Dream: the joy of creating was the first in a series of planned practical workshops and development opportunities for theatre makers working with children and young people; part of the collaboration between Rose Bruford College’s TYA Centre, TYA UK and Ashford Borough Council.
The event provided a unique opportunity to work with two of the UK’s leading practitioners, exploring the process of developing and creating work for children and young people. The week–long residency focused on the process of creation, and was initiated by Catherine Wheel’s Gill Robertson and led by freelance artist director maker Mark Storor.The event was funded by Paul Harman/TYAUK, Rose Bruford College and Ashford Borough Council. Participants from the UK paid a subsided and affordable rate of £95 for the week, as requested by TYAUK, and the EU participants were fully funded.
There were 8 places reserved for established UK based practitioners (minimum 3 years professional experience) and a further 4 funded places for practitioners from continental Europe, identified by TYAUK. In the end only three European participants were able to attend. Aurelie Copins from Belgium, Kelly Riviere from France and Kristin Becker from Germany. The UK participants came from across the UK; 4 from Scotland, 1 from Nottingham, 1 from London and 2 from Kent. Biographies of all participants and workshop leaders are listed in Appendix A.
The event culminated in a sharing that was attended by 34 industry professionals and interested parties, including representatives from Ashford Borough Council, Arts Council England and Kent County Council. A full list of attending organizations are listed in Appendix B.
“Over time although I have become more experienced and skilled in creating theatre I have lost some of that courage to leap into the unknown that I think is essential to creating remarkable (why should we aim for just good?) theatre for young audiences. So now I feel the most important thing for me is to learn to explore again. To not tie things down at the beginning of a project but to dig deep, get lost, find the gold and begin to spin…So I have invited Mark Storor the visual artist and theatre maker to lead a workshop with us. Mark is an inspirational maker and facilitator and my experiences of seeing his work and participating in an Imaginate Residency in 2008 had a huge influence on me and many of the other Scottish artists who worked with him.” Gill Robertson, Artistic Director, Catherine Wheels
The residency had a tangible impact on participants that was evident to those who attended the sharing event on the Saturday. In their reflections on the week all participants mentioned the notion of space: space to think; to pause; to be released from the pressures of making, funding and producing work. Participant’s feedback can be found in Appendix C.
Gill Robertson perhaps best summed this up, when she described how she felt her own work had become derivative, repetitive and uninspired. She spoke of needing to find the space to rediscover her own creative impulses, to make free and original connections.
As Kitty Winter observes in her response to the week:
“I came into the week wanting some input, some new ideas, new strategies, and new tricks for making theatre. I had anticipated conversations about story arc, character development, perhaps some mention of imagery. This isn’t what happened. Instead, what Mark offered was an alternative way of thinking, more fundamentally, about why and how we make work- whatever our own work might be. Instead of coming away with someone else’s ideas, I’ve felt a renewed surge of excitement and confidence about my own”.
Artists may well need exposure to new skills sets and methodologies, but perhaps what we most need to offer our established makers and performers is a chance to stop. A moment to reflect. This may seem trite and perhaps too slight an aim for these sorts of events, but that would be to underestimate the skill of the facilitator. Dream; the joy of creating was successful mainly because it afforded ‘jobbing’ professionals the chance to work with a leading, internationally renowned practitioner and a real artist. It is imperative that these events are led by leaders in the field. Those, who like Mark Storor and Gill Robertson, have a proven track record as innovators as well as accomplished makers.
The sharing event sought to offer the audience this same sense of space. There were some performable etudes and exercises that could have been shared, but instead the choice was made to allow the audience to experience the work rather than observe it. Again this seems to have been an important element of the success of the week. Some work was offered: the pictures and texts that had been created during the process were shared; but as triggers for new imaginative journeys rather than evidence of acquired skill or new insight. This seemed to successfully remind us all of the vulnerability and openness needed to communicate with a young audience
The space was gentle, warm and inviting but more than that it was creative, inspiring and open. The audience had to risk something too; to offer something of their own. The space and artefacts had a childlike quality and in that sense the young audiences framing was present, but this was not an event for children, but rather for all ages to engage with the work in whatever way suited them; through the senses not just the intellect.
