Is This Community Arts? 

Making Theatre in Huang Pu Village, Guangzhou

Performers Huang Pu Village

I have spent a long time in my working life trying to overcome the labels others, including funding bodies, set as descriptions for a particular type of creative activity, and the conflict that can occur between these different forms. The most obvious include Amateur Arts versus Professional Arts, Community Arts versus Professional Arts, Community Arts versus Amateur Arts and Process versus Product.

Labels can be extremely problematic and when discussing community and participatory art they seem to have huge amounts of baggage and differing understandings.

Community arts ‘process versus product’ debate was raging in the 1990’s when I was Artistic Director of Northern Stage in Newcastle, UK. The company were often accused of just being interested in ‘getting bums on seats’ and not showing any interest in local community activities. This was patently not true, and we prided ourselves on the three strands of our work, all of equal importance, ‘Producing, Presenting and Participation’. We achieved this through the vehicle of an Ensemble Company of performers and artists. We were committed to the creation of great art with and for everybody, long before the Arts Council of England thought that was a good idea. We worked with great world-class artists as well as with local people, young people, old people, people with disabilities, (celebrating their abilities), people in prisons etc etc. We toured across Europe with shows. The local was international and the international local

‘A Clockwork Orange’ one of my first productions at Northern Stage 1994

During my time in Newcastle I got to know the work of Helix Arts. an organisation based in Newcastle, that undertakes Participatory Arts Programmes across the North East of England. They believed that

‘participation in creative activity is fundamental to the well-being of individuals and communities and should be accessible to all’

We also believed that.

But somehow there was a schism between organisations who worked in the larger ‘mainstream’ organisations and those who worked with smaller, local, grass root organisations. This was probably because the funding for large regional theatres was very much larger than the neighbourhood projects. But there were other more important reasons why the mistrust existed. I remember having conversations with Toby Lowe, then Chief Executive of Helix Arts about his Spectrum of Participatory Arts Practise where he puts forward the view that –

‘ …. we think that it’s possible to define a spectrum of participatory arts practice that could help us to understand the differences between different practices. At one end of the spectrum lie projects whose purpose is to facilitate a creative enquiry for a set of participants, at the other end lie projects in which an artist uses a group of people as material for a creative process that they define’.

He went on to explain that he named the different ends of this spectrum Kester and Bishop in homage to the debate between Grant Kester and Claire Bishop about the quality or otherwise of different elements of “collaborative art practice”.

The use of the word ‘uses’ troubled me. It feels judgemental. Nobody likes to be used.

But I always thought I was at the Bishop end of the spectrum, where I worked with people to understand them better and ‘used’ the process, in a way that I defined, to create contemporary performance pieces. Is this wrong? On many occasions I was accused of using people for my own purpose – somehow exploiting them. I carry this thought with me in every piece of community art I engage in.

Walking into work at Huang Pu Village Gaungzhou

I was thinking about all these things as I travelled to Asia this November to work in Guangzhou, in mainland China, to undertake a 5 day workshop organised by Jade Liu at 72 Life Theatre Project.

72 Life Theatre Project is currently sponsored by One Lab of One Foundation in China and is helping to support people from different communities, particularly marginalised or disadvantaged groups. Jade had attended a previous workshop I held with Joyce Lee, Mind the Gap Resident Director, in Hong Kong last year and she had invited me to Guangzhou.

My job was to develop a piece of theatre with a group of professional social workers, teachers and community arts workers based on the methodology I was exploring in my recent theatre work in UK, including Contained in Bradford  and Anniversary in Leeds. Jade felt that the way I worked might be used in the different circumstances in which 72 Life Theatre Project was working. Also that the people attending the workshop might use some of the methods in their own work.

Ancestors Hall – photo Feng Shu

I wanted to make some theatre that came from the stories of people who I didn’t know, who did not speak the same language as me and whose culture and life experience I didn’t have knowledge of. By listening to their stories I imaged I would learn more about them, myself and the world we live in.

I always describe the work I do as ‘contemporary performance for people who are interested in people’. I think the work can be defined as community arts and I think it can also be defined as professional theatre. But to be honest, it is other people who want me to define it – I prefer to think about it as theatre performance that ‘works with the most appropriate people necessary to create the work’. I don’t have some lofty ambition to change people’s lives, although sometimes the work contributes to life changing attitudes, I am interested in what happens on the sidelines of life. I want to explore those seemingly insignificant moments of life that become meaningful to me and to others.

Telling stories photo Feng Shu

Lyn Gardner wrote about my work in a Guardian Newspaper review of William Trevors’s Ballroom of Romance I did at Northern Stage as follows;

Like so much of director Alan Lyddiard’s work, it has a diffuse quality: often, the important things are on the periphery. There are no big statements, only tiny gestures: a woman picking a hair off a man’s suit, the men strutting. It takes the lives of ordinary people surviving on the margins and makes them seem special, almost blessed

That is where I feel happy and where I can make a little bit of sense of the world. Through the process of sharing the work with audiences, I believe others can enjoy being with people, enjoy their stories, enjoy watching them and feel an empathy for them. The generosity of sharing stories, the generosity of listening to others – A Theatre of Generosity.

Mr Hu’s Ancestors Home
photo Feng Shu

So back to Guangzhou. I arrived mid October after having some problems getting my visa for China. (You can’t currently get a Chinese Visa in Singapore if you don’t live there permanently ).

Guangzhou traditionally romanised as Canton, is the capital and most populous city of the province of Guangdong in southern China. Located on the Pearl River about 120 km  north-northwest of Hong Kong. Guangzhou has a history of over 2,200 years and was a major terminus of the maritime Silk Road and continues to serve as a major port and transportation hub today.

Listening to Sean – photo Feng Shu

My workshop took place in Huang Pu village where Jade had organised a week long residency. We had 17 participants from all over China with some people travelling from as far away as Beijing and Wuhan City to take part in the workshop.

Tuesday 31st October

Jade, I and interns Carol and Venessa travelled to Huang Pu Village and moved into our accommodation for the week. A delightful apartment alongside a charming river running through the village. We met with Mr Qi, The Fixer, and visited Mr Hu’s Ancestors Hall to prepare the space for the next day. There are many Chinese Ancestral Halls in Huang Pu, it was once a very rich port. We cleared the space of everything we didn’t need and made the space welcoming with the help of Mr Hu and his team of helpers. We met the Uncle who worked as a kind of caretaker/janitor. He became a fixture of the workshop – always there, always helpful, always sitting watching what we were doing.

