Freedom To … Get Out

We started with cups of tea, homemade apple and cinnamon raisin muffins (courtesy of my new found love of baking), a chat and general ‘hello’ – not a bad way to start a session.

I explained to everyone why I had wanted to hold this particular workshop; – Freedom Studios had been invited to create small performances for the Reflections Festival on 23rd March in Bradford City Park, and that I wanted to workshop some very early stage ideas with willing, playful people.

And so we all grabbed our stuff and headed next door, there was much chatting and joking, some catching up between friends and I somehow found myself doing a little juggling; which turned into slightly random ball throwing, which turned into still random but slightly more manic multiple ball throwing around the room – hey presto we were warming up!

We got rid of the balls and played an energy ball game – this gives so much more freedom for imagining, for playing and being silly with a pretend ball. I think someone ate the ball, someone definitely birthed the ball (that may have been me) and I’m quite certain it was re-imagined into alternate other-wordly forms, a la The Lawnmower Man.

I notice when we played the ‘walking mummy’ game that everyone had a bit more trouble with this; the instinct is to shout someone else’s name because you panic and want to take action to save yourself. But that’s not an option; your response to the scary panic can only be to calmly trust another member of the circle – control. You have no control over whether you will be out or not, it is entirely within someone else’s control and the onus is on them to save you. I often have an amazed chuckle at the seeming simplicity of these games, and in truth I feel real hurt when an actor dismisses them – I also use them in audition.

I tried out an exercise shared by Rachael Spence and Lisa Hammond at a Young Vic Workshop I went to, and loved, in early 2013. Rachael and Lisa are associate artists of the amazing Improbable Theatre and created No Idea. We looked, we say, we noticed. Everything in the room from the biggest architecture to the tiniest blemish, the people, the objects the sounds and smells – this focussing activity is about being open and aware to your surroundings (I introduced objects into the space), to making it your environment. Without me suggesting or leading anything, the actors made characters almost immediately, which was (a) a surprise (b) a relief.

The characters developed beautifully. I facilitated conversations about that – and realised in doing so that the act of recapping and contemplating is a vital component to the cognitive process actors engage with when creating characters in a devising arena. It seems the trend maintained throughout the break too. Where I normally encourage stock chat (separate green room, separate headspace) everyone was hell bent on talking about their theatre passions; and who am I to stop them! So we had a good chinwag about how we make work, how we want to make work and why we want to make work, which was very stimulating and increasingly rare. Dave talked about his love of theatre for theatre’s sake, Stacey shared her feelings on the need for accessibility, I talked about my influences for this R&D: Augusto Boal, Kneehigh, Improbable, Viola Spolin, Mike Alfreds.

We moved on from individual character work to ensemble work. Playing with stopping and starting, everyone was fantastically focussed and got straight back into the zone in minutes, which was very impressive. I introduced a route that I stuck to the ground with tape and let everyone play. A slow gravitation happened around the suddenly conspicuous outline on the floor. That slow grouping was fantastic and really drew the eye. I wondered if we could recreate the slow grouping effect with a different route, or even without the tape. The stopping and starting really spoke of a strong communication happening within the group, I wanted to test this further. So we ventured out to City Park in Bradford Centre…

A really simple process was decided: everyone had ten minutes to whip out their characters (everyone had an object that functioned as a trigger), and then ten minutes to play with those characters in the space. After that an umbrella was opened as the cue to put the characters away and begin seeing each other again, moving and grouping, stopping and starting.

It’s a naively simple idea – bear in mind it was thought up during the first hour of the session and was a little on the hoof for everyone! – nevertheless, the spectator response was phenomenal! Two girls walking through the centre joined in with two of the characters, and began playing a game. Two ladies sitting next to me became a kind of seated audience and watched and discussed the whole experience (I eavesdropped) and covered a plethora of topics trying to figure out what was being shown. And my favourite moment, one man, with fish and chips in hand, watched the happenings for a while and suddenly, quite unexpectedly stood up and joined in with the ensemble work – my heart did quite a big leap.

All in all, a very positive, exciting session that got me really excited about the prospect of the ensemble performance for 23rd March. There are kernels of visual ideas that work really beautifully but lots of things to bear in mind, the creation of Osmosis is going to be a very interesting and challenging process. I can’t wait!

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