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Inside the Platform Young Company: Performing on-screen

16 May 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 we started work towards a piece or a small live sharing at the end of June that we can have polished and completed. After the discussions of the prior rehearsal we heard that the members wanted the work in these sessions to have some level of continuity with the work we were involved in previously. There also wanted to be structure around check-ins and the possibility of making things in the session.

The experience today felt uncannily like a rehearsal to watch although I thought it would feel different to be a participant. Firstly everyone had been sent white t-shirts, asked to set their name on zoom to USER and to be sitting in front of a white background of some kind. When everyone arrived the uniformity of everyone already brought a sense of focus to the screen; then we checked in asking ‘what had been ‘light’’ for people this week. So for a lot of people this was the food that they had eaten or made, for others it was walking and appreciating their local area, or finding things in their house they had not seen before, or watching films and absorbing books. Some people had things sent to them for their birthdays or celebrated other people’s birthdays and it was nice to hear how people celebrated, for example, by going and picking cockles on the beach.

Then we got into the activities, firstly, we warmed up by playing ‘who is the leader’ on the screen, where people followed one person’s movement and then you could see how slowly that movement evolved. There was also a return to the motif of just small pedestrian movements every now and again with overall stillness on screen. Then we played a game where people tried to switch their cameras on and off at the same time and arrive in a pose on screen. They then split into three groups who each worked with a different pose and Eoin gave instructions in the chat of when for them to switch on and off and come back onto the screen. On Zoom you can switch to an option where if someone’s camera is switched off they disappear so you could just hear at points, or see the disembodied voice of the director adding extra instructions in whilst the participants performed the task. It felt like a radio show or podcast rehearsal and made me laugh.

After this we split into two rooms, one where Gudrun worked with people on a text, which she found about USERS online and the uses and origins of that work. In addition to this Eoin worked with another group who worked on visual interruptions separately. I was in that group and saw interruptions such as Tighe running through his house, Ezinne moving into different postures and scenarios, using costume and props such as a scarf, or a book. Ewan going into his bathroom as if he was going to plunge the toilet and Owen getting into lots of different weird positions such as riding a cuddly toy or on the bannister etc, etc.

When Gudrun’s group returned they were uniform in their clothes and posture and looked kind of angelic in a 90s sci-fi way. They started performing a very rigid text about USERS and reading it aloud and members of Eoin’s groups would come in and out with their video, chopping, changing and moving into different spaces on the screen.

The effect was fun and created a lot of space within the format of Zoom, which some people find very draining, especially when Zoom interactions have replaced their human interactions at work. There was not too much interruption but just enough to make the situation feel absurd and keep you watching.

Today’s session felt refreshing because it felt like we were able to work on creating within the session rather than having tasks outside it and reviewing them within the session. I appreciate following a line of enquiry rather than working with segmented tasks as well, in spite of the quality some of the results we got before.

At the end we checked out with how people felt performing and what could this mean to an audience. As performers some people enjoyed it and felt a frisson of nervousness which comes from improvising and seeing how things work which was nice after so many weeks of lockdown. A lot of performers didn’t really know what was happening on the screen as they were so absorbed in their own task and some people had technical issues which points to how precarious performances are in general especially when you add the extra layer of technology. A recurring concern from people in the work is whether it will be interesting and engaging to an audience, especially with the additional distractions of real life being more interesting than a screen. We discussed how the etiquette of a screen performance is so different because people can watch it whilst they’re doing something else and there can also be a certain level of resentment for people having to return to the screen again and again, for work and for pleasure and for socialising. We had a few more things to try out but it felt good to work through things in their own time in the session and next week we can carry on.

If you would like to know more about Platform Young Company please contact info@platform-online.co.uk

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