Written by Daniella Sanderson
I have had the privilege of working with Doorstep Arts since September 2019, assisting in Early Years and Little DAS Sessions with lead artist, Polly Carruthers. As well as running a local after school club and more recently some workshops in response to the ‘Devising Discovery Series.’
As I have started to learn about what it means to be a facilitator, the more I find myself reflecting and drawing on my experience as a performer and theatre-maker to find new ways of working with young people. During my training at Rose Bruford, a practitioner I came across and was particularly inspired by was John Wright. Something I really love about his practice was his playful approach to theatre-making. In his book on the subject, ‘Why Is That So Funny’ John Wright says, ‘…if the work is playful it becomes pleasurable, and when you’re enjoying yourself you get bolder and take more risks.’ For me, this became central to how I began to devise and make theatre. I soon discovered that if we were not having fun and finding joy in the rehearsal room our work was never as organic or interesting. This did not mean we would only explore light-hearted topics, but it just meant there was an understanding of what it is to find the play in what you are making, continually asking questions about it and to keep exploring what else it could be.
I have begun to see that a similar playfulness is needed when facilitating, especially when working with Early Years. Children are bursting with imagination that can take you anywhere and you have to be ready to fly with their idea. One of Polly’s games in the Early Years session is to go and ‘knock’ on the trees outside and we all shout “GOOD MORNING FAIRIES, GOOD MORNING ELVES!” and then ask the children what they can see at the top of the tree. Lions, Bears, Dragons and Unicorns are just a few of the answers we have had! John Wright states that ‘Play is unconscious in our own childhood’ and I feel this describes exactly how playful and imaginative children are in this game. I believe being playful is a really important quality to embrace as a facilitator and something we should try our best to keep hold of as adults.
John Wright also describes the process of learning how to create theatre as ‘…a journey through failure as much as success. Getting up when you’ve fallen down.’ If we have the courage and the persistence to keep getting up when we fall down, and we’re not so afraid of the falling down that we never attempt anything hard enough that we might make a mistake, then we can use our mistakes to keep learning and eventually find those surprising, golden, moments of inspiration. One of my directors used to talk about finding the ‘gold’ in the rehearsal room. Those eureka moments when you make a new discovery, a duster that can fly or wellingtons that dance and it’s like gold dust. Perhaps in a facilitation setting these ‘golden’ moments are seeing a child make a new discovery or creating an imaginative story and characters or even learning a new song. Whatever these may be, they may not happen straight away but our play and learning will eventually lead us to the ‘gold!’. When creating theatre, we may refer to specific components as being part of a theatre-making toolbox which encapsulates various qualities or techniques we need in the rehearsal room, many of which I am discovering to be similarly valid when facilitating. Therefore, this spontaneity and determination to keep playing and exploring despite the inevitable ‘mistakes’ are I believe common tools needed for both theatre-making and facilitation.
John Wright talks about how a game has the potential to become a theatrical event meaning we can actually start creating theatre from very simple games. ‘Games and improvisations are the way in, not just a vigorous way of saying ‘Good morning.’ This has become a really interesting prospect for me to think about when working with young people. The groups love playing games anyway and so to engage in a way of devising which makes the games part of their creation process I find really exciting. An example is the game, ‘Sock Tag.’ ‘Sock Tag’ is like ‘tag’ except everyone has a sock tucked into the back of their clothing like a tail and the person ‘on’ must collect as many socks as possible. How this then becomes interesting is when some people are ‘out’ of the game watching and they become the ‘audience.’ The people still left in the game are given a new objective. They must still play the game but acknowledge and entertain the ‘audience’ at the same time. If someone’s sock gets taken, the ‘audience’ can then decide if they should be kept in the game based on how entertaining and playful they have been in the game, despite technically being ‘out.’ There is a suggestion then that playing the game is so much more about winning or losing, it is about the process and how the game is played. This is at the heart of John Wrights practice and one example of how a game can become a platform for devising theatre. The audience could, for instance, start to take notes on particular moments they enjoyed or a physical action that stuck with them. All of these can then act as a stimulus to start creating; all originating from a simple game of ‘tag.’
Another example of how I have seen this work in practice is also a game called ‘Hand Hypnosis.’ This is a really simple game where in pairs, one person lifts their hand and their partner must follow it with their head wherever they go. The partners then start to move in interesting ways with one person being the leader and one person the follower; with complete attention and focus on the hand. The way in which this became useful for devising in one session was when groups started to devise physical choreography, I could see embedded in their movement, this ‘game.’ It was a starting point for exploring status, levels and partner work. They were still technically just playing the game but adapted it to work within their chosen themes and added an element of choreography to it.
All in all, I believe being playful, having fun and taking risks are just a few of the similar tools needed when creating theatre and facilitating workshops. I am really enjoying my time with Doorstep Arts. Working with a variety of groups has given me a really interesting insight into facilitation styles for different age groups and I am learning so much from the whole Doorstep Team. I am excited to keep learning more!
Wright, J. (2006) Why Is That So Funny. Great Britain: Nick Hern Books