with their ideas.

The next lesson from the attempt has been for them to discover what should happen next?

The next thing is the Presentation. A development from attempt but not a performance, certainly not a finished piece. I have been asking my students why I am not calling it a performance. The feedback that has been given comes from the chance to Improve, to practise and a phrase I liked as it could work two ways was to ‘fix’ the ideas. One might mean to consolidation those moments that work and of course to rectify the moments that don’t. The idea that it is a presentation still infers that they are just delivering ideas. Nothing is cast in stone and still working progress.

Now my students have been working on their various projects for a couple of weeks and we really need to start shaping their ideas and giving them some clarity. This is whole class collaboration in the sense of using  Boal’s Forum Theatre. The students starting to understand they can direct the scene, even take a part to give a character some energy, focus or life. Here comes the focus and re-evaluation, the opportunity for others to give guidance, directors to emerge and for the audience to ask for clarity in the ideas that the groups are trying to present. This structure already has merit within the class. My groups are having fun but they are also seeing that there is a process starting to unfold. I have had really good engagement from the students too. Maybe the content of the proposal of what they are trying to do is a benefit, but I think that a refocus on the words used has taken the pressure off, they don’t feel like they are acting or performing – just trying stuff out!



lost in music….

As one of my tasks for self study I have been using my Spotify as much as I can.

Ihave introduced more music to my rehearsal room in school and even just having it on in art lesson as an incentive for kids to feel rewarded for working quietly is quite a boon.

The function I like on the Spotify app has to be when you type in an artist, is that it also makes other suggestions. Some I may have heard of or haven’t listened to in a long time and it is great to be reminded of them and their tracks but what is really great is the artists I would probably never had heard of.

So my list of people that have now been downloaded onto my device include the following . Please feel free to check them out. There a number of soundtracks already I find myself listening to in a light of how I could use this in a performance, or would this be a great track to use along side the building blocks.

Kate Rusby, very folky

Sara Barielles. ‘She used to be mine’ is a gorgeous track

Ingrid Michalelson, Kate Nash, Fiona  Apple, A Fine Frenzy, Feisty… all recommended because I do like a bit of Regina Spektor

listened last night to a play list because I like Richard Hawley and the following artists too are worth a listen: King Creosote ( bats in the Attic)

Flo Morrissey,Jessica Hoop, C Duncan, Slow Club…. and I have only just gotten started.

It’s all about me…. it’s all about me baby.

IMG_0080The above title needs to be sang to the tune of the popular Mcfly tune ‘It’s all about you…’

Just as many a painter has practised their craft reproducing images of their face and body and singer/song writers have sung a life that feels familiar to you in lyrics and melody; so the performer has a canvas and aria of their own. A life lived; no matter how, can produce material for a performance.

I remember an exercise that I took part in at drama school many moons ago that involved just such a moment. The task quite simply was to tell a story of something that had happened to you. The memory that sprung to mind on this occasion was the day I avoided death with a few scatches. I recalled this memory to my group, going into the details of the event.

I was six seven or perhaps a little younger. It was week night. I know this because mum was downstairs watching Coronation Street. My brother and I should have been asleep but we were playing ‘shops’. She wasn’t aware we were still awake as we were jumping from the tall boy chest of draws under the window to the bed. It was warm and still light at 7o clockish outside. I opened the window in the bedroom and my brother and me continued playing our ‘let’s pretend’ game. There was a point when Paul, my younger sibling exited the room to search for more ‘shopping’ in my room. It was then that I sat in the windowsill and went to lean on the pane. Much to my shock I fell through the open window and time slowed as gravity did its thing and I went down,down,down.

