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April 08, 2009
Have been attending a two-day training course with Bamboozle Theatre Companywith the aim of finding out more about ways to do drama work with young people with learning disabilities, and also meet other TiE practitioners.
There were about 20 of us at the workshop, run in Birmingham's Rep Theatre, the experience of meeting a room full of people who are all making a living from theatre in education was in itself an inspiring experience - there's hope for my career yet! But several other things from the first session also stuck with me.
Towards the end of the first session, we did an exercise to explore how 'making' can be incorporated into TiE work. We were given a selection of Styrofoam egg shapes, pipe cleaners, feathers and sequins - our of which we were going to make a bird. These birds would them form part of a simple storytelling exercise.
The story, written out on two sheets of flipchart paper by Chris and narrated between four members of the group, told of a special tree (a clothes rail) in the forest where all the birds would fly one by one to have their parties. We were then invited, one by one, accompanied by drum music from some members of the group, to fly our birds around the circle before settling them on the tree. Once this ritual had been completed, the story continued. A tortoise (a hand puppet, manipulated by a group member) wanted to join in the party. One by one the birds threw down feathers to him (some of us had been given spare feathers for this purpose) and he flew up to the tree. However once he was thee, he began to push, shove and annoy the birds so much that one by one the birds took the feathers away (we did so) and the tortoise fell back to earth, and cracked his shell.
And that is why whenever you see a tortoise, they have cracks in their shell. The story ended with violin music from a folk musican within the group.
What struck me about this exercise was it's simple charm and it's beauty. It is significant I think that the writer Scarry argues that beauty "like a small bird, has an aura of fragility". These Styrofoam, feather and pipe cleaner birds had a fragile beauty, but one that was also joyful with bright colours and sequins. The materials and the creative process were simple, but what we produced were objects of beauty. The storytelling gave each member of the group a ritual moment to celebrate and share the beauty of what they had created.
This exercise was heavily scaffolded, with the story and our various roles in it given by Chris, in a real-time method similar to a story woosh. And so the exercise incorporated all the joy and absorbtion in the moment story woosh has the power to create, but the addition of our bird puppets and the live music made for an atmosphere of beauty and charm. My tutor Joe Winston has written on the importance of beauty in theatre in education, stating: "beauty can provide us with a conceptual and analytical base from which to re-engage with the idea of the arts and of education as pursuits morally for their own sake."
One of the last things we discussed today was the importance of matching. This wasn't a technique I had heard of before, but as I understood it, it involves mirroring whatever the young person is doing; the movements and noises they are making, right down to their breathing patterns. The rational is you are going to where the young person is at, making no demands of them and hence removing any element of resistance. The message is 'I am accepting you entirely as you are'.
As it was decribed, it seemed to me their was an intensely playful element to this technique. Those who had not used it before queried whether it would come across as mocking the young person, but those who has used it assured us that would not happen as long as it was done with honesty and authenticity.
The thing that really interested me was how many of the group who, while not aware of matching as a specific technique, had used it in a wide variety of settings: the elderly, young people with learning disabilities or behavioural issues, and a new mother who often matched her infant's movements and sounds. Each said it felt like the natural thing to do as they searched for a way to have authentic communication with the people involved. And they all reported a high level of success using the technique; one group member described how as they mirrored a young person's movements, they in turn would mirror the facilitator, creating a see-saw of offers and acceptances moving towards an equilibrium that reminded me of the intense feeling of communication and connection I have felt in contact improvisation dance performances.
One of the strongest ideas that permeated the entirety of today's session was that of taking your time in drama work. For Chris this meant that if the space wasn't appropriate for drama work - in terms of techincal set up or size, he would delay the start of the drama so this could be corrected, stating nothing valueable could happen when the space was compromised in this way. Chris also focuses on the concept of creating a fear-free space for the group, and similarly if this space is compromised or can't be realised for any reason, Chris is comfortable with taking the time to take whatever measures are needed to secure this space, even if this means only completing 10 minutes of a 1 hour session.
I recognise there is a possible risk of this coming across as pretentious. But for me it was a revelation. Being relatively new to the business of running drama workshops, I feel the pressure to be *doing*: whether it's accepting whatever space or time a school give you, filling any silences with discussion or exercises, plowing ahead over disrubtions from the group, feeling that I have somehow failed if I haven't delivered the workshop journey I have planned. Today made me realise even two minutes of powerful drama are worth taking the time, and the importance of having patience and confidence in the work.
This also set a personal challenge for me. All through my life, any nervousness has expressed itself in rushing and garbling my speech. As a workshop facilitator, if I am not confident things are going smoothly, I will revert back to this tendency to rush my words, which I recognise often componds the problem. If I can reach this place of calm confidence Chris seems to have, then I can see how much more effective I could be as a facilliator, and also as a communicator in other areas of my life. The best way to achieve this (to avoid my work becoming a place for therapy!) seems to be improving my understanding and experience of what I consider good drama practice, so I can tap into the confidence in the work, regardless of my personal level of confidence.