 

The Caretaker – Photo Feng Shu

Wednesday 1st November

First days of workshops always make me feel a little nervous but the participants arrived early and I had a chance to get to know them a little before we started. Sean, one of the people I had worked with in Hong Kong was there which was reassuring. We had to work in three languages Mandarin, Cantonese and English, but with Jade acting as an interpreter we were on solid ground. At 9.30am we welcome everybody and introduced them to Mr Hu Senior who told us the history of the place and about some of his ancestors.

Mr Hu telling us about his Ancestor Hall

We learnt about the significance of the building and of the people in the photos that were on the walls. I wanted our performance to be about the place where we were performing and the people connected to it, people from the village as well as the participants.

I explained the work we would do over the 5 days. Everybody was given a little brown book where they could anonymously write about their thoughts and feelings. These books were collected every morning and distributed to other people so that the books became the stories, thoughts, observations and reflections of many people.

Slow walking – photo Feng Shu

Then the starting point of all my work – The Slow Walk exercise. I have been doing this exercise with people for over 40 years, with thousands of people from all walks of life. You can get details of this exercise, ‘The Slow Walk of Charisma’ here

I am here – photo Zong

After lunch we split into groups and had a guided journey through the village. Groups went to visit locals to hear their perceptions of the village. We visited another Ancestral Home, that had been turned into a art shop, a wood-carver’s studio, a oyster restaurant and other places. We needed to get a real sense of the place we were working in.

We started telling each other stories.

Thursday 2nd November 

Slow Walking, Stories/reflections/observations, reading from the little brown books.

Gathering material.

I introduced the group to the 5 Principles of Authentic Living as devised by Robert Rabbin

Be Present

Pay Attention

Listen Deeply

Speak Truthfully

Act Creatively

Choreography – photo Feng Shu

I find this mantra useful in getting stories from participants at workshops. A simple guide to compiling stories that will fully engage audiences. I work with them to achieve a state of ‘living and performing’ in the moment. It is difficult for people just ‘to be’, to let go of all the things that occupy our minds.

Letting go of thoughts is an important step in delivering authentic stories, stories that come from a deeper part of ourselves and get beyond all that stuff that preoccupies us every day. Just as the space must be clear of debris so must the mind and the body. As Ricky Gervais once said, approximately, ‘I like performers to be the equivalent of a cold glass of water’. That sounds perfect to me – natural, cool and life giving.

I also introduced the group to The ‘Nelken’ Line from the piece by Pina Bausch. This choreography is being taught across the world as part of a project from The Pina Bausch Foundation – Details here

The Nelken Line photo Feng Shu

We worked on the choreography – simple movements representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. There were two reasons for including the ‘Nelken Line’ into our piece of performance. Firstly we would be part of of a world wide initiative that meant that we, in our little village of Huang Pu, would be connected to a global phenomenon. Secondly the Nelken Line has a clear connection to the slow walking exercise, in that it is a combination of simple walking and gestures. Slow walking is not in itself meaningful, but somehow it is always interpreted by an audience with their own understanding of what it means. Our performance was emerging as a series of personal stories interrupted by choral movement pieces, exploring both the presence of the individuals and the community as a whole. We we attempting to show the importance of community support and activity to empower individual aspiration. The group and the individual being of equal importance.

The Performance Space – Feng Shu

The movement sections were a collection of rules and instructions. They are a structure in which meaning emerged through the doing of the structure.  All the “rules” are actually arbitrary, any rules are only the outward representation of an intention. The intention is 100% commitment to what one is doing, and taking 100% care to complete the task without thought.  A mediative process that connects with a deeper understanding beyond thought.  Incidentally it is worth also looking at the Japanese Actor/Director/Teacher writings about taking pleasure in daily tasks, fulfilling them completely with 100% focus.  (Yoshi Oida’s The Invisible Actor)

One of the aspects of the work that we did not cover enough, because of time restraints, was to get to know the village better. We did what we could. In the afternoon Mr Qi, the fixer, had invited a number of people living in the village to come and meet with the group and to exchange stories. This was a really great session with about 30 people sitting in a circle listening to each other, sharing stories, getting to know each other. Mr Bu the singer, songwriter sang us a song which we used in the performance, one of our favourite restauranteurs shared with us why he called his restaurant ‘The Auntie That Always Laughs’, a small business woman explained to us why she never locks the door to her house and a Sushi chef played a tune on a Xiao (flute). We heard many fascinating stories of artists who had come to the village to work.

We had heard from Mr Hu on our first day of the workshops, but he was one of only a few older people we got to know. We got to know the uncle caretaker a bit, but it was a gap in our research. The young artists and entrepreneurs  who had come to the village to live and work told one part of the story of life in the village, we needed to learn from the older generation.

One older man attended the workshop everyday and would sit in a corner. We wanted him to join us. He had so many stories to tell us. He knew a lot and really wanted someone to listen to him, but refused to talk in public.

Sean and Helen talking to the older man who would not join us

Friday 3rd November

In the morning Slow Walking, rehearsing ‘The Nelken Line’, Story telling and readings from ‘The Little Brown books’

In the afternoon ‘Mise-en-scène’. I always liked the phrase Mise-en-scène rather than director or the term ‘blocking’. It makes more sense to me and what I do. I place things and action on stage in order to illuminate the text, or rather, in this case, the performers, who were the text.

The Mise-en-scène is the structure and frame in which the work or meaning exists. Everything the performers do is important and crucial to the meaning of the piece. Somethings the most important action happens in the background or in the margins. Sometimes it is an accumulation of many things happening in different parts of the stage.

Choreography – photo Feng Shu

I structure the action to reflect the performers I am working with. The performers are creating the text by being who they are, doing what they do and saying what they say. I remember the Russian/Israeli director Yevgeny Arye, Artistic Director of Gesher Theatre telling me the story of one day taking a rehearsal in the theatre. All the ‘actors’ were working  hard to express the essence of some scene when a door opened right at the back of the stage, and a cleaner walked through and started brushing the stage. Yevgeny eyes where drawn to the cleaner. In fact watching the cleaner became more interesting and meaningful than anything the ‘actors’ were doing. I think of this story often when organising the mise-en-scène of any show I am working on. Today I think would be much happier watching people in a town square going about their business than I would be watching a ‘world-class’ production of Peter Handke’s ‘The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other’. A show that I was actually very enamoured with when I first saw it in 1992.

