Cpt. America Hangs Up His Gloves

Another busy week this week so will keep things brief and bouncy for you all. Expect content on shows we have seen, three sessions with visiting practitioners from various fields and work developed from a dialogue on toxic masculinity.  

Stuntman kicked off our week with a fast-paced comment on masculinity and Hollywood violence. The two-hander used plastic pound-land props and red boiler suits in the round to punch, karate kick and stab their way through a forty-five-minute show, punctuated with moments of verbatim sharing. There was a joy in the violence coupled with the terror in the screams and then the stillness of the verbatim scenes. It was useful for the young people to see the use of verbatim and movement in the same piece, how action can potentially tell the same story as words. 

Wednesday was split into two sessions with the first half using the space for a conversation with Cristina McMaster. A professor at the University of Manchester, Cristina specialises in gender and politics, and brought a debate into the room which became a healthy discussion breaking down the term toxic masculinity. This set off the group into an hour discussion which began with Trump, covered the psychoanalysis of Cpt. America and ended with personal reflections. It was at times cryptic and at others enlightening, with the constant shift of maleness and its potential pitfalls being discussed in depth. 

David launched into the second half of the session with the young people responding to the content of the discussion. This happened in an autobiographical context and was really the first time the young people explored the possibilities of performance. The company began to flex their creative muscles and played with staging of the performance; audience participation, the use of voice, movement and repetition of images. The room was electric with the sense of purpose, with the eclectic mix of performance styles inspiring the young people to push more boundaries. This continued to the end of the session where David quickly ran some exercises exploring textual analysis and set another performance task.  

‘this specific focus on the role of sound or no sound created an intense atmosphere and allowed the young people to move without thinking about their bodies.  

Thursday’s session began with five minutes of focused silence. Listening to the noises of the room, outside the room and from each other – Peter (our visiting practitioner for the evening) then got the young people to stand up and respond to the sounds in the room but only with a look – a change in direction of eye sight – this then extended to the whole body until the company where moving around the space chasing sound and then following their own noise – this specific focus on the role of sound or no sound created an intense atmosphere and allowed the young people to move without thinking about their bodies.  

Peter is currently exploring listening, the role that noise plays in our lives and who predominantly makes this noise. Through discussion led by Peter the young people explored the idea of silence, and the discomfort often experienced when silence is inhabited. General reflections also explored the tense dramatic pause, the awkward silence, the feeling of vulnerability when being left with your own thoughts. The use of silence as a dramatic technique in theatre and how to utilise that – potentially by juxtaposing it with noise. This progressed onto discussing how masculinity relates to silence and what masculine traits are. This session helped to further develop the understanding of how masculinity influences your behavior. Something I have observed from being in this space is how important it is to have a diverse group when discussing gender. 

As mentioned above, a fat week of work!  

‘It was an interesting way to devise and showed the young people how their own stories are political and that they have something to say.

We had an add-on workshop this Saturday with James. James is an independent artist and forms one half of Manchester based theatre company Sheep Knuckle. He’s excitable and eccentric and leads a discussion-led workshop with the young people which concludes with a short performance orchestrated by James but filled with content made by the company. The content of the performance at the end was developed by a question and answer format. Some of these questions were direct, others more casual with the occasional red herring to mix up the vibe. Through using this format, the young people responded to the questions with narratives about life-experience or by moving chairs around the space. It was an interesting way to devise and showed the young people how their own stories are political and that they have something to say.   

Moving forwards into the last week of sessions with David, the time has come to consolidate the material created and conversations had. Where can we take this piece? What has stuck out for all of us during these six weeks? What can we extrapolate and expose? How to find a resolution? Where can we find more MasterChef narratives (David can’t help himself)? With things starting to heat up in the run up to the end of these R&D workshops the company has begun to form a style – this style reflects the mix of ages, genders and ethnicity in the room. It explores the joining of backgrounds and influences and is dynamic in its exploration.

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