08 Mar 2021

Action, Reflection, Endurance and Joy

Post written by Nat Palin.

As our Producing Praxis project draws to the end of its first year, we’ve been reflecting on what has been an unpredictable journey to say the least, but one with so much learning, moments of real joy – and witnessing of the sheer endurance, flexibility and imagination of all the young people involved.

Supported by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Doorstep is working with young people who are creating their own progression pathways, developing skills as researchers, artists, producers and active agents of change. Over the past year, they’ve been live-generating new work through the vehicle of Protest & Rebellion – an open invitation to explore what we believe in, what’s worth fighting for – researching and interpreting contemporary and historical protest and resistance, layered in with their own pressing concerns for now and the future. Originally envisioned as devised work generated by young people that would culminate in a large-scale performance piece (both in a theatre space and the public realm), the pandemic has added other layers of challenge. It’s pretty difficult to protest and feel heard when you’re not allowed out.

… or one would think … re-imagining and flexing from one lockdown to another, navigating doubt, managing expectations, these young artists reshaped their work to create multiple pieces – including the Cabbage Rebellion, with socially distanced promenade performances through Torbay’s three towns, and a new concept album History Repeats, created through a complex layering of individual recordings at Ocean Studios (Paignton).

Young people’s reflections have articulated this experience with honesty and rigour: the importance of those moments of liveness, where they’ve been able to come together and jam, experiment, make and play; the ‘blur’ of the weeks and months where they’ve created beautiful scripts and narratives, but in a period where time is elastic, unreal and difficult to remember; the importance of this space that values creative collaboration, albeit online, when so many opportunities to ‘make’ (and not just receive) have fallen away.

So where does Producing Praxis fit into this, and what is it?

  • Producing: is about finding imaginative and practical solutions to make and share work, staying true to the artist’s vision whilst bringing it into being in the real world,
  • Praxis: is the cycle of Action and Reflection that allows us to understand our actions (creative and otherwise) and learn from them to inform our future. It’s a process that involves ‘knowing, doing and being’ – and we’re using this to co-research.

Brought together, these two words describe a tangible, democratic process that values everyone’s different experience of real-world creative learning and makes time for us all to reflect in ways that help us to really name, value and unpack the journey we’ve been on.

We’ve been trying to describe this journey as it has evolved in all its complexity – a cycle of processes when one informs the next. This below is an attempt to capture the process so far:

Since January the ground has shifted again – we have handed over the artistic direction to young people, asking them to catalyse their own creative projects, with them inviting peers and others to collaborate. Of course, we’re here to support, help shape projects and add ideas, bring in new skills and contacts. But this marks a shift from an adult-designed framework into multiple projects which are designed and led by young people – with the Doorstep and the wider artistic team as enablers, not drivers.

And here, we’ve seen the joy begin again – new energy, new things to talk about and make happen, new things to look forward to with the possibilities of sharing live work almost within our grasp. Our Platform team is already plotting live shows, with opportunities for these emerging artists and producers to test their work in a live space in early summer – a key moment in the life-cycle of an evolving piece. In this way, young people can make the leap to becoming scratch artists in their own right.

Five new works are emerging, imagined and driven by young artists. Given the past year, most are choosing to create pieces that can be adapted for both a live or virtual space: sound-works; radio-plays; physical and musical theatre. Each is evolving week by week as young people generate scripts, design artwork, test storylines, commission songs. As the pieces develop, new young people being are invited in as performers, technicians, designers and producers.

One such project, Letters From Lockdown is already inviting creative contributions. Tilly Croose creating a piece of music inspired by thoughts and messages from lockdown, as a collaboration with as many people as possible – friends and strangers. The letters and voices she receives will inform her evolving work, its textures, lyrics and sounds. If you’d like to contribute yourself, you can read Tilly’s invitation here.

So, now begins the next layer of co-research with a core group of young people who are up for mapping their pathways, wherever they may lead – pathways of creative process, experience, aspiration, blind alleys and experiments, pathways of knowing and not knowing.

Some of those involved are young artists leading on self-initiated works, others are young people on independent journeys, collaborating on productions, working away independently making new music or visual arts, acting as ‘outside eyes’, connecting with industry mentors – writers, performers, musicians, directors, technicians – to explore other roles in the creative industries. Over the next four terms, this group of co-researchers will be meeting to exchange ideas, reflect on experiences, walk & talk, map and share their progression journeys in their own way – pictorially, musically, narratively.

As children and young people return to school today – a welcome chance to connect with friends and teachers in the ‘real world’ – they will also be contending with a myriad of expectations. We can’t know how this next year will unfold.

What we hope is that growing progression pathways with young people as co-leaders and co-creators, we can change the way we all think about young people’s pathways. Experiencing, learning, experimenting, dreaming – we hope this can provide the reflective, supportive, energetic space for all of the young artists involved to reach into new territories in ways that are right for them.