An account of weekly workshops by Isabel Dickens
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:
In today’s session, we wanted to run a nearly full-length improvisation based around experimenting with a structure that could work for the final sharing.
For this everyone would begin with their camera switched on with the extremely loose concept in place that a meeting was happening on zoom that the members were attending. The structure would be order/chaos/order. As it is so mentally challenging to engage with things online the final sharing will probably not be longer than 45 minutes long and this was a chance to feel what it would be like to have this piece at full length both performing and as a viewer.
We started with a warm-up. I have been leading some quick mindfulness-based activities involving focussing on breathing and different body parts because it feels like being screen-based all the time can mean you really forget your body, which is not ideal, especially as a performer. Then just some simple stretches and movements for mobilizing neck and shoulders as we are a screen ensemble currently.
Then Eoin and Gudrun led an exercise asking people to come on and off-screen one at a time performing one simple pedestrian movement or gesture. Four of these were then picked to form a routine everyone would start off doing at the beginning of the improvisation. There was rubbing the webcam to get the dust off it (Kirsty), shuffling to get comfortable and then rubbing their hair and face (Ewan), adjusting their top and resting their face in their hands (Ezinne) and then gently touching their hair to adjust it (Becky). That formed the beginning of the piece and the members all performed this routine of movement in unison over and over (…) whilst Eoin, Gudrun and I divided off to start giving individual members instructions.
This is a strange form of improvisation because whilst it is ‘spontaneous’ in what is created, it is really directing through instructions, which we did discuss at the check-out. People said they were finding the format easier through practice but there was something peculiar about waiting for the instructions to come. The theme of authority, order and control and the questions around individual autonomy were present in the prior process of making Shaking the Habitual as well - to what extent do the performers form the work through the decision-making process or simply through what they bring to the tasks they attempt and the material they gel with naturally as performers. My experience of performing in this kind of structure was that I felt very safe but challenged, the roles were very fixed but through the performance of rebellion against them, some freedom and sense of identity was always found. It was always very absurd and fun, but kind of austere in the discipline that was required of you. These questions are also present with this work through the roles as Kirsty tries initially to structure and control the ‘meeting’ which dissolves, however she does not appear to have control in the first place.
So we worked through a kind of rough-cut ‘run’ this week to try to run a full structure from order to chaos back to creating order again. Hopefully, this week it was easier for people to feel included because all the performers started together on the screen and the material had a lot more time to develop. Kirsty kept trying to control the meeting and eventually the members of the group detached from her attempts and started segueing through their own narratives. John and Lauren were doing a lot of ASMR and spent time singing Old Town Road, there was an earthquake and a lot of people returned to the screen with their camera upside down wearing a lot of their clothes wrapped around their necks and speaking Victorian-style monologues out the window. Owen was performing outside for most of the improvisation and we had the return of a Tiger King style cowboy character who Sean plays who keeps shouting ‘free the weed’. Tighe as his own version of Justin Gaethje (MMA fighter) showed us his morning routine. It feels like there are three levels to this work; the performed characters, the intimate moments performers have with objects and their relationships with them and then the actual moments of what genuinely resembles reality. There is a very dystopian note to it which reminds me of every time I check the news on my phone or go on any social media platform. Aggressive American voices, sorrowful whispers from the internet, natural disasters which turn into film monologues. It is all entertaining although not exactly clear what it is there yet.
Afterwards I felt completely overstimulated from watching. In the check-out we have been reflecting with the questions, ‘what is it like to perform?’ and ‘what would it mean to an audience?’ A lot of members alighted on the idea of it being an enaction of what is happening in somebodies subconscious because the work is such as a mish-mash of different ideas and influences. It definitely felt like an entertaining step out of the mundane aspects of reality although one of the more joyful aspects of the piece is when people use their home environments and possessions as a way of creating ‘set’ and ‘costume.’ It is this mix of reality and play which I think is enjoyable to watch.
There are 3 more weeks prior to an online sharing so we have now to set everything, tweak and play around before performing live one Saturday afternoon! Looking forward to SEEING YOU THERE.