It is important that conclusions from the event are shared more broadly and this will be made possible through the publication of a paper detailing the week’s work that will appear in the Rose Bruford TYA Centre e-journal, the first edition of which will be published in April 2013 in collaboration with TYAUK.
The ambition is to create an annual Ashford ‘Dream’ event, with extended regional partners, increased participants drawn from across the UK and Continental Europe, with Town Centre (arts and non-traditional arts) spaces opened up and claimed for artists and groups to collaborate with communities, educational establishments, audiences, and with each other.
Events would focus on work in the TYA field. When selecting facilitators, key note speakers, agencies, companies and venues – emphasis will be placed on innovation and quality. The aim will be to enrich practice in this area of theatre making nationally, whilst helping to develop a well connected annual performing arts offer for Ashford.
Full list and Biographies of Dream participants and leaders:
Mark Storor is an acclaimed and award winning artist, Mark Storor works in the space between live art and theatre. This year he has created The Impending Storm for the Birmingham International Dance Festival and has recently completed a sold‐out run of A Tender Subject, a commission for Artangel with men in prisons. Other recent works include For the Best and The Fat Girl needs a Haircut, which won rave reviews when it ran at London’s Roundhouse.
Gill Robertson is the Artistic Director of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company. Gill founded Catherine Wheels Theatre Company in 1999 and since then has produced over 20 shows for children and young people which have toured to schools, village halls and theatres across Scotland. Productions include Martha which has toured the world since it premiered in 1999 and Lifeboat which won the 2004 TMA Best Show for Children and Young People and was the first Scottish Theatre production to appear at the Sydney Opera House. In 2007 Gill reinvented Home: East Lothian (site specific show for the National Theatre of Scotland) into Hansel and Gretel which performed a five week run at the Barbican Theatre, London and was nominated for two New York Drama Desk Awards in 2010 after a run on Broadway. In 2010 Gill created Pobby and Dingan which won the Best Show for Children and Young People at the TMA Theatre Awards and in 2011 collaborated with
Andy Manley on his production White which won a Fringe First, Herald Angel, Total Theatre Award and the 2011 TMA Best Show for children and Young People. Gill most recent productions include a new adaptation of Kes by Rob Evans and The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean with Shona Reppe.
Clare McGarry is a performer and theatre maker based in Glasgow. She is currently an Associate Artist of Imaginate and runs her own company, Grinagdg Theatre.
Kristin Becker works in theatre for teenagers ( 13 – 19) at Theater Strlil in Berlin. She also teaches acting to adults. In her biography for young audiences she reveals that she hates unfriendly people and loves chocolate.
Lorraine Kashdan is based in Canterbury and has been a performer and producer in the field of live literature since 1998. She was director of The Word performance group for 4 years. She currently works as a creative educator and community based drama facilitator for adults and teenagers with learning difficulties and complex disabilities.
Amy Howard is a musician and a performer – and also the originator of Kent based theatre company The Honk Project. Her professional experience ranges from performing and playing music for circus (Giffords) to self-initiated acts such as sax/tap cabaret duo Banana Burlesque. She has toured with The Rude Mechanical Theatre Company, and performed as a musician clown for SClowns. As long as it has live music in it – that’s her ethos!
Jen Edgar is a theatre artist and performer based in Glasgow, who makes theatre with and for young people. She works predominantly with the National Theatre of Scotland and is currently Artist in Residence for Starcatchers, where she will be working in three nurseries over the next year.
Eli Fechlie has recently ben appointed as Arts Facilitator for Lyra Theatre on their Arts Impulse Programe in Craigmaillar, Edinburgh. She is a theatre maker, performer, facilitator, development, education and youth worker. She has worked in the arts in Scotland for the last fourteen years in various capacities and specifically in the youth theatre and early year’s sector.
