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.