Saturday 4th November  

Slow walking, Choreography, Storytelling and readings from the little brown book.

A free walk in the village to try to meet older residents and learn more about the village.

On Saturdays and Sundays the village is full of tourists and locals set up stalls selling everything from sugar cane juice to sugared artworks, from small crabs on strings to the most delicious dumplings I had ever tasted.

We spent the most of the day rehearsing, discussing which stories people would tell. It was their decision, I just wanted to make sure that the story they had chosen was told in an engaging way and didn’t go on for too long.

Stories – photo Feng Shu

It is extraordinary the way the work matures each time we go through it. It is always changing and developing – it is never finished. As long as there are stories to be heard life will go on. The performance changes as people’s lives change, we just create something that is true for that moment in time.

Choreography – photo Pina Bausch

Sunday 5th November

Slow Walking, Choreography, readings from the little brown books, re-capping on the stories.

Mr Ding was still not sure which story he wanted to tell. He was the oldest of the group and maybe didn’t have as much performing experience as others in the group. He was nervous. He wanted to tell the right story. He had come to the workshop because he had been persuaded by his daughter. He told us about his relationships with all his daughters on the first story telling session and how he felt about them. A lot of love of course. Half an hour before the performance he still hadn’t made up his mind.

Mr Ding

He knew when he was due to talk but didn’t know which of the many stories he had told would be the one he would share with the audience that night.

There was another section of the piece that was not pre-defined. At one stage the whole company came to sit on the front steps, closer to the audience. They picked up the littlebrown books and started to read to themselves. These books had been passed to different people every day. Each day they would write about what they experienced, anecdotal stories, descriptions of people they had met, reflections on the work and whatever they felt at any particular moment. Everyday we would share some of the writings from inside the books.

In the performance one by one (not everybody) would read a section from the book that they happened to be reading. Nobody knew what was going to be read out and there was a sense of anticipation and a moment of spontaneity among the performers. Mostly these where completely new thoughts or feelings that were being read out.

We performed the piece to an audience of maybe 100 people. It was performed in darkness with artificial light for the very first time. On the whole the piece worked.

It was touching, funny and beautiful to look at, full of delightful moments from ‘lives in progress’.

Performance – photo Feng Shu

At the end of the performance we discussed the piece with the audience. The first question was why I had included the Pina Bausch choreography, ‘The Nelken Line’. I explained that, like so many artists, Pina Bausch is, and continues to be, a big inspiration in my work. She amongst other inspired me to create my company of older performers.

Performance – Photo Feng Shu

When I started to write about community arts on this blog, I named ‘Kontakthof’  created by her, with a company of performers over the age of 65, from her home town of Wuppertal, as the best piece of community dance theatre I had ever seen. Most importantly the reason was because the Pina Bausch Foundation was encouraging people across the world to learn the piece and upload a video of it to the Foundation web site. I though that we would make our contribution to this from the village of Huang Pu so we could be connected to a global phenomenon. In fact I believe we are the first group from mainland China to do it.

Nelkin Line – Photo Fenu Shu

For more details go to  http://www.pinabausch.org/en/projects/the-nelken-line.

Monday 6th November

The last day of our workshop. Time for reflection. To put questions and to think about what the group had achieved. To think about what to do next.

I want to say a personal thank you for all the people who participate in this workshop I learnt so much through the process of working with you

Janice, Nora, Gwan, Mi Qi, WenJing, Julia, Mr Ding, Michelle , Sean, Jing, Lynn, San Shui,  Sherry, Shuang, Banana, Kimi

To Jade Lui and all her team at 72 Life Theatre Project including interns Carol, Vanessa, Zong, Sharon and Jane

To Zong (again!) and Shuai and Feng Shu for documenting the process and performance

Performers photo Kong

The late night plane back to Singapore to continue my travels across Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia arriving back in UK on the first day of February 2018.

Post Show – photo Feng Shu

Everyday Creativity

Community Arts Re-imagined.

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Remembering Witch’s Blood 2017 photo Kathryn Rattray

It was with a great amount of pleasure that I read a recent report produced by the campaign group 64 Million Artists. It discusses the need to re-imagine the way that community arts are viewed in this country, calling for measures to make sure that ‘everyday creativity’ is embedded across society.

The report recommends that ACE should reconsider using language such as ‘excellence’ and ‘great art’, which ultimately discourages people who are perceived by the ‘arts establishment’ to have little talent  and consider a more ‘democratic’ use of funded buildings and future capital developments.

The report is the result of a five-month nationwide study into how to move from ‘Great Art For Everyone’ to ‘Great Art By, With and For Everyone’. It defines ‘everyday creativity’ as grassroots arts activity, encompassing everything from breakdancing in open spaces to guerrilla gardening and painting in sheds.

Personal Reflection

In Rehearsal Witch's Blood

In Rehearsal Remembering Witch’s Blood 2016 photo Kathryn Rattray

I first started getting involved in community arts programmes over 30 years ago, when I worked at Dundee Rep as Associate Director in the mid 198o’s. Dundee Rep was beginning to create work that reflected the lives of local people. At the time this seemed revolutionary. We set up youth theatre projects, dance programmes and an adult performance group.  We invited local artists and musicians to share their work. We developed a new programme of work to encourage new audiences to the theatre.  In 1986 I directed a production of  They Fairly Mak Ye Work written by Billy Kay with music by Michael Marra, which told the story of Mary Brooksbank who worked in the Dundee Jute Mills in the early years of the 20th Century. She was an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain between 1920 and 1933, and spent three periods in prison as a result of her agitation. She is remembered today as a prominent figure in Dundee’s labour movement.

The production was a resounding success, sold out on its first run and was repeated a few months later and sold out again. The production gave the Rep confidence to explore other local work and a year later a large scale community production Witch’s Blood was produced in partnership with a number of Dundee based community organisations, under the chairmanship of Dundee Community Arts Festival based at Dudhope Arts Centre.

Witch’s Blood

Witchs Blood 1987

Witchs Blood 1987

This large-scale community production, Witch’s Bloodwas created in 1987 to great critical and popular acclaim and is regarded as a seminal moment in the development of the community arts movement that is flourishing in Dundee today. It involved taking an audience of 1000 people each night across the city in double-decker buses to see a performance inspired by DC Thomson employee, William Blain’s novel. Both family saga and Dundee history (approx 1650 – 1850), the piece explores community and family issues and particularly inter-generational relationships.

