Inside the Platform Young Company: Improvising

7 Mar 2020

Isabel Dickens is an artist currently working with the Platform Young Company, our performance group for anyone aged 16 - 25 years. As part of her work with the group Issy will be posting regular updates of what goes on during meetings, rehearsals and workshops:

Today at Platform spent time fitting the ‘I am’ statements into different improvisations.

At first everyone said ‘I am x and I am x years and I…’ stepping forward but if the person they were saying they were was older than someone else, they got sent back to the line and had to try again. For example, Kirsty said ‘I am a three year old girl and I love yoghurt.’ She could stay stepping forward. When someone stood forward saying ‘I am a thirty year old man’ they got sent back because there were people ‘younger’ than them still in the line.

After this everyone put chairs in a line and introduced themselves in the format ‘I am a young woman and ...’, ‘I am an old man and…’ and passed it on. At this point there were certain motifs appearing – Euan had always lost something, Lauren always made a statement about being alone or in isolation, Sean always made a statement about an impending doom, Kirsty would speak for much longer than everyone else about something she was really good at…etc, etc.

You never know what they will say but you have a familiar sense of recognition about what is coming. The performers creativity is being tested and they are bringing up ideas based on just whatever is in their head, but the statements they make are evolving and being honed all the time through the process of repetition. Even though Kirsty was a confectioner, a historian, a baker she is mimicking the same type of person who would go on and on and on about what they’re interested in and try to be better than everyone else. That identity was shaped with more accuracy each time even though the content was different. As an audience member there was a lot of satisfaction in seeing that happen.

When people repeat themselves constantly it also gives the sense of false starts. We’re trying to establish an identity, a setting, an idea but it is never good enough. It needs to be repeated, honed, tried again and everyone in the space is relentlessly self-focussed. They don’t interact with each other; they are all trying to establish their own narrative in the moment on stage then discarding it and trying it again. The performance tools they have are limited to deadpan delivery, neutral physicality and an ‘I am’ statement. These tools are so limited it forces the performers to repeat the attempt, which is unsettling. When watching you can have the sense the performers are trapped into the game to the point of being slightly delusional. They are identifying themselves with statements which they are just making up on the spot. You both know it’s not real. Why do they keep trying?

It also feels fatalistic on the part of the performers. No matter how you try to define yourself the audience will still make their own decisions about how they see you. You can say ‘I am’ ‘I am’ ‘I am’ as many times as you like but you don’t get to decide how other people will describe you. You will be seen by the audience and they will create their own narrative of who you were or what was happening based on their experience of the performance. This can overpower your interpretation of what you were doing or why you were doing it. You can ‘die’ on-stage when this happens, or you can carry on.

In the last part of the session we worked in smaller groups and including random objects in the process. People were asked in twos and threes to find positions of closeness or intimacy with one another such as: hugging, holding hands, sitting next to one another, carrying one another etc, etc. This physically broke up the isolation of each performer, but it still felt like they were interacting solely with the audience rather than each other. Inviting the groups to include objects or items of clothing into the process was fun and visually appealing but it wasn’t yet clear what role those objects would play in a final performance if they were included.

The day finished with a final slightly frenetic improvisation based on the stories created earlier in the term where one person walked on stage making an ‘I am’ statement which set up a scene and everyone else had to jump on stage as quickly as possible and fit themselves into that scene. Then start again. And again. And again. People came up with lobsters in a restaurant, a terrorist attack on the bus, a children’s birthday party, an airport. When the settings are introduced you get a sense of the miscellany of daily life; the contexts and scenarios which make up people’s perception of reality and a sense of unpredictability as you don’t know what anyone else will bring on stage. How far can they stretch the improvisation before we stop or start believing it? When do we stop engaging and when do we start again?

Today’s session felt exciting although quite dark at times. It felt like we had some of the elements of the show and now it was just moulding and playing with them until they could be made into something comprehensible. We had a chat about what this stage of the process was and how it could be exhausting to constantly try out and discard new ideas. We also discussed what was in the heads of the performers and what was in Eoin and Gudrun’s head when they bring exercises into the room? Sometimes as a performer you can feel very engaged and be enjoying a process but not actually feel like you know why you’re doing something. It requires a lot of commitment and effort to be in a process like this where the end goal is not clear. We talked about how people felt about this challenging stage of the process and agreed to come back and work on further development in May for a sharing in June.

For more information about the Platform Young Company including information on how to join the group send an email to info@platform-online.co.uk

Platform Young Company


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