This week’s session was about bread and butter. Bangers and mash. Seasides and ice creams. Saturday nights and telly? As per Wednesday evenings we were working with David Judge. David is electric (as has been said before) and has an insurmountable energy and joy. With David we are laying the foundations for the rehearsal period in August. At a fundamental level the foundations consist of a tightly woven ensemble that can trust each other; challenge each other and question each other. An effective ensemble is the heart of any productive devised process. It creates a uniformed understanding between performers of how to move, who to rely on to deliver a certain tone or when to hold a pause. This connection comes from a variety of exercises/games/given circumstances that slowly develop a non-verbal communication within the ensemble.
With that is mind Wednesday began by introducing the YC to the semi-supine position and aspects of the Alexander Technique. This is also part of David’s plan to provide the young people with the means to make their own work after the YC. He wants to empower them with the skills to run sessions themselves when making work – to look to their futures as theatre makers. This is arguably one of the greatest assets of Contact’s YC, laying the foundation for a new generation of creatives. So as usual, it’s hot in the dance studio and the young people are laying down on their backs breathing deeply and releasing their breath in a hum. They are lying in a circle and as the exercise continues a unified sound slowly materialises. The sounds aren’t always in unison and there is not a direct pattern but something connected happens from a seemingly individual process. It’s this – beginning to listen and respond to each other that will be integral when the work starts to move.
Thursday sessions are reserved for visiting practitioners. This week we had Danny, the Artistic Director of Thirty Pound Gentleman in the room. TPG originally began as a one-off project (Letters to My Younger Self), but the project proved so important to Danny that he continued its purpose and formed TPG, a multidimensional company that works predominantly with young black men.Danny is a big guy. He’s upfront, kind and has a large presence. He delivers his workshop from behind a desk with the Young Company sat in a circle – he is self-aware, humorous and humble. It’s sort of impossible to imagine Danny ever being naive of how the world works. He grew up learning his lessons in a barber shop and talks to us about how this was the space where he learned his ‘man stuff.’ Something that he notices is absent in a lot of young men these days. The basic bread and butter of cooking a meal from scratch and knowing how to shave, let alone being able to forge a future. Danny’s session is about developing interview technique. How to get down to the bread and butter with an interviewee. A large part of this project (and Contact’s YC work on the whole) is about finding real stories and using these to inform the content. Not only do they help to provide a truth in the work but they also bring to the theatre space new opinions and perspectives, which is really what it is all about.
The group is split into pairs and the YP begin by interviewing each other. Scattered around the top floor of the Powerhouse building are clusters of people talking seriously and listening attentively. They can be found on staircases, in corridors and locked into music studios. It’s a task which has two benefits, one is the practice of being in the formal interview environment and developing the role you need to play in that circumstance. The other is the continuation of sharing with one another, of being open and vulnerable. We finish up this half of the session and as is often the case with this group of performers they run over, forget about breaks and have to be dragged away from the task. It’s inspiring to see them so focused and refreshing to be working with people who thrive off a busy environment. Danny is a bit of a talker and we run slightly over which leaves us with twenty minutes to meet the Bicycle Polo Club who play on the courts at Powerhouse. This, Danny tells us, is not an interview but an opportunity to observe the interviewees in their own environment. This sets a basis from which to begin interrogating the interviewee to find out the bread and butter, to move left, right, up and down and to leave with an in-depth understanding of what makes them tick. The Bicycle Polo Club is the first opportunity the YP have to speak to members of the public and gauge a tone to use in an interview.
And that’s about it, another busy two sessions and the project moves swiftly on. With the YC equipped in a crash course of interrogation interview technique next week moves into research and development, content gathering and interviews. Theatre moves fast and it’s easy to feel left behind when devising, one slightly inconsequential movement, or offer of a phrase can change the whole direction of the show, can inspire an entire section. It’s learning to harness that chaos that can empower performers. I feel like the Young People here will have no trouble weathering that storm.