Today a team of local and international artists are currently working with members of the community on a re-imagined version of the production, to be performed in June 2017, the 30th Anniversary of the piece. Using available technology and new digital art forms we plan to re-imagine the story for a contemporary audience.

Remembering Witch’s Blood 2016 – photo Kathryn Rattray

Last month we launched an event as part of Ignite Dundee at an amazing space that is  West Ward Print Works in collaboration with the first Dundee Design Festival.

Witch’s Blood 2016 was again a great success attracting full houses for a short Work-in-Progress. It involved an audience of 100 people walking through the ground floor of West Ward Print Works to experience memories from the first production and songs from the original show.

‘Layers of recorded voices, captured through city-wide community singing sessions, will filter in to the space, augmented and edited digitally to create a haunting soundscape that builds anticipation. Recorded audio of Michael Marra singing from the original show will blend with his daughter Alice singing live, creating an ambience in which reality and fiction can hold equal sway. As the performance builds momentum the live vocalists in the space come to life, starting with a solo voice before a 40 strong women’s choir emerge from the darkness. A symphony of voices entwined with spoken word and fragments of narrative hint towards a bigger story unravelling; creating a glimmer of things to come in 2017 and inviting the public to be involved in the impending large scale production’

In the past much emphasis was made of the necessity, by arts funders, for community arts projects to devise ‘legacy’ or ‘exit strategy’.  I always felt it was nearly impossible to say how things would develop and what might emerge from one project into the future. It also felt a little presumptuous.

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Remembering Witch’s Blood 2016 – photo Kathryn Rattray

I know that Witch’s Blood left an extraordinary memory in the hearts of hundreds of people. We didn’t have an exit strategy, we trusted in the people who had been involved to create their own creative path. The future was theirs. However, when we started to think about devising a 30th Anniversary project, people came back to get involved very quickly. The sons and daughters and grandchildren of participants, audiences and people who had just heard about it, all gathered for a public meeting at the end of March 2016. The stories and memories they shared were beautiful and moving and encouraged us to keep going with a re-imagined Witch’s Blood.  When Dundee applied to be UK City of Culture in 2017 their bid named Witch’s Blood as one of the projects that kickstarted an arts revolution in the city. In 1994 the city wrote its first cultural strategy. The philosophy and values that underpinned Witch’s Blood were firmly articulated within its pages. This was the start of the legacy, but now the wider community was taking the lead.

Dundee City of Culture

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Remembering Witch’s Blood 2016 – photo Kathryn Rattray

The changes in Dundee since the mid 1980’s has been extraordinary, beyond what I could have ever imagined,  and the arts have played a major role in making the city so vibrant today. There is currently a 1 billion pound investment in developing the Waterfront, bringing the city’s relationship with the River Tay back to life. The V & A Museum of Design will open in 2018.  Dundee has recently been named as an UNESCO City of Design and, in a spirit of never giving up, it has just been announced that Dundee will bid for European Capital of Culture title in 2023.

The Arts and their Role in Civic Society

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Remembering Witch’s Blood 2016 – photo Kathryn Rattray

There are many amazing examples of community arts projects on this web site and on our sister Facebook page.

Community Arts Projects continue to make a difference across the world.  There are some amazing projects and organisations working together, believing in the principle that everybody is creative and that the arts can make a difference in society for the better.

A recent interesting development comes from  The Gulbenkian Foundation who are developing an inquiry into the civic role of the arts

At the launch of the inquiry they wrote:

‘Arts organisations play an important civic role, sustaining individuals and communities and helping make many places across the country more creative and vital places to live and work. Today we are launching an Inquiry which will cast a spotlight on the civic role of arts organisations. 

We aspire through the Inquiry to increase awareness of the civic role that arts organisations play nationally and in their communities, develop an understanding of what constitutes ‘next practice’ and develop a movement of arts organisations committed to demonstrating it.

We are calling on arts, and other interested organisations, to get involved and help us to ensure that the full potential of arts organisations in promoting civic engagement and revitalising communities is realised. The first stage in the process is research and consultation and we invite you to visit the Inquiry website and join the conversation by, amongst other things, telling us what the civic role of arts and cultural organisations means to you and what needs to change in order for arts organisations to be able to fully embrace it?’ 

You can find out more about the inquiry here

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Remembering Witch’s Blood 2016 – photo Kathryn Rattray

It seems to me that in these difficult times the arts are needed more than ever and that there are communities, artists, individuals and organisations who are ready to contribute to making profound change happen. Over the last 30 years I have learnt a lot and experienced for myself the power of the arts as a major contributor to changing attitudes, feelings, thoughts and emotions. I believe that the arts have been the stimulus to changing lives for the better. We all recognise those small, seemingly insignificant moments in life that suddenly become important and teach us something more about ourselves and the world with live in. I have experienced most of those moments when I am engaged with artistic and creative projects and places. Looking at art, listening to art, participating in art. It helps me to understand myself a little bit more and I believe I share this feeling with millions of other people around the world.

To finish this thought, here is a lovely little animation from Alain de Botton – What is Art For?

 

 

 

Anniversary – Looking Back, Looking Forward

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In July 2016 ten performers came together at West Yorkshire Playhouse to start work on a new piece of theatre called Anniversary. 

The Anniversary Project is a collaborative process, bringing together people from different walks of life to create one piece of work. Including a combination of five older professional performers and five performers from Heydays, West Yorkshire Playhouse’s creative programme for older people.

Working with older people is really important for many reasons. As a consequence of public healthcare programs, education and scientific advancement we are living healthier for longer. Much longer. On current projections one in two teenage girls has a 50% chance of living to be a centenarian.

Yet in the busy life we lead we can forget the elderly. Perhaps “old” is measured by a yardstick of loss. A loss of mobility, a loss of ambition, a loss of connectedness. The loss of friends and family members. A loss of muscle tone, a reduced sharpness of vision, a blurring in hearing, a fuzziness in thinking, some change in clarity.

Yet that is only part of the story. We have collected. We have gathered. We have seen, we have listened, recorded and we have understood. We are the experts of our own experience and became so simply by continuing. We embody the extended past in the present. We are the living libraries of our own knowledge.

We have something important to say

Here is an introduction to the performers involved in the project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projects, Performers, Performance

Mind the Gap

photo Denis Darzacq

Jack Riley and Liam Bairstow from Mind the Gap ©Denis Darzacq

Travel broadens the mind, so the cliché goes, so here I am sitting in a sunny top floor flat in Budapest thinking about the work that I am currently doing in Bradford for Mind the Gap.

