Archives for posts with tag: Tin Horse Theatre

And so after three weeks of workshops and almost 40 young people helping us to create a sharing of work we were due at the New Diorama Theatre with the young people.

Having instructed the 4 young people we worked with yesterday to attend the centre at 10.30 to leave at 10.40am it was a nervous time when none of the young people we had worked with were to be seen before 10.50am. 

But eventually 2 of them arrived and another young person who had not attended this project but whom we knew from working with him on a previous project also wanted to join the performance. Thankfully the facilitators had discussed the possibility of re-staging scenes with just 3 performers in advance and these contingency plans were ready to be put to good use.

Having arrived at the theatre we cleared the space of the set that was being finalised and began with a lightning quick warm up as we had what felt like a mountain to cover in a few short hours. We began with a run through of the scenes with the young people beginning with Little Rock and then moving into the three scenes of Old Town/New Town. With a new participant joining us for the first time we spent some time bringing the young man up to speed but he continually proved to be an asset and we were glad we had asked him to take part as he had brilliant stage skills and gave a nuanced, insightful performance.

After lunch and with the majority of the technical aspects of the show ready we began to run the show again – this time using a voice recording of Dr Benjamin Fine’s Little Rock account that had been pre-recorded with the voice of one of the young people from a previous workshop. This gave the scene a whole new focus, as did the young people beginning to interact with the set which consisted of various large cubes plastered with large prints of the press and photographic images that we had used within the workshops.

We continued to run the show with each facilitator giving notes in between scenes. We ran a few vocal projection exercises as we were aware that some of the young people were not used to performing on stage and were speaking a bit too softly for it to be heard. The improvisations continued throughout the scenes with the Reporter from New Town building a brilliant pace with just 2 other young people managing to create between 5-10 different witnesses to the Doctors surgery incident with the “hostage taking, knife wielding maniac” from Old Town. This scene grew from one with a man simply asking for a GP appointment to a full blown breaking news event.

We re-worked the ending to use the entire width of the stage as the mob of New Towners approach a lone Old Towner who – as was the case yesterday – used an inspirational and improvised piece of text to convince most (if not all) of the New Towners that people from Old Town had rights too.

And then it was suddenly 4.30pm and the Mayor of Camden was outside in the foyer.
The day had flown by on pizza and adrenalin. We’d heard the mayor intended to come just a few days before and the young people were excited by her presence – as well as the other 25 people in the audience who had come to see them, including other young people from New Horizon Youth Centre.

We began by introducing the company and giving a brief insight into our aims before explaining the process of the project and introducing the first scene. What followed was a performance we were incredibly proud of and one we hope the young people were too. Following this the mayor came out and said how much she enjoyed it and how wonderful it was to see young people tackling issues such as prejudice. 

The young people who came to see the show and performed had their photo with the mayor along with two of the three facilitators before giving a quick evaluation of their experiences as audience members, workshop participants and performers.
“I’m glad I came it was really good”

“The first scene was bringing some deepness to the discussion. And then it was so funny.”

“It was really fun working with you guys and I learned a lot. It was really educational ”

“It was really awesome. It’s a subject (prejudice) that’s close to me at the same time”

We could not have asked for the day to go any better. The young people did themselves incredibly proud and performed to an audience who were highly impressed. The project overall was exceptionally challenging, the inconsistency of attendance from young people being the biggest challenge we faced. But each person we worked with contributed masses and made the performance what it eventually was – a massive success. 

A full debrief will appear here shortly.

Back at New Horizons for the last of our workshops we all felt a wee bit sad but this was something we couldn’t dwell on as we had scenes to rehearse for the very first time. We introduced the young people to the model box that our designer, Harriet,  had created with images of previous participants which really raised expectations. There seemed to be a sudden sense of anticipation as it really sunk in that the sharing at the New Diorama was tomorrow.

We began with a new warm up game featuring boxing techniques and clothes pegs, which immediately focused people’s energy and worked off a post-lunch slump.

 

We were lucky that we knew most of the participants who had attended previous workshops so we were able to jump straight into some of the scenes we had worked on, specifically looking at the Old Town & New Town scenes and ideas around prejudice being worked up into a frenzy within a community.

