Making a Statement

This one is going to be short and sweet.

Our final week with David and amongst the sadness of him leaving the space there is a real excitement about what is to come. In the transition from the research and development stage to the rehearsal period and the switch from David to Hetain as creative leaders we decided the best way to move between the two would be to consolidate what we have made so far. This came in the shape of showing Hetain what we can do as a company, what we have created and who we are. This decision defined the last two sessions with David as we moved between consolidating work created and new work still to be discovered.

The new work came in the shape of developing a stronger physical bond between performers and preparing for working intimately. Soon half the young people had their eyes closed and were being led by their partners with only their fingers touching. Some couples were slow and staggered, others more energetic and explorative. It is the first time the young company have worked like this and what is interesting is the divide in the group where some happily fall into being blindly led and others are tentative of the exercise. This is sort of the final exercise in developing the ensemble. They’ve sung together, jumped together, clapped together, danced together, improved together, written together, interviewed together, walked around the space together (a lot) and there’s not much else to impart on them.

The tenacious attitude of the young people provided the energy and intuition to complete a scratch version of a creative sharing for Hetain. We finished our final session rushing around the hot dance studio dripping with sweat making transitions, developing scenes and having a go (strong but wrong!). This creative sharing is about making a statement to the director. As with all of Contact’s Young Company work, we are about identity, shaping that and being proud of it and the sharing is part of showing that to Hetain. It’s a shame to be leaving David but I have no doubt the energy and sense of play he has helped to build in the group will remain. Stay tuned for the first week of work with Hetain Patel our superb director and where the show is moving. Check out Contact’s twitter and website for more details on the show and links for tickets can be found on the main page of this site.

Thanks

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.

MasterChef Final

We’re halfway through the workshop process but the room still feels fresh and the young people still eager to make and discuss and devise. David has upped his game and with a change in pace from the lead artist everyone is quickly beginning to get a sense of purpose. Slowly David is beginning to integrate ideas of critical reflection into creating work. This, he tells us, makes the work become yours, it changes the groups relationship with created work and forges a sense of collective responsibility. This is integral when devising and encourages opportunities to take risks as well as a ‘hive mind’ attitude. 

David is starting to change the shape of the workshops. He is slowly beginning to leave the play aspects behind and introduce skills required for devising content. Although, as has been said in previous articles, the fundamental basics of ‘play activities’ form the ensemble which enables the devised space (so play is never really left behind). Alongside this development David is also cementing the concept of brains being connected to bodies – how to activate them both – this is part of his plan to have the young people buzzing to make work when the rehearsal period starts with Hetain in August. 

We begin warming up by walking around the space. David always works with extremes so the young people are at one point moving around the space at a ‘2’, sluggish and shrunk down and then they snap into a ‘7’ and suddenly the room is hot with energy. The warm-up, which is a standard drama activity, is slightly different today as David slowly integrates ideas of physicality and gender stereotypes. He is interested in how masculinity changes posture, eye contact and shape. We discuss this after the warm-up, ‘when do you have to behave like this’. How does masculinity feel, is it strange? /Silly? Do people make you feel more masculine by looking at them? The discussion moves into public space and when people feel like they need to engage physical masculine traits. It’s an interesting concept to explore and there is certainly a general consensus that public spaces require different physical personas.  

After the warm up the young people begin to start making tableau’s. One enters and strikes a pose and the other young people follow one-by-one and develop the image. This is much like the MasterChef final (David is a big fan), where finalists have to individually prepare the starter, main and dessert without knowing what the other is cooking (sometimes ending in a mash-up of cuisines and styles). There are several purposes to this style of activity, predominantly one notices that it encourages performers to anticipate each other’s actions and create actions which themselves are open. Once these tableaus have been established the other groups try to discern the given circumstances behind each performers chosen character. David shows the importance of the gaze in performances by having the young people alter where they are looking and with what intensity. This develops into a lesson on how focus can center a scene and develop a narrative.  

