Peterborough Creative Residency - Week 1

Posted on: 29 April 2016

Written by: Vicky Ream

We are so excited that our second Citz Creative Residency is now underway in Peterborough, where we are working with Year 10 students, in partnership with Stanground Academy and UROCK Creative.

This residency is part of our two year programme of national creative residency projects that aim to engage local artists, homeless and vulnerable residents, and social sector staff to spread the art of Forum Theatre throughout the UK, expanding access to the arts and strengthening vulnerable communities. Our Peterborough Creative Residency follows a highly successful first creative residency project conducted last month in Manchester in collaboration with local housing associations and their residents.

The Peterborough Creative Residency will culminate in a small sharing at Stanground Academy on Thursday 5th May. If you are interested in attending this sharing, please contact Michael.

We are lucky enough to have two blog posts from our first week. The first comes from River, who is a Member and Trainee Facilitator at Cardboard Citizens. The second comes courtesy of Robyn Hammond, intern at UROCK.

River's reflections:

Day 1

We started our day by sitting in a circle with the students which immediately became a matter of discussion as it reminded some of counselling sessions and some thought it was a more equal way of 'sitting', because you could see everybody. Our conversations and debates of the five day workshop had begun.

Tony asked the question: what is theatre? Theatre is performance; theatre is fun; theatre is storytelling, was the answer, and stories unstoppably started bubbling up: stories of evening routines, of dogs, stories that have never been told before, powerful stories of powerlessness that its survivor had never thought was worth telling before.

We collected wide-ranging 'issues of concern' for an imaginary student who attends year 10 in the academy with the aim of producing a piece of Forum Theatre that portrays an important issue for young people and encourages the audience to get involved in the debate.

Putting aside the serious talk, we scattered around the room, doing warm up games to mess with our heads. Bodies swirled to become the London Eye and a couple of minutes later we were in Paris admiring the Eiffel tower. Through the games we got out of the routine of Stanground Academy and created a space for sharing, listening and creating.

We then moved on to Forum Theatre games, creating an ‘image’ of two students frozen in a handshake position. Another student replaced one of them and subverted the image. We then established a few statements we all agreed on while observing the image, e.g. two people standing, lifting up their right arms. Then Tony asked the questions: where are we, who are these people, what is the relationship between them? As the answers fired through the room and more questions emerged, we asked can two people look at his image and see it in exactly the same way? Do our experiences in this world make us see the world in a unique way?      

In the afternoon, we explored differences in power. We looked for a posture that represents and holds power more than any other; and found the discussion became more heated when students started to comment on the power differences that exist amongst themselves and within the rehearsal room.

We ended our day by creating 'Jo', who was an imagined student of Stanground Academy, molded from the imagination and lived experience of the group.                            

Day 2

Lazy, tired and lazy, lazy and tired, tired, said the students. Vocabulary in the room was quite limited when we were asked to describe how our mind and body felt at 8:40 on Tuesday morning. Thanks to the power of games, this vibe of low energy didn't last long.

I was transformed into an avocado, while my neighbors turned into an apple and a banana respectively. The game of fruit salad started and the stakes were high: if you weren't fast enough, you were left standing in the middle of the circle.

We experimented with our own bodies while walking around the room. How does your body feel when you put your weight on your heels? How does a policeman walk? Seeing 20 rebellious teens walking around the room dressed in black was heartwarming, as well as a good introduction to how to play different characters on stage.

Throughout the day we tested our trust in each other, how much our bodies can do, our ideas, each other's boundaries and, finally, how much you can get away when it comes to Tony! Slowly we learned how the games of Forum Theatre work and decided on three topics to work on: health (including mental health and social well-being), bullying and identity/sexuality/relationships.

We shared our stories within our groups. It was difficult: difficult to tell and difficult to hear. But there was this rare space where the students wanted to hear about hardship, powerlessness and pain. It was heavy and confusing and my group went into distraction, but Tony channeled our small chaos into a creative process, asking the students to pose each other in an image to portray oppression.

The plan for the next day was to merge our stories with the collective character 'Jo' and create a small Forum Theatre piece.

Day 3

When checking in, instead of feeling 'tired and lazy', as the students did on the second day, they felt 'curious, interested, excited, OK, hyper and happy'. In the morning we practiced our magical abilities, turning an ordinary classroom chair into a swimming pool, a dog, a lawn mower and a dozen other things. As Tony emphasized, if you believe in what you do on stage, even if it is using a chair as a hairdryer, the audience will believe in it too.

Compared to the first day we met, there was a real change in how space was taken up within the group and how the small sub-groups loosened and started to spread out.  The students took on Tony's suggestion of 'challenge by choice', they took on more responsibility for their learning. For some it meant taking part in activities they normally wouldn't, for others it meant holding back and supporting others.

Later on in the day, we got back to our groups and started to storyboard little plays. Groups not only had to work out how their story of powerlessness will function as a Forum Theatre piece, but they also had to find out how to work together, how to challenge others and themselves.

It was a real pleasure assisting my group. The magic of collective theatre making prevailed. Everybody contributed in their own way and was respectful with the others (and eventually everyone put their phones away). When we returned from lunchbreak, my group was already working.

At the end of the day we presented our plays to each other. They all worked as Forum Theatre pieces, and one play even drew tears.

I am looking forward to go back Wednesday and work with these amazing students again.

Robyn's reflections:

Having never worked as part of theatre workshop for young people before I was uncertain as to what to expect. Upon arriving I discovered a room full of year 10 students in the same situation. Once registered we gathered ourselves into a circle which seemed unfamiliar to some, it was interesting to see how differently each individual responded when asked why a group of people sitting in a circle was so strange to them. Throughout the course of the three days I attended, I was impressed to see how a group of students selected and placed in a room together could commit and work together to build a working theatre group. Their bonds were formed through a variety of tasks from creating still images in teams recreating famous landmarks, to trust exercises in which their sight was restricted and therefore all control of their movement was placed in another member of the group’s hands.

I heard a few say that the sessions reminded them of a counselling session. This was especially the case when collating ideas for the protagonist of their piece of Forum Theatre. The issues that presented themselves on the flipchart paper we were using were clearly very real for the group. I learnt that many in the group found that sharing their stories with others was a huge release and in fact recognised some personal issues that they may have overlooked previously. As a group these issues were narrowed down to three main topics; Health (mental health and social wellbeing), Bullying and Identity. When split into three even groups more discussions erupted, each taking their turn to share more stories relevant to the topic assigned. 

Other exercises that took place later were more emphasized on creating characters and ways to engage your audience to your performance. Examples of these were when Tony place a chair in the middle of our circle and asked that the group come up with ideas as to what the chair could be. One by one they stepped into the circle and presented their ideas; a hoover, a computer and a hairdryer to name a few. When asked what was the purpose of this exercise Tony enlightened them saying that in order to make your audience see what you are trying to show them you first need to believe that what you are doing is real. From that point on the group’s belief grew, not only in the theatre piece they were making but also in themselves as performers. The group had made great progress after only three days from the unsure group of students to the group of performers with three separate developing pieces of theatre. I myself have learnt some invaluable skills as a performer.

I feel privileged to have been a part of this residency and to have had the opportunity to work with not only Tony and River but the talented students too. 

With thanks to

Arts Council England Lottery funded