We set up the media scene where our ‘Reporter’ interviews witnesses whose allegations get ever-more wild as the reporter eggs them on. This is a scene we had previously looked at and so we focused upon the young people building the tension and raising the stakes higher and higher throughout as well as the pace of the scene increasing. The young people began to associate the Old Towner’s negative attributes with not only violence but also witchcraft and then sexual crimes. The facilitators were concerned about the potential risk of such serious topics as child abuse and rape being treated in a comic way within a scene, so subtlety moved the young people back towards looking more widely at what they could perceive as the volatile and violent nature of the Old Towner.

Having established that he sounded like the most vile man to have ever entered the town our Reporter character began to rile the crowd of New Towners up and suggest they ‘do something’ in protest against Old Towners being in their town. We discussed what type of language a protest against the Old Towner could involve – scum, vermin, roaches, malicious and terrorist were all banded about and as a group we settled on the phrase: “Scum, Roaches, Out!” due to their evocative but rhythmic power as we worked upon the idea of building a rhythm between two groups calling and responding to these terms.

Having established this diatribe and rhythm we slowly isolated a single performer and asked him to try and improvise how to win over the people who were angrily shouting against him. And improvise he did.

This young man burst out with a speech so eloquent that the sense of amazement in the room was palpable. The power of his language as he told the story of New and Old Town once being united whilst championing his own right as a fellow human to equal rights was the perfect response we were looking for and a testament to his intuitive understanding of performance.

We ran the scene a few times and developed the idea of the New Towners being won over to the view that the Old Towner had rights and deserved respect.  We wrapped up for the day and reminded the young people that they needed to meet one of us at the centre tomorrow morning at 10.30am to travel up to the theatre. Some were highly enthusiastic, though one of the young people said that was a bit early and that he had a night out planned – we tried to convince him that participating in the performance was a better option but he didn’t seem totally convinced.

Another had a personal appointment and was going to be late – 1.30pm at the latest, which we could just about deal with for a show beginning at 5pm.

Theatre building into the wee hours

Then we left the young people and moved to The New Diorama to begin installing and finishing off building the pieces of set we couldn’t construct off site all to ensure it was right and perfect for the next day.

As is the way in theatre making thing didn’t go 100% to plan and there were definitely elements we knew we needed to complete the next day. Performance day…

Today was an utter revelation and will go down as one of the most satisfying days of the project. With just a handful of young people attending again, we again thought it may be a struggle to develop short scenes to perform at Saturday’s sharing at The New Diorama Theatre.

We ran through some fun warm up exercises including our very own Zombie game (which went down a treat) and managed to turn the air blue when we told young people that yes, you can swear in some vocal warm ups. None of us will view candy floss in quite the same way again…

Old Town vs New Town
We returned to looking at the environment of New Town the prejudicial views of Old Towners in the New Town the Doctor’s Surgery. With just a few young people taking part there were concerns that we weren’t going to be able to fully develop and refine a scene for Saturday. We were very wrong.

One young woman who was attending her first workshop with us played the most expressive Doctor’s receptionist any of us had ever seen in this short narrative – her prejudicial reactions to the Old Towner were sensational. She communicated brilliantly using physicality and improvised text exactly how threatened she felt by the “out of towner” entering her space and the reasons why he shouldn’t be allowed to stay.

When the ‘obstinate’ and ‘rude’ Old Towner would not listen to the GP this receptionist took it upon herself to remove him from the surgery.

The most amazing thing about her performance was that having seen her around the centre at lunchtimes and when we had previously been trying to recruit young people she had always been very dismissive and even offensive: “Do you actually think people are gonna come to your sessions? Why would they?” The complete turn-around in her attitude to the work, her commitment to the scenes and her skills at performing were awe inspiring for all who were there and we can only hope she’ll return. With her performance raising the bar the other young people also cranked it up a notch during a scene exploring the power of the media and the media’s role in stirring up and directing prejudice.

The media take a view
Our New Town reporter had caught wind of a trouble-maker from Old Town and arrived to interview witnesses at the Doctors Surgery.

We introduced a chinese whispers style activity into the scene – to each ‘fact’ about the Old Towner one witness gives the reporter (such as “I think he had a knife. Yep, definitely a knife in his hands”) the second witness needed to accept it as fact and build on it with an even bigger exaggeration. This was hysterical to watch but also highlighted the point we were trying to make about the power of the media to portray groups of people in a certain light. First our Old Towner had been rude, then he’d been threatening, it was rumoured he’d hit the receptionist, actually he overturned all the chairs in the waiting room, and he carried a knife, no it was a gun, 2 guns, actually 3. Was this all true a final interviewee was asked? No, it was not, “he had a bomb! Old Towners are basically terrorists! They’re the same as Al Qaeda! Be careful, they hate you!”