I’ve gone a long way in my attempt to understand the nature of things. I am often confused and exasperated at my inability to explain what I am doing and why I am doing it. Sometimes a little clarity emerges and I can explain things a bit better. That normally happens when I am thousands of miles from the place that I am doing it. So coming to Budapest was important in doing my work in Bradford better.

©Denis Darzacq

Susan Middleton Mind the Gap Ambassador ©Denis Darzacq

I first worked with Mind the Gap in 2003, when I was at Northern Stage, and asked Tim Wheeler, then Artistic Director and one of the founders of the company, to collaborate with us on a touring production.  We decided to create a new version of ‘Don Quixote’ adapted by Mike Kenny, and it toured to 18 venues across UK, with a company of learning-disabled and non learning-disabled performers, from two ensemble theatre companies, to great critical acclaim. Tim and I became good friends and I have been loosely involved with the company, over the years, since that time.  Last year Tim resigned as Artistic Director of Mind the Gap and I was asked to join the company as a consultant and ‘critical friend’ to help them through a process of change.

©Denis Darzacq

Euan Evans Thirlwell Mind the Gap Academy Student ©Denis Darzacq

It has been a fantastic opportunity for me and I have learnt much more than I could ever have imagined through the process. I have of course my own methods and idiosyncratic ways, but the time spent with Mind the Gap has made me question some of those long held beliefs. What is emerging for me now is a new way of thinking about theatre and how to make it.

What I have learnt working with Mind the Gap.

I am currently in rehearsal for a new piece of theatre called Contained which opens at Mind the Gap Studios on 16th October 2015 at 7.30. Come and see it.

Listening to the Mind the Gap performers’ stories has been up-lifting and I have learnt so many things from them, including some pretty deep thoughts about what it is to be human.  Their stories have become the true centre of our work, reflecting their lives with honesty and finding new ways of presenting themselves through story telling, music, dance and just by being who they are. Sometimes the simplest of tasks takes on a sense of deep meaning, for example, watching them go about a series of jobs on stage, moving a speaker, plugging in an amp, testing a microphone become powerful moments of self expression.

©Denis Darzacq

Chloe Shaw-Champion and Israr Abbas Mind the Gap Ambassadors ©Denis Darzacq

One of the aims of the work has been to create the environment in which the performers have been able to say, in a sincere and complete manner, I am me, I am here and I am fine.  It takes a lot of guts to say that and mean it.  Many of us find it really difficult to do. It makes us vulnerable and unsure, yet if we can believe it, it can make us powerful and lovable. The Mind the Gap performers’ have become experts at presenting themselves. Nobody does it like they do it and it is wonderful to watch.

Which, of course, is true of anybody presenting themselves in front of you with complete sincerity.

One of my favourite stories, that I repeat a lot, was told me by the Russian director Yevgeny Arye, artistic director of Gesher Theatre Company in Tel Aviv.  He explained that he was watching rehearsals one day when a door opened in the wings and a cleaner just swept the back area of the stage without noticing anything else going on. Yevgeny explained that it was mesmerising and beautiful to watch, much more interesting than the ‘actors’ working hard in front of him. I hold that story close to my heart. Let’s bring the cleaners to the front of the stage.

©Denis Darzacq

Jez Colborne Mind the Gap Resident Artist photographed by Denis Darzacq

Collaborations

The Music of Jez Colborne

I got to know Jez Colborne when he was a performer in the Northern Stage/Mind the Gap co-production of Don Quixote back in 2003. Years later I went to see ‘Irresistible – Call of the Sirens’ written by Jez.  It was amazing.  Jez as a composer and performer was just brilliant and it was obvious that I wanted to collaborate with him on Contained. He started writing music for the piece and it suddenly occurred to me that a great narrative for our show would be the making of a music video. The performers would create a band to play Jez’s music. They would seem to learn it and rehearse it during the show and finally they would perform a finished version at the end of the show.  ‘Im Me’ music composed and with lyrics by Jez is produced by long-term Mind the Gap Associate Artist Si McGrath.  It will be accompanied by the music video directed by French photographer Denis Darzacq.

©Denis Darzacq

Khadijah Afza Mind the Gap Academy Student photographed by Denis Darzacq

 The photography of Denis Darzacq

I was introduced to the work of Denis Darzacq by Mind the Gap when I saw photographs from his exhibition ACT some years ago. He had captured powerful moments that touched me deeply. When I started working on ideas for Contained I immediately thought of him as a collaborator. I believed that the authentic moments I was looking for, from the stories of the performers, could be achieved more effectively through the photography of Denis. It would give me a start. I would get to know the performers better by looking at them first in photography by Denis.

©Denis Darzacq

Jack Riley Mind the Gap Academy Student photographed by Denis Darzacq

Contained

In creating Contained we started by filming every performer from Mind the Gap’s Academy and Resident Artists to learn their story. One minute on camera each. Then Denis took a series of portraits and ‘sofa’ shots. We were compiling material. Stories and images were quickly accumulated. We filmed with Denis in locations around Bradford for a week for our final music video of Jez’s song. This was the source material that we would use for the creation of our piece of theatre.

©Denis Darzacq

Alison Short Mind the Gap Resident Artist photographed by Denis Darzacq

Once all the stories were collected we started to devise a project that could accommodate that material.

So ……

Contained (The Project) is a ‘circle of projects’, that surrounds a piece of high quality theatre, that feed off each other artistically and build long-lasting relationships with people locally, nationally and internationally.

The ‘circle of projects’ are developed from a relationship with a new performance piece, Contained (The Performance),  which at its centre, is a collection of personal stories told by an ensemble of performers, with a range of learning disabilities, whilst they create a music video.

The activities include a series of one-minute films, a two day filmmaking residency, an Academy showcase, a music video, a documentary about learning disability, an exhibition and much more.

Ideas travel between each mini-project – informing, exciting and generating enthusiasm for the whole range of ideas and activities, developing an holistic/integrated approach to the project as a whole.

Contained (The Project) will grow experientially over time, changing and developing and deepening the experience for ourselves and the people we create the projects for and with.

The theatre piece is moving  towards its final stage. Rehearsals for the final production starts at the beginning of September. I will be back on familiar ground in a rehearsal room with a team of performers and theatre practitioners.

The place I love to be. It’s going to be beautiful.