Aurelie Coppin: After studying theatre at the Lassad school in Bruxelles, Aurelie trained as a shadow puppeteer at the Institute of Charleville Mezieres in France. Since then she’s staged various shadow puppet shows. She created her own company in 2010 and regularly facilitates workshops for children.
Kelly Riviere originally trained as a dancer – classic and contemporary – at the Conservatoire of Lyon, she then studied translation at the University of Geneva and theatre at the cours Florent in Paris. She now works as an actress with various French companies and also as a theatre translator from English to French. She mainly translates Mike Bartlett’s plays. She is also a member of LABO07, a network of actors, stage directors, etc. specialized in youth theatre. She is currently still touring in her solo “Just like a woman” and will next be playing in Jalie Barcilon’s play “Road movie Alzheimer”, touring in France.
Kitty Winter is a freelance movement director and choreographer, working both in adult theatre and theatre for young audiences. She works regularly with Nottingham Playhouse, Theatre Hullabaloo, Kali Theatre and Polka Theatre, and with directors Abigail Anderson, Tessa Walker and John Wright. Kitty has recently started to direct and to create her own work in collaboration with composer Wayne Walker-Allen.
David Stothard is an actor, director and facilitator working with young people in a variety of contexts. He is a director of Olive Branch Arts and has most recently been working creatively with young Saharawi refugees in the Sahara desert. He is currently studying on Rose Bruford College’s MA in Theatre for Young Audiences
Jeremy Harrison is Programme Director of Actor Musicianship at Rose Bruford College, Subject Specialist for the MATYA and Chair of the recently established Rose Bruford TYA Centre. He is also Artistic Director of Theatre Jemilda, a company specialising in actor musician work for children.
List of organisations attending sharing event:
TYAUK; Rose Bruford College; Ashford Borough Council; Arts Council England; Kent County Council; Jasmin Vardimon; Artsworks; Highworth School; Wide Eyed Theatre; Goldsmiths; Gulbenkian Thatre; PANeK; Brightshadow; Ali MacK; The Complete Works; Fluid Motion Theatre Co; Julia Evans; Unicorn; Wales Millennium Centre; and other individual performers and freelance specialists.
Evaluations received from participants:
Kitty Winter, England
I came into the week wanting some input, some new ideas, new strategies, new tricks for making theatre. I had anticipated conversations about story arc, character development, perhaps some mention of imagery. This isn’t what happened.
Instead, what Mark offered was an alternative way of thinking, more fundamentally, about why and how we make work- whatever our own work might be. Instead of coming away with someone else’s ideas, I’ve felt a renewed surge of excitement and confidence about my own. Mark’s gentle empowerment has left me feeling more able to value my work, my time, able to question the compromises I feel I have to make, and able to stand by my decisions. His fundamental premise is very simple- have faith in the images and ideas that come from inside you, surround yourself with skilled people who you trust, and let the work be whatever it is. As a long-term freelancer taking the first steps towards producing my own work, this was exactly the kind of advice I needed.
Eli Fechlie, Scotland
The workshop with Mark did give me some strong routes in to starting creative processes and it demonstrated ways to connect with people and I will definitely use some of the techniques Mark shared with us. It was especially interesting for me on the Thursday and Friday when we started to make images from the sentences from our writing and how connected and rooted we all were to the images. It was as though consciously or unconsciously we were collectively responding as an ensemble which was amazing.
The challenges of the week for me, personally, were my overall expectation of the residency. (I have reflected on this before) but I thought that Gill would be leading/chatting/reflecting more about her work/methods and general practise Once I accepted this wasn’t the case I began to adapt to Marks methods. (although I think I would need more time to adapt to the pace as I am a very active person)
I do think that, perhaps, 13 participants for such as intense and personal style of working were too many and that if it had been 8-10 then this would have worked better. I began to struggle mid week with sitting down a lot and listening (no excuses but I am dyslexic and I find it difficult to retain information when people are talking for lengthy periods of time) and if we had cushions or bean bags this would have made it a bit more uncomfortable. I also know deep down that I findi t uncomfortable about speaking about myself (This workshop has made me realise how much of a closed book I can be and I will definitely try to be more open in the future) and I feel that I resisted when these opportunities to take risks arose.