This worked wonderfully as a theatrical means to encourage the young people to explore ways that fear and hatred can grow in an environment that doesn’t understand outsiders.

Upstander
We finished the session by introducing the young people to the idea of challenging prejudice and spoke about some famous historical upstanders such as Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Sophie Scholl. We challenged the participants to think of ways the Old Towner could resist these prejudicial views and go about challenging them. Disguise and plastic surgery at first suggested but also were ways for the Old Towner to prove to New Town he was not what the they believed he was and we would use these ideas in Friday’s workshop.

We asked the young people how they had found it today. Our debut workshop participant said “awesome” and we all had to agree.

Tomorrow is our last session before Saturday. The nerves are beginning to set in…

We entered this final week with a sense of anticipation, excitement and trepidation mixed together with the knowledge that a final sharing in a professional theatre has been marketed to the wider world. All of us felt the pressure of this and the need to ensure that we engaged enough young people to attend this week’s workshops and that we facilitated the work to do them and the project overall justice.

Missing faces
Given the fluctuating attendance we suffered last week we were prepared for a lack of familiar faces. Out of the 15 or so young people we saw last week only 1 was seen in the NHYC drop-in as we arrived an hour before the workshop. But we were ready for this, had prepared for the repetition of some of the themes it necessitated and it came as no surprise.

We began the warm up exercises with only a couple of young people taking part before a few more people we had never met before joined us for the final warm up game – the topical “Essex Lion VS Cockney Sparrow”.

Little Rock 9
We briefly introduced the workshop theme and how we intended to work through a rough structure of the final performance with hopes to continue to refine it over the next few days.

Turns out it was more productive to focus upon the Little Rock 9 incidents in Arkansas for this workshop and we again used Dr Benjamin Fine’s powerful testimony to aide us in exploring the story of Elizabeth Eckford’s bravery in 1957.

We spent over an hour exploring the events of that day when the attempt to desegregate schools was met with violence and mob rule, creating freeze frames and improvisations of Elizabeth’s journey and the people that helped her.

The young people re-enacted and analysed the key moments in Dr Fine’s testimony including the moment soldiers stopped the 15 year old Elizabeth from entering her school, the point where Dr Fine engaged with Elizabeth and the moment that she was taken away from a hostile and baying mob threatening to “lynch her”.

It was fantastic to start seeing some of the final pieces coming together and we ended the day knowing we had seen the first scene of Saturday – even in a rough form, and with the hope that the young people who created it will return tomorrow.

The final workshop of the week began with a whole load of new participants willing to delve into the ideas of groups, segregation, prejudice and physicality in performance  – many, as usual, who we hadn’t met before.

Starting blocks and the reality of what we can achieve….
We began by introducing the idea that character can be depicted through physicality and asked the young people to walk around adapting their body to portray different characters such as an old age pensioner and a city banker. Then we moved to one of the most enthusiastic Olympic slow motion races any of us had ever seen with half the young people moving through treacle towards the finish line and the other half being a fantastically expressive crowd cheering them on.

We reintroduced the idea of ground rules in the workshop and discussed the realities of creating a final piece for The New Diorama Theatre in just 8 days time. With a few problems in recruiting participants yesterday we felt we needed to address the fact that without reasonable commitment and attendance to the workshops we wouldn’t be able to create a collaborative performance that reflected the ability and talents of the group. Everyone, as has been the case before, said they understood but were evidently impatient to get on with creating work.

We re-examined some historical facts about segregation and the Black Civil Rights Movement, with the two participants who attended Wednesday’s workshop offering to recap. Again, we emphasised the importance of knowing the history and discussing ideas around challenging prejudice and how this can relate to the present-day, which led to a brief discussion around the idea of whether or not London was a racist place to live. Some said no whilst others disagreed and raised examples such as the growth of the EDL and the BNP.

Scene creation
Following this we introduced a loose narrative template we’d discussed while planning the workshops. The narrative is loosely inspired by Frank Tashlin’s ‘The Bear That Wasn’t’, a resource we had looked at during our one-day preparatory workshop with Facing History and Ourselves .