‘Mark is trying to develop the idea of creating ‘sound as a whole’. It’s about producing sound together and seeing where the group move whether there can be a collective end and what the sound is that they create as a group.

This week’s Thursday session is split into two and the young people are in two new spaces. The first is ROOM 2 at Hope Mill Studios, the other is Theatre 2 at HOME. The first half of Thursday evening is spent with Mark. Mark is the MD for Chorus of Others who are a diverse group of men who raise awareness around men’s issues through performing together. We are developing ensemble sound and harmony with Mark and it’s great to see the young people dive into singing as quickly as they dived into David’s sessions. Mark is trying to develop the idea of creating ‘sound as a whole’. It’s about producing sound together and seeing where the group move whether there can be a collective end and what the sound is that they create as a group. There is an interesting similarity between David’s tableau exercise and this activity and no doubt the success of this exercise is down to the quality of ensemble that is being developed. Everybody throws in a sound (verbal or physical) or a note and try to feel where the group are taking the chorus that is created. The chorus choir sound itself was interesting, at moments soft and angelic and at other times more bizarre with motifs that were pedestrian with a tribal feel. 

Mark’s style of facilitation is about having fun and not taking anything too seriously. Mark argues that finding a commitment that’s focused but enjoying the fun in the exercise helps to develop a more creative and intuitive environment. This sentiment is certainly true in devised environments and it is the play aspect of Mark’s choral activity that produces the results. Mark’s session flies by and soon we are heading through the Northern Quarter and down onto First street to see New Perspectives adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s novel The Fishermen. A beautiful piece of storytelling that transports and takes the audience into another world for seventy minutes (young people responses to be added soon!). 

That’s it. Lots to get into this week, but I’ve kept it short. Next week is another really full week and then we’re almost at the end of this stage. With a variety of bases covered from textual analysis to use of sound it’ll be interesting to get the young people making stuff in the coming weeks and seeing how they tie together gathered content and new skills.

Tasters

Week three. The world is moving fast on the top floor of the Powerhouse building. This week smashing the creativity about with Contact’s Young Company is Werkha, aka Tom Leah, electronic jazz musician who’s been making beats globally for years. Tom has bopped down to Moss Side to combine his variety of sampled beats and rhythms with the raw energy that so often fills the dance studio. It’s loud today and the young people are buzzing with excitement – getting dropped out of the World Cup already a distant memory as the workshop begins. Even at this stage new members are arriving and are quickly picked up by the tenacity of the young people’s enthusiasms.

Werkha

Werkha live in Glasgow

Tom drops the young people straight into it and they begin to devise tableau’s which contain stereotypical ‘acts’ of masculinity. This is the first time the YC have devised together to generate work and it’s exciting to see how they take on different roles and who begins to lead. They collaborate with ease as a group with everyone giving offers and making suggestions -it’s an exciting taster of what is to come. Tom has more or less separated the session into two sections; devising scenes and collection of sampled sounds to inform the action. This takes place in the form of dictaphones, bicycles, a toaster and a sound studio, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Tom’s role in this project is varied and will probably change as the production begins to take a firmer shape. On paper – he’s the sound designer – but he comes from a background of performing across the electronic festival scene and beyond. He’s laid back and runs a chilled-out young people-led workshop. He’s keen to try out everything and has lots of ideas on the role of sound in theatre. The workshop continues and the young people produce two scenes. One which revolves around a boy learning to ride his bike, the other explores gender stereotypes in a club and peoples actions inside this space.

‘With nothing set in stone it is an opportunity to show the YC how subtle sound can be and how much technology has enabled it to transform spaces’

With two improvised scenes that interlink through a transition the young people split into smaller groups and are sent to three destinations to begin sampling sound. This links into why Tom is here, he wants to explore how to make a transition between sections rhythmical or energetic or in time or all three at once. This is both from a logistical perspective and an artistic one. With nothing set in stone it is an opportunity to show the YC how subtle sound can be and how much technology has enabled it to transform spaces. After twenty minutes of exploring how to make sound from a bicycle, how to create a ‘live bar’ from objects found in the kitchen and a small group mixing a new house track in the music studio with Tom everyone is back together. It’s a bit tense in the dance studio, Werkha sits in a corner with his mac mixing the tracks as the YC perform their scenes- each scene accompanied with it’s own soundtrack that mixes into the next. It’s curious how seamlessly the mechanic bicycle sounds become ‘bar sounds’ and then house music, pausing briefly for a breath to then drop again, but it is probably a testament to Tom’s ability with music software. 