It was only a first story bedroom so I suppose not that far and I was lucky; completely avoiding the rockery below. I landed with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. My bare feet landed in the muck and my bum on the lawn. I’m not sure how long I lay on the edge of the grass like that but I did get up and took myself to our back door. It was locked, my dad was at work and mum wasn’t expecting any visitors so I had to knock on the door. Waiting for the door to open seemed to take for ever and I truly wish I could recall the look on my mothers face as she seen me standing there. When she asked me how I got there all I could do was point to the window and cry. Up to that point I hadn’t cried… there was more to the evening as neighbours came round and mum had to go to a neighbour to ring for an ambulance and it was quite an event in my mothers life and mine. I got to watch this moment unfold during this short exercise at drama school as my group recreated the moment. The twist to the exercise was that I couldn’t be me and so my part was performed by someone who could only imagine what I thought and what I felt.

I’m sure there are countless episodes in people’s lives like these and all worthy of recounting. To perform something autobiographical as a performer seems an instinctive thing to do. After all it is a way to explore the effects the world has had upon you. To explore the emotions of what made you react like that or make observations that are useful in being able to store to that ’emotion memory’.

For tackling autobiographical work I have seen many productions that use direct address; it’s  a simple and truthful way to approach it. There are many ways to approach it and removing yourself slightly from the event and being able to collaborate and get ideas on what other perspectives could be very useful. I say this as I recall a piece that I did during my HND studies. I poured my heart and soul into something that was a hugely traumatic part of my past. My lecturer told me at the time that it was ‘Self Absorbed’ and I don’t think to this day I truly understand what she meant. I don’t even think it was a criticism. Looking back I found movement, monologue and tried to create a stylised set with what we could, even a Eddie Brickell track that seemed to tell my story for me. If I had the chance again I would get direction and ideas from others to provide me with that essential eye to provide a lens on what you cannot see yourself. As above all even thought is about me there needs to be a truth in the telling which can be lost in the truth of what we remember as it is personal. There will be a connection with the audience, others will have experienced life changing events also.

Regarding the near window experience It would be great to explore that moment, the childhood activity to the falling from the window. What would be the soundtrack?How could I use the set and stage to explore this. Just like in the exercise we did at drama school, It would be interesting to see the interpretation of another performer bring that moment into the present. To use physicality and the frantic build blocks that work with movement and create that fall. The possibilities are endless. The autobiographical journey can be fearful to reveal things about yourself and fun to give life to a moment once past. I think as a performer we have all looked at potential moments that could be part of a story even if it’s not all about me.

The cake analogy

So now something close to everyone’s heart, cake!

The cake analogy  is very simple concept and I’m sure I’m probably not alone in using it. The idea of that students are given the Same basic ingredients to produce something. Let’s call it a cake for now.

You have the right equipment and you are set up ready to go with an idea of what you want your cake to look and taste like and there is a time frame in which all this needs to happen. You have Flour, eggs, milk, butter and bowl. The oven is on, the timer is set. You have the tin in which to put the mixed ingredients or maybe paper cases for lots of little cakes with the same ingredients.

How does that cake turn out? If you follow a certain recipe and make sure you have got all the instructions right your  cake should be light and fluffy in texture, sweet to taste and give you a moments of pleasure as you take a slice and eat it. Maybe it will make you want more, if done right.

What happens if you leave it in the oven too long?

What if there is a key ingredient missing or you missed out a vital part of the process in the mixing of the ingredients?

will it taste as good? Will you want any more?

Too much sugar, not fluffy but stodgy- the analogy could continue.

I am of course trying to break down the practise of rehearsal for devising drama and collaborative theatre making. The point I am try to make for my students when I start down the cake route is not just the fact that I like cake. But ultimately given the right ingredients and tools and equipment. For drama; acting , character skills, staging, time frame, stimulus, drama conventional and techniques. A chance to discuss, decide and then do. They should be able to attempt a presentation together. These basic cakes are also just the starting point. They maybe perfect as they are but there are also many toppings and fillings they can add. Icing, decoration and many other options there maybe in the patisserie of life.

the plain and simple cake may suit the pallet as much as the chocolate ganache filled one and of course some cakes may look great but when you really bite into them they can be disappointing-something is missing.

SO the idea that theatre is a massive cake, it’s not for everyone but most people like cake!