©Denis Darzacq

Denis Darzacq and Euan Evans-Thirlwell ©Denis Darzacq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Anniversary’ Work in Progress

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The Anniversary Company of Performers

‘Anniversary’ is a new multi-media dance and theatre performance created by older artists, including performers from a ‘various and wide’ life experience. It involves true stories, original live music, dance and video imagery to be performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse (Leeds, United Kingdom) next year produced by The Performance Ensemble in co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse.

On July 4th 2015 the company performed the first ‘Work in Progress’ of the piece to an appreciate audience of a few hundred people – part of the process of developing new work and funded by The Baring Foundation’s LateStyle Project. The Baring Foundation has pioneered support for a wide range of programmes supporting older people to enjoy and take part in the arts  This latest programme,  funded professional artists (all of whom are over 70) to bring their original and exceptional artistic craft and insights to the theme of “Age”.  We choose the choreographer Royston Maldoom to take on this role.

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Royston Maldoom

Review of ANNIVERSARY Work in Progress

THE OPENING SET for ‘Anniversary’ is curiously unpromising: a broken-down sofa, with its back drawn defiantly to the audience; old crates scattered randomly across the floor; tatty clothes abandoned on a metal rack… Already the metaphor is in place – something, or someone, has been chucked on society’s rubbish heap. For what we see is not a place of prestige. An air of abandonment prevails. Then, out they come crawling, from behind the detritus, like alley cats, into the open space. Dancers. Stealthy, defiant. Vibrant. Full of mischief. And the mayhem begins.

This is a company of ten performers. Five long-term professionals, five total newcomers with zero experience or training – except the two-week intensive rehearsals they have been through with director Alan Lyddiard and choreographer Royston Maldoom. The one thing everyone has in common here is their age. For this is a piece about being older – in your sixties, seventies, eighties. In other words, on the human scrapheap, right? Wrong. So very, very wrong.

From their first audacious appearance amongs the rags and tatters in the studio corner, to their final triumphant flop, in a heap of tangled bodies, onto the old sofa, which has now been turned to face and embrace us, centre stage, these performers hold us in a spell of virtuosity and celebration. They mesmerise, with their rich presence, their wisdom, their humour, their LIVES.

‘Anniversary’ is not so much a story, more a series of loosely interconnected scenes, in movement, original music (by Chris Benstead), and words, all evoking the complex, multi-layered experience of getting older. It would have been so easy to go for the sympathy vote. To have the audience say, ‘Bless them for having the nerve.’ Not for one second does that happen in this piece. This is a piece of art, powerful in its own right.

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It’s sometimes rueful – a group of women mournfully examine their bingo wings, their spreading girths, their wrinkles and eyebags, in front of an imaginary mirror. Sometimes there is defiance – a man walks slowly, with his walking stick, to centre front, looking vulnerable, alone, only to be joined from behind by a chorus of stick-thumping, loud-chanting dancers, turning loneliness into sudden, anarchic, joyful solidarity. Elsewhere, tenderness surfaces – two people sit close, gazing into each other’s eyes, a hand placed to their partner’s face in exquisite understatement. And often, it is thrillingly dynamic, beautifully strong – the whole company moving in ensemble dances that are brimful of energy, chutzpah and hope.

The choreographer, director and composer have done a fine job here of melding their considerable respective talents to create a jewel of physical theatre. But more than that: they have fostered a palpable sense of connection, of integration – between professional and non-professional dancers; between the performers and the audience. This is something increasingly rare in a contemporary culture that is often elitist, youth- and celebrity-obsessed, a culture somehow disconnected from our everyday lives – our memories and our dreams.

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‘Anniversary’ is aspirational in the best sense of the word. It certainly tells some sanguine truths about the world it depicts – that of the elder, the “senior citizen” (how hateful is that term!) – but it also shows the sheer glory of the human spirit: raging, raging and DANCING against the dying of the light.

Written by BARNEY BARDSLEY

(Barney Bardsley is a freelance writer and dancer)

barefootbarney.wordpress.com

From Others That Saw It

A profound, inspiring, integrated and very humorous piece!! Very well done all.

Enjoyable performance, good to have the post performance talk. Well done everybody!!

 Not too sure when I was given a ticket but found the whole thing amazing. Well done to everyone.

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 Thank you – you brought a tear to my eye and you saw it as well. Beautiful music and choreography, lovely vocals and competition. I loved it all. Can’t wait to see more next year. Tell ACE to come and see it tonight!!

 Totally riveting – such variety, smoothness, exploration of themes – music, movement, character, humour – great! Onwards to the next venture!

It was just wonderful. Gives me hope for the future!

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 From the outset it was a captivating and very moving piece of theatre. I was entranced and unaware of the fact that the performers were in the older age group. I appreciated the variety of the movements as the more voting sections were interspersed with humour. The music brought it all together into a whole performance that was inspirational. I came to see a friend – one of the ‘community’ dancers and left feeling that I had seen a quality work.

 A fantastic, emotional and inspirational performance.

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Tamara Mclorg

 I came to the performance because I have a friend performing, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it very expressive and moving. I was mesmerised and felt the performance really flowed. I liked the variety – the mix of sadness at times and optimism. As a person coming up to retirement age myself I find it optimistic to know that these projects exist for older people so that we can enjoy a fulfilling and creative retirement. It is never too late to learn, start something new and be creative and active.

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 A truly moving and thought-provoking performance! Beautifully presented with some personal touches. There’s so much stigma around community art, but this piece proves how valuable it can be. My only reservation is that you have to Abe older to get involved – I’d love to, but am 30 years too young!

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Alex Elliott, Villmore James & Namron

 It was brilliant to see artistic expression at this level and it is always ageless and universal.

What a fantastic performance. I could have watched it all afternoon. A brilliant example of the importance of art in the community. Life-affirming and inspiring. Looking forward to seeing how it develops. So many possibilities!

 A feasts of talent. Makes me proud to be ‘old’. Well done all. Good luck with the funding.

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Christopher Bensted

 Loved your comments about ‘not just being a memory bank’, ‘the potential within’, ‘looking forward to developing…’ Was inspired by the movement, energy and being in the moment, avoiding the cue from the armchair to just sit. Broom and radio in the kitchen here I come!

 This has inspired me to explore what I can do in the future to keep feeding my soul (I sing with a choir and am on my way to listen to our sister choir ECHO at Leeds College of Music. I want to stretch my boundaries and really come out of my comfort zone. Too long being timid! Thank you!! For a bright future!