It’s the first taster the YC have at what their show could be like, what direction it may move in. What stands out about this session is how far the YC have come in trusting each other’s instincts and relaxing enough to trust one another’s decisions. We’re almost at the halfway point in the workshop stage and it will be interesting to see how quickly things begin to move now and where we will all be in four weeks time.

Thanks

Bread and Butter

This week’s session was about bread and butter. Bangers and mash. Seasides and ice creams. Saturday nights and telly? As per Wednesday evenings we were working with David Judge. David is electric (as has been said before) and has an insurmountable energy and joy. With David we are laying the foundations for the rehearsal period in August. At a fundamental level the foundations consist of a tightly woven ensemble that can trust each other; challenge each other and question each other. An effective ensemble is the heart of any productive devised process. It creates a uniformed understanding between performers of how to move, who to rely on to deliver a certain tone or when to hold a pause. This connection comes from a variety of exercises/games/given circumstances that slowly develop a non-verbal communication within the ensemble.
With that is mind Wednesday began by introducing the YC to the semi-supine position and aspects of the Alexander Technique. This is also part of David’s plan to provide the young people with the means to make their own work after the YC. He wants to empower them with the skills to run sessions themselves when making work – to look to their futures as theatre makers. This is arguably one of the greatest assets of Contact’s YC, laying the foundation for a new generation of creatives. So as usual, it’s hot in the dance studio and the young people are laying down on their backs breathing deeply and releasing their breath in a hum. They are lying in a circle and as the exercise continues a unified sound slowly materialises. The sounds aren’t always in unison and there is not a direct pattern but something connected happens from a seemingly individual process. It’s this – beginning to listen and respond to each other that will be integral when the work starts to move.
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Thursday sessions are reserved for visiting practitioners. This week we had Danny, the Artistic Director of Thirty Pound Gentleman in the room. TPG originally began as a one-off project (Letters to My Younger Self), but the project proved so important to Danny that he continued its purpose and formed TPG, a multidimensional company that works predominantly with young black men.Danny is a big guy. He’s upfront, kind and has a large presence. He delivers his workshop from behind a desk with the Young Company sat in a circle – he is self-aware, humorous and humble. It’s sort of impossible to imagine Danny ever being naive of how the world works. He grew up learning his lessons in a barber shop and talks to us about how this was the space where he learned his ‘man stuff.’ Something that he notices is absent in a lot of young men these days. The basic bread and butter of cooking a meal from scratch and knowing how to shave, let alone being able to forge a future. Danny’s session is about developing interview technique. How to get down to the bread and butter with an interviewee. A large part of this project (and Contact’s YC work on the whole) is about finding real stories and using these to inform the content. Not only do they help to provide a truth in the work but they also bring to the theatre space new opinions and perspectives, which is really what it is all about.
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The group is split into pairs and the YP begin by interviewing each other. Scattered around the top floor of the Powerhouse building are clusters of people talking seriously and listening attentively. They can be found on staircases, in corridors and locked into music studios. It’s a task which has two benefits, one is the practice of being in the formal interview environment and developing the role you need to play in that circumstance. The other is the continuation of sharing with one another, of being open and vulnerable. We finish up this half of the session and as is often the case with this group of performers they run over, forget about breaks and have to be dragged away from the task. It’s inspiring to see them so focused and refreshing to be working with people who thrive off a busy environment. Danny is a bit of a talker and we run slightly over which leaves us with twenty minutes to meet the Bicycle Polo Club who play on the courts at Powerhouse. This, Danny tells us, is not an interview but an opportunity to observe the interviewees in their own environment. This sets a basis from which to begin interrogating the interviewee to find out the bread and butter, to move left, right, up and down and to leave with an in-depth understanding of what makes them tick. The Bicycle Polo Club is the first opportunity the YP have to speak to members of the public and gauge a tone to use in an interview.