We began by setting up a scene where someone from a different background enters into a new area. The young people suggested setting this in a Doctors surgery, which fitted perfectly as looking at restrictions to healthcare got them thinking about basic human rights.

Everyone had a character and the group were clear that they “hated” people from ‘Old Town’, a place which seemed to sum up everything they disliked. We started the ball rolling with our Old Towner entering into the ‘New Town’ surgery. All ran well until the discovery that this seemingly normal person was from the dreaded Old Town. Suddenly everyone turned on this performer, labeling him with all of societies faults and holding him responsible for the problems in their town. Eventually security removed the ‘problematic individual’. We then tried 2-3 developments of the scene.

Physicality
We got the young people to run through the scene again but this time using no language – only their bodies to communicate to their audience and to one another. With this complete and a slightly more intense atmosphere created we reintroduced the power of the media by looking briefly at some hate-filled headlines about cultural minorities from the Daily Star, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express regarding Islam, Irish Travellers and immigrants to the UK.

          

One of the young people volunteered to act as a roving reporter who came to interview those who had witnessed the ‘troublesome Old Towner’ entering the surgery. The vitriol towards this innocent individual was unashamed and made for some great ‘live to camera 2’ moments.

We then asked how could our outsider challenge the negative labels thrown at them? Whilst those in the surgery were telling the world that Old Towners were lazy, thick, violent, dishonest and disruptive the Old Towner got on with his job – struggled hard and rose above the negative stereotyping. Again we replayed the scene without words to allow the young people to focus upon their physical performances as opposed to improvising dialogue.

At this point the workshop came to an end and we wrapped up, reminding everyone of the full and exciting week ahead next week. The young people all said they had enjoyed the day and that they would tell their friends to attend. The fact that we by passed a lengthily warm-up to get to improvising scenes quickly pleased people.

“It’s good innit, we get to express ourselves properly”

Final performance considerations
Afterwards we sat down as a team, alongside our designer Harriet who joined us for her first workshop, and discussed the practicalities and realities of making a piece of refined, polished performance of any length that would do the young people’s ability justice. The transient and unknown aspects of the young people’s lives made it difficult to feel confident about having a sustained rehearsal process with a consistent group as the participants has changed daily up to this point. Harriet was great to have as an outside pair of eyes on the project as the rest of us are very involved and it can be hard to see a simple solution.

We realised that the odds of the same group of young people returning and enabling us to work with them for the period of time needed to create a piece of quality were not good. Instead, what we felt would do the young people justice would be to present a look at the process they have been through on this project. This will take in the historical stimulus they’ve used, the discussions on contemporary racism and prejudice and the media’s role to play, the exploration of physicality and character creation and the use of freeze frames and verbatim testimony to create scenes. This will be our focus for the remaining workshops and we look forward with a sense of excitement mixed with disbelief as the project’s end seems to be approaching just as it began.

Inspiration and frustration

The past couple of days have proved to be inspiring and frustrating in almost equal measure. The workshops themselves have gone wonderfully, with participants actively engaging with what are complex and difficult topics such as the Black Civil Rights Movement in America. The difficulty has been in ensuring attendance and commitment to the project as the transient lives of the young participant’s means that knowing what they are doing tomorrow is not always possible.

Recruitment

Recruiting on Wednesday began with needing to tackle the young people’s perception that drama is “dead”. To convince some to simply see if this was different to what they’d experienced in schooI we had to first get them into the room.

To some the draw of another cigarette in the courtyard was more tempting.

We had a weighty workshop planned in terms of broaching prejudice through historical examples.

With only 2 young people at one point we decided to hold off on starting until a few more people arrived following their meetings with housing advice and CV workshops.

Losing people

On eventually starting the workshop all was going well and the four young people who came were entering into interesting discussions and improvisations. We mentioned the opportunity to perform at a professional theatre at the end of next week which was greeted with excitement and also frustration as one of the participants who had consistently attended the workshops informed us that he was unlikely to be able to be there as he was likely to be unable to come to the centre due to legal obligations. We’ve really got to know this young 19 year old and his potential, intelligence and insight have always been evident.

Unfortunately another of the young people who was also engaging well in the workshop and showed amazing, intuitive performance skills was called out of our session by his youth worker to talk about his own on-going legal issues and this left us with a depleted group.