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Royston Maldoom, Sally Owen & Alex Elliott

 It was very inspiring and heart warming. Thank you! Congratulations on combining dance and age! Hum’s appearance on stage was very touching and made me cry! You were ALL fabulous! I truly hope you will carry on to inspire future audiences. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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 Wonderful, inspiring performance. Very moving! Brought more than one tear to my eye!

 You guys have made me rethink ageing and how I look at ‘older’ people. You were all graceful and inspiring, thank you so much for a wonderful show.

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 Congratulations. I’ve been working with the Calder valley performance ensemble on what turned out to be a beautiful nostalgic piece – however, what I’ll take – mainly- from your powerful work is to focus on the ‘now and next’ and start the art from there. ‘Two roots of the same tree’.

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 Inspirational. I came to see Namron perform as he taught my children’s father, Brian Claxton-Payne. I love to dance and still perform when I can and was blown away by the depth of the piece, the humour and technique. The professionals definitely still have it and the community performers definitely brought it. Keep dancing all of you. PS – jazz saxophone, lovely touch.

Namron and Pat White Heydays Members

 It was inspiring to see everyone dance together. I like the way fun was integrated into loss in all it’s many ways. I loved the salsa bit. Thanks for a great evening and I hope to see more!

 Fantastic show, we need you to show us younger people what ‘true community’ is about. Very poignant moments but so much energy. Doesn’t matter how old you get, life is always in a state of constant flux. Blessings.

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Royston Maldoom

 A fabulous experience, want to see how it grows and realises it’s potential. Thank you.

 I thought that the performance was inspiring – the woman on her own when the couples dance…breaking out themes… Look forward to watching older people dance without having to think about being old.

 Lovely, would have liked to see a bit more.

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Royston Maldoom & Villmore James

 Well done. Keep it up!

 Congratulations on a beautiful and moving performance. Please keep me in touch with future activities. If you are thinking of touring this, please come to Corby.

 I work as an older person’s physio in Dewsbury and meet people in hospital with a passion for dancing. Do you know if there are any similar groups in Dewsbury?

 Love the performance, full of heart. Please keep in touch -the family Halifax.

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Sally Owen & Alex Elliott

 

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Anniversary

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

 

I am 66 years old. I’ve got my state pension and my free bus pass and I am counting it as income towards my new company, The Performance Ensemble. I feel like I am an emerging artist again, working on a limited income, starting on a new enterprise that will keep me going until I can work no more.

I am developing an Ensemble Company – working together over a long period of time, creating work and improving it over years. I made a version of “Animal Farm” that stayed in the Northern Stage repertoire for 12 years. My adaptation of “1984” is still being produced across the world. That’s the way I like to work, with people I admire over long periods of time, growing the work together. We create work that never stays still, always looking for more depth, more nuance, more clarity.

We start by working within a community setting, creating work, then develop that work with the introduction of professional performers and other artists. The community participants teach the professionals and, in turn, the professionals teach and help develop the skills of the community/amateur participants. The important thing is that we learn from each other.

One of my main inspirations for the setting up of The Performance Ensemble is world famous, 72 year old Japanese theatre director, Yukio Ninagawa. We presented Ninagawa’s work at Northern Stage and I had the opportunity to meet him and discuss his work. I met him again recently when I travelled to Japan to see the work of his company.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

Over the last year I have established a very strong relationship with West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP) that has allowed me to develop The Performance Ensemble to a place where it is now capable of creating a higher quality of performance with older people. I work closely with the arts development programme and the producing, technical and marketing teams at WYP in the creation of the work and its relationship with audiences. This is invaluable, and will allow me to expand my capacity to produce theatre with one of England’s leading regional theatres. It is a professional partnership founded on open, respectful communication working to the shared aims of valuing and empowering older people through performance. There is great value in working together, pooling our expertise gained over many years of practice at the highest level of integrity and professional achievement. One of the key relationships is with Heydays, WYP’s flagship creative programme for people over 55.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

‘Anniversary’ is a new multi-media dance and theatre performance created by older artists, including both professional and community performers. It will involve true stories, original live music, dance and video imagery to be performed at WYP next year.

The first stage, a work in progress will commence shortly.

The final piece will be created in 2016. It will be directed by me, choreography by Royston Maldoom, with a new musical composition by Christopher Bensted and will include a combination of five older professional performers including Namron (dancer with London Contemporary Dance Theatre) Tamara McLorg (Choreographer/dancer) Sally Owen (dancer with Ballet Rambert), Vilmore James (Founder member of Phoenix Dance) Alex Elliott (Founder member of Northern Stage Ensemble) together with five performers from WYP’s older person project, Heydays’ drama/dance group.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

 

In the first stage these performers will work with Royston for two weeks to create a piece of dance. This two week development process will be filmed and will include documentary footage of all the performers’ lives outside the rehearsal room. We will capture their home life, travelling to work, the rehearsal process and their social lives and outside of these two weeks we will capture the birthday celebrations of the choreographer and some of the company.

This material will be used as part of the final performance. We will create a film and sound/music score as the piece is created. We will project/display images of the lives and careers of the performers over a period of 25 years, creating a kaleidoscope of images and text that crosses many different styles of presentation. This would include storytelling, conversation, dance, music, film design and other visual theatre techniques. The piece will reflect the lives of a unique group of older people and their relationship with creating the performance and how it affects their daily lives.

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of ANNIVERSARY directed by Alan Lyddiard

West Yorkshire Playhouse rehearsals for production of
ANNIVERSARY
directed by Alan Lyddiard

The first sharing of the piece with the public will be in July 2015, when the piece of dance will launch at WYP’s Open Season 2015.

In 2016 the dance piece will be developed into a theatre piece to be performed on the Courtyard stage at WYP. After these performances the piece will be developed further in Scotland for performances for the Luminate Festival 2016. The Performance Ensemble have a long association with Luminate, having performed in the last two festivals. ‘Anniversary’ has also been invited to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London for The Elixir Festival 2016

 

 

Dancehall of Dreams

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Dancehall of Dreams – West Yorkshire Playhouse – Photo Kate Daley

 ‘You have to admit, that life, an ordinary life, your average life – is a bit of a mess’

Last Wednesday my new company,  The Performance Ensemble,  performed a piece, ‘Dancehall of Dreams’ on the Quarry Stage at West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was the culmination of  a three month project working with people over the age of 60, exploring how to make contemporary theatre for audiences of all ages, working in the space between professional, amateur and community theatre practise.

