12 Jun 2015

Writing into Grit

The Doorstep Arts team has been in some heavy admin-space for quite a long time now.  I would say we’ve been surfing the Admin-Wave for over a year, trying to find a way to keep this tiny arts organisation sustainable and afloat.  That’s been good, and necessary, but now we are seriously hungry for some creative time.  It’s what feeds us and enriches us.  As my colleague Jade said today, ‘It just makes me feel nostalgic for the days when I was running youth theatre stuff for free – where I could just do what I wanted when I wanted and didn’t worry about the funding.’

I think we’re all feeling that these days.

So I’m gently closing the Grant-Writing folder on my computer today and carving out some space for some creative thinking.

Our new project is called Grit.  It’s an inter-generational devised piece which is centred on a 14-year old girl.  It’s also about her younger brother, and her friend.  And about her mum.  And her missing dad. The show is going to be about schools transition and resilience.  About fight and grit and critical hope.  About how you keep a centre of gravity when the wind wants to knock you sideways.  There’s an Ani DiFranco song lyric that says ‘What doesn’t bend, breaks.’  That thing.

We’re auditioning the show on Saturday 11 July at the Princess Theatre – they are open auditions for young people aged 14-25.  We’re excited about that.  My colleague Meg is writing songs.  She is a gorgeous musician and a pure-magic-facilitator and she’s writing songs, just for this show.  That makes me feel excited.

There have been some headaches and issues over the last couple of weeks with admin and producing and getting the ground ready for this show to begin rehearsals, but the whole creative team working on the show is absolutely thrilled.  We can’t wait.

I think I first got excited about it last Monday night, at our Juicy Theatre rehearsal.  For the first time, we did some creative flow writing.  I use Natalie Goldberg’s Rules of Writing Practice for any devised theatre writing I do.  I’ve used these 7 Rules  for a long time in my own practice, and they never grow old and they never stop working.  That’s the thing with writing – the more you do it, the more valuable and rich and awesome it becomes.  This interview‘s pretty great at articulating that.

Our Juicy Theatre group has between 12-20 participants, depending on the Monday.  (During exam season this can often taper off and that leads me to some serious thinking about testing and exams.)

On Monday I asked the group to write about testing, among other things.  This was an open prompt – testing could mean taking an exam, or it could mean a driver’s test.  It could mean an life experience that tested you and your will and your strength.  It could mean a mass lump of memory around testing which has worn to a fuzzy grey blob with time, or it could be a searing and cringey moment from yesterday when you couldn’t quite finish the last 3 questions in the physics exam and had to hand the paper in to the teacher incomplete.

There’s a lot of SATS testing happening in the primary schools around here at the moment, and a lot of GCSE and A-Level students finishing up their exams.  It’s Testing Season.

The trouble is, none of the questions they’re asking on those tests are things which I feel like have helped me in my life.  I think what Grit is going to be about…partly, I think… is Real Life Testing.

Like, what you do when the universe knocks you for six and you have to get up fighting.

Like, what you do if that’s not something you know how to do.

Like, if you have to do it anyway.

Like, you know, real life.

I guess the thing I’m trying to say, somehow, is that in our drama sessions, we’re teaching these skills.  The How-T0-Get-Up-Fighting skills. But also that in our drama sessions, it’s a safe space for the important kind of self-led testing that kids need to do.

By this I mean, testing things out.  Testing out identities and voices and selves and ways of being.  Testing out words and emotions which are new and life experiences which might not have happened to them yet, but could.  Testing out a more confident version of themselves – trying it on for a second.  And each time it gets tried on, it gets more comfortable.  More possible to wear it in the outside world, outside that drama session.

The kind of testing where a whole and balanced person gets sifted and sorted and distilled. Through testing. Risk-taking, experiment-taking, pretending, playful testing. Imagination and impossibility.

The kind of testing our school systems are too scared or too broken or too tired or too overextended to do.  We’re going to carve out space to think about this stuff and to do it.

And if that takes a few admin headaches to make that space happen?

It’s worth it.

Post written by: Erin Walcon