 

And that’s about it, another busy two sessions and the project moves swiftly on. With the YC equipped in a crash course of interrogation interview technique next week moves into research and development, content gathering and interviews. Theatre moves fast and it’s easy to feel left behind when devising, one slightly inconsequential movement, or offer of a phrase can change the whole direction of the show, can inspire an entire section. It’s learning to harness that chaos that can empower performers. I feel like the Young People here will have no trouble weathering that storm.

Thanks

Up Front

In brief; this blog is exploring the process of creating a devised piece of site-specific work. It is a research-based process that is taking place over 8 weeks and is filled with an enormous pot of artistic talent. Main players in the team are Hetain Patel, visual artist, performer, Northerner and David Judge, actor, dancer, theatre maker and Northern (lots of Northerners). Together they bring an interesting partnership to the Contact Young Company of 2018 which is a beautiful collective of inspirational young people. From poets to dancers to med students to musicians to historians to play writes and above all people who want to perform and make something new that has something to say.

Sat in a hot room waiting to meet Hetain, the place: Moss Side Millennium Powerhouse – Contact’s interim’s space while their theatre is being renovated. Powerhouse is a jumble  of buildings sort of built on top of each other (at one point you have to walk outside along a second floor gangway) to provide room for mental health workshops, sports games, chill out spaces and offices. The time is 17:30 and outside it’s 28 degrees and there’s world cup football matches on and we’ve all already had a long day. Inside the dance studio upstairs 16 young people, myself and Hetain eagerly share views on the world, our roles within it and how masculinity affects all of the above. We’re testing the waters. It’s the very beginning of a process which is unpacking the theme of masculinity. It’s a safe space where the young people share intimate stories about their experiences of masculinity, whether good or bad. For most, the stories are negative. Most are hostile encounters. Most centre around an altercation. Some however are positive and funny and reflect the varied way that masculinity exists. After we have shared this Hetain opens the discussion out and reveals why he is here to work with us all – to find a solution. To be humorous. To avoid preaching. To empower the young people. To think outside the box. To make something we all own. To be part of change. 

Dance studio the next day and we find ourselves juggling balls and sharing stories. David Judge is here today and he is all explosive energy and booming laughter. Beneath his infectious joy is a real seriousness. A seriousness that reflects the importance of the topic and helps to build a safe space for the young people to begin divulging personal experiences of the 21st century man. With lots of clapping and smiling we make it round the room and amidst all this is the sense of belonging we have through our unpacking of masculinity. David has us move around the room as ourselves and inbetween this we feed into other elements. At one point somebody is water – a river, the kind that could fill a glass if somebody caught it – at another moment there’s a fire, something keen to lite everything around it, but young, volatile – and next earth – growing, ageing, repeating – finally wind, the sort of wind that shifts everything, changes the weather and turns almost the planet in it’s entirety. David has a precise way of connecting the workshop exercises to being in the performance space and there is a transparent sense of trust between the Young People and him – by the end of the session the room is filled with laughter and excitement, we run over and he sets a work task for next week as the room empties. 

These sessions are the beginning of a two month process – concluding with a site-specific performance in the heart of Salford. The beauty of devised work is you never know where it will end, how it will form or what routes will be taken for it to find it’s feet. Right now, it’s about being up front with everyone about how the show is moving forward and what the possibilities are. The process is one that CYC is familiar with and because of this the team surrounding the Young People is filled with expertise. Being part of this work is illuminating – there feels an unlimited possibility when a performer is crouching in a baking hot dance studio in Moss Side and instead of seeing what’s given the room sees something growing or the possibility of something even bigger.  

Thanks,

 

Peace.