We started this project in Mytholmroyd in the Calder Valley and finished it in West Yorkshire Playhouse, collaborating with hundreds of individuals and many organisations across West Yorkshire in the process

We created the Calder Valley Performance Ensemble, a new performance company, of performers over the age of 60 that will continue to create performance work locally.

We worked with Heydays, a long standing institution of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s community programme, working with people over the age of 55.

We formed a collaboration with Citizens’ Orchestra, established in 2009, which offers older musicians – of all abilities – an opportunity to enjoy playing music together.

We delivered 3 performances in Mytholmroyd as part of The Hebden Bridge Arts Festival to an audience of 200 people and one at West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of their Open Season programme to an audience of 175.

'Dancehall of Dreams' Mytholmroyd - Photo Kate Daley

‘Dancehall of Dreams’ Mytholmroyd – Photo Kate Daley

Activities began in Mytholmroyd at the beginning of April 2014. Working with established community groups. Joe Standerline, who lives in Mytholmroyd and myself met with a range of people over the age of 60 across the town. We made contact with Calderdale Council Neighbourhood Scheme, Elphin and Elphaborough Sheltered Housing, Tea Dances, Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, Mytholmroyd Community Centre, Amateur Theatre Societies as well as a number of community groups.

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Dancehall of Dreams West Yorkshire Playhouse Photo Kate Daley

At first there was a degree of suspicion about what we were doing. Older people sometimes can find new ideas unsettling and it was difficult to engage at first. It was important for us to build relationships with people with no agenda. We needed to listen and to be open to people in environments where they felt secure. Sometimes it seemed as if we were intruding into their lives so we needed to wait and allow people to come to us. We just were always there offering cups of tea and an opportunity for a chat.

The collecting of stories from older people became easier. We went to social events and met people on their own terms and soon we were getting, literally, dozens of stories. They were happy to meet us and even looked forward to our visits. We set up a little team of local story gathers to explore the community for more stories and eventually we were inundated. All these stories will eventually be published on a new web site in Mytholmroyd, 

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‘Dancehall of Dreams’ – West Yorkshire Playhouse – Photo Kate Daley

I also  worked every Wednesday from 23rd April until 9th July with the Drama Group of Heydays at West Yorkshire Playhouse. This group was well established and had members who had been attending sessions for nearly 20 years alongside people who had joined recently. This created a complicated dynamic at times with some people resistant to change and others who were hungry to learn new things. I worked on a methodology that encouraged people to present themselves in front of an audience rather than playing a character. My intention was to make theatre based on their own stories, memories, thoughts, aspirations and fears. This of course made many people feel vulnerable. Some of the ‘old guard’ left the process but well over 30 people remained throughout the process and on July 9th we shared the work with other Heydays groups. I was amazed at the response to our 20 minute piece. The audience was genuinely moved by what they saw.

This sharing was one highlight of the project in that it reaffirmed my belief that ‘community/amateur’ performers were capable of creating deep and meaningful performance work that was equal to any other performer.

My ultimate aim is to create work that cannot be simply described as community arts, but rather to create performance that transcends labels – I don’t want to make professional theatre, or community theatre or applied theatre or any other type of theatre – I just want to make high quality contemporary theatre that engages audiences/spectators. I felt that the sharing performance went a long way to achieving this goal.

From 14th July we spent 10 days putting our final performance together. Working every day, both in Mytholmroyd and Leeds we put together a new version of ‘Dancehall of Dreams’

A young theatre director, Joyce Nga Yu Lee who works for the theatre company Mind The Gap, came to the performance. Afterwards she wrote to me with her response to the piece – Her words are generous, beautiful  and helpful to me in articulating my work – Thank you Joyce.

‘Congratulations and thank you for a fabulous performance last night. It was a shame not being able to catch you last night, but I reckon you must had been busy too. I loved the sounds (voices through microphone, band, music, footsteps, chatters and laughs during dances, clinks of tea cups) and I loved the sights (set and design, people’s faces and physicality, gowns they chosen). On Facebook this morning when I said the ensemble was really strong, you replied and mentioned the way they care and look after each other. I am sure the process must have demonstrated a lot of love and care among members, but what attracted me the most was not about how they care for each other, it was their “togetherness” and honesty.

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‘Dancehall of Dreams’ – West Yorkshire Playhouse – Photo Kate Daley

This is, to me, what make the performance beautiful. “Authentic” is an overused word which no longer bears the same meaning and power when it is uttered. Maybe I can use honest instead. I have experienced your ‘this is me, I am here, and I am fine’ exercise and understand how powerful its transformation ability is to me as a performer. The performers had not hidden under a mask or a character. It is not about acting. It is about being themselves. It is not about being their everyday selves. It is about being a heightened self, a persona on stage which come from life but higher than life. This brought an interesting relationship between the two sides of the proscenium. There was no superstars or divas in the performance. It was not about performers on stage showing off what they can do and audience sitting in the dark admiring super humans on stage. The 70 minutes was as much a time for the performers as it was for the audience. Performers utilised theatre to breath life into their own persona, by doing so lived a life that is higher than everyday life. Audience benefited from the stories that were imparted by the performers. The ensemble’s honesty make them strong and vulnerable at the same time. By this I do not mean: “look, how brave they are to be honest!”, I think I mean they were “daring” us audience members. They looked at us as who they are, do we dare looking back at them in their eyes as who we are, not as critics, not as admirers, not as charitable patrons, but just as who we are? This is what make this ensemble aesthetically pleasing. What was on stage was a variety of human existence with brilliance, and we are, again another overused term, all equals. There was a mutual respect between human beings. I did attempt to find a story or narrative to this piece in the beginning. Soon enough I found myself being totally happy with the discourse. Fragments of conversations/ stories/ soliloquy were strung together in a fine balance between room for interpretation and suggestions for direction. I guess the discourse formed something like a starry night, where we can put lines to join up individual stars to make star signs. I have heard fond memories, laments, anecdotes, nostalgia. But at the end, we are not trying to go back to good old times, or making wishes for a better future, it is just what it is, the here and now. Now I suddenly realized it is all about “this is me, I am here, and I am fine”!  Thank you again for a wonderful piece, please pass on my thanks to your team. Thank you for welcoming my sharing, this gives me really good opportunity to reflect and learn.’

Joyce Nga Yu Lee