Little Rock & Facing History
The lure of chocolates and the fun they had had so far worked to retain our final three participants for the rest of the workshop and their concentration, commitment and work were brilliant. We explored themes around segregation and the story of the Little Rock Nine, focusing on the bravery of the 15 year old Elizabeth Eckford as she tried to pave the way to de-segregation of education in 1957. We had been concerned that the Facing History and Ourselves resources we were using would be too academic or be seen as too close to ‘school’.

When we did introduce these ideas the real point of focus for some of the young people came when they considered how they would have been treated when taking in images of segregation in the 1950s US:

‘It’s just craziness. I wanna go and beat the shit out of them (those opposed to de-segregation)’.

This was when they started telling some of their peers who weren’t initially paying so much attention to be quiet and listen: ‘Shut up, this is serious, fam.’

The young people did themselves proud and fully engaged in the subject, looking at ways to show the story through physicality, freeze frames and the use Dr. Benjamin Fine’s powerful testimony from his time as a New York Times reporter.

The young people admitted that they had not been expecting so much history but said this was actually the part they enjoyed most of all. And then it was onto Thursday…..

Our first sessions at New Horizon Youth Centre have been great. Here’s an overview of Wednesday’s:

We had 8 young people in our session yesterday plus 2 student volunteers, Julie and Michael, who also joined in for the 90 minutes workshop.

None of the young people had met us before but prior to introductions we ran a brief warm up and went through some tried, tested and successful  games including Chris Johnston’s classic ‘Dog & Bone’ which is infectious and always manages to create a mass sense of competition.

With a few latecomers fully integrated before we’d finished the warm up games we then introduced the idea of performing at the New Diorama Theatre, which was greeted with excitement but also initially raised some concerns about commitment:

 “The thing about commitment is, this is New Horizons see, and people have got other things like housing appointments, CV clinic y’know”

These were discussed and people were put at ease. Overall the young people were keen to perform on a professional stage and soon got over the idea that they weren’t going to get paid but were going to get a great opportunity.

We followed this with improvisation exercises looking at spatial awareness and how an actor’s use of the space and their body can affect the audience’s reading of narrative, status and character relationships. An airport departure lounge was established with characters including a librarian, security personnel, aspiring politicians, confused tourists and a desperate unsigned folk singer, all interacting with one another. The dynamic shifted once they were given a spatial restriction in the space, such as ‘act as if you own the space/ never stay in the same space/ you can only talk when touching someone’s elbow’.

The work moved on to look at the creation of opposing groups, a soft way in to dealing with social psychology theories. Having established that the airplane had crashed (Lost style) and two groups had formed, we asked the participants to convince an approaching rescue boat why they deserve the remaining seats on the boat. Team names, elaborate greetings, unifying costume, 5 rules for living and 3 reasons why they deserve to be rescued came up with points including: “we should survive because none of us listen to Justin Bieber so we deserve to live and create a new society”.

More serious points were also made and the creation of a competitive ‘us vs them’ spirit was evident. This was our first step at exploring the concept of ‘in and out’ groups with the participants.

Both tribes convincingly presented their arguments for being rescued however they both seemed to be having such a good time that the rescue boat decided to leave them both….and then it became even more interesting.

We asked the 2 groups to consider a situation where a member of their group had betrayed them and helped the opposing tribe. We asked the group to create freeze frames and then develop short scenes, again looking at the use of space to convey narrative.

To conclude the workshop we debated as one group whether the concept of an opposing tribe had helped to create a united and ‘closed ranks’ feeling within the groups. The comparison of rival South London football fans (Millwall and Crystal Palace were specifically mentioned)  was not what we had expected but encapsulated what we’d been trying to get them to consider concerning ‘in and out groups’. The discussion led on to the ways in which cultural or social groups can place other ‘out’ groups in opposition or scapegoat them to aid a feeling of togetherness. The media’s role within this was discussed, using contemporary examples of media representations of Muslims, Gyspies, refugees and young people.

Ending with a discussion over what the consequences to such negative or prejudicial headlines could be, such as ill feeling, fear and divided communities, the young people all seemed excited for the next workshop and keen to explore these ideas and drama skills further.

Overall a brilliant start to the workshops and next Wednesday and Thursday will be even more intriguing.