All these points aside though I could see that Mark is an exceptional artist – he has amazing vision and he takes his time to allow people to get to know each other and express themselves. (I am disappointed with myself that I couldn’t take these emotional leaps) The things that resonate the most are that the work has to have heart and it has to come from us and it must mean something to us. I could see for myself how magical this can be for artists/performers and the audience in our final showing. I think the audience enjoyed being part of our very personal journeys.
Final point – I learnt a lot and it has taught me to take more risks and to be braver.
Clare McGarry, Scotland
Since getting back to Glasgow I’ve felt a bit jetlagged, even though I didn’t get on or off a plane! Today I went for a walk in the local park and found myself noticing how beautiful everything was. I know this was because I have had such an amazing week with Mark and was touched meeting so many great people.
The main thing I will take away was the re-connection to the work I really want to make. I have made some shows recently that I have made in accordance with what I felt schools and venues would buy in. These have been good, solid shows however not of the imaginative breadth that I rediscovered during the past week. Mark’s approach has reminded me of who I am and there is a wildness and humour longing to be present in the work I make. I was also reminded of how much I need and want to collaborate with other artists. I am impressed by how quickly we all got to the beating heart of each piece we made, how nuanced and beautiful the work was and I will remember this when making future work too.
I truly feel like I have so many ideas for the future. The main question for me is how much of this spirit can I bring into my bread and butter type projects, the ones we all have to do to pay the bills? Or do I keep it for separate, unpaid projects ? I don’t really want to separate my work like this, I think the reality is that my imagination has caught fire again and this will inevitably trickle down into all the work I make. It is however going to take some bravery from me to try something a bit new, and to offer my regular schools and venues something new too. Some of my ideas are site specific so it is going to take some thought to work out how I can get my regular audiences to break the mould a bit and go somewhere else. I am ready for it though and in all honesty I don’t know what else I can do now but give it a shot and see what happens.
Some areas you and Mark could think about to make it even better:
- Cushions/little stools. Spending that length of time on the floor was uncomfortable!
- I felt 13 people was too many. 10 would have been a better number. It did take too long to go around everyone in the detail we did.
- Despite understanding how important it was to spend proper time reflecting and discussing our material, I did think we spent too long at times talking. The rhythm of the week was a bit strange, spending 3 days sitting down then the last day and a half on our feet, it felt like we were only getting into the heart of it then we stopped. By the time Saturday came I didn’t feel like the course should be finishing just yet.
- I would have liked for us to have had our own time together, just the 13 of us to close the process and say goodbye. Perhaps in the future if an audience are coming it could be just for the morning?
Aurelie Coppens, Brussels
To report an important experience in a few words is not an easy matter to achieve.
I’ve learned many things while crossing all the stages of the process suggested by Mark Storor. One of the principal is that there exists a “state” which allows us to create, a “state” which is rather a self-knowledge, an acceptance of its own limits, a non-judgement to what we produces. A “state” which is more like a permission that we give to ourself to produce whatever we desire.
I’ve learned that once that we give to ourself this permission (like an inner freedom), all that comes out from us is deeply right : our presence on stage is right, the way we move is right. All seems very coherent and full of joy. I’ve learned how much it’s important to connect myself to this “permission” before to start any artistic project. Finally, this workshop was for me how to find the authenticity of the creative gesture.
Here is what, as for me, summarizes what Mark Storor’s training course taught me. Except this rich training, I was really happy to take part in this international training course and to meet professionals from all horizons (Germany, France, Scotland, England etc).
I have a very good memory of this Ashford week which will accompany me for a very long time.
A full video record of the sharing event inlcuding more commentary from participants is available on request.