Monday, December 08, 2008

Practice as research

I've spent the last three weeks at Central, working with second year students on the PA course. These are not acting students (although some of them are rather good actors), but people who want to be writers, producers, directors, theatre-makers in new forms. Central, rather sensibly, doesn't offer courses in these specific disciplines, because it thinks students are too young to undertake these roles so specifically. Instead, this course is about opening them up to possibilities.

So, undertaking a residency with them is a great opportunity for Border Crossings and for me. They are flexibly creative, and excited about new ways of doing things. They also don't have anything to prove as performers, and as a result are less likely to be scared of looking stupid. I decided to work on some verbatim material, with a political edge to it. When I mentioned this to Nick Williams, our Arts Council officer, he said "That's a bit of a departure for you, isn't it?". In some ways, I suppose it is. But our work is always related to political realities, and is often fuelled by political energy. And very often the devised material starts from something documentary. If it feels like it's a million miles from what we've usually done, it's because I'd not previously found ways of theatricalising the documentary - I dislike the verbatim cliches of people pretending to be - say - Jack Straw. It makes it all seem too petty.

So I was delighted with this period of experiment, which allowed us to find ways of presenting documentary material without making it feel like a personal dig at anybody, and while endowing it with a vital and telling theatricality. We were able to work with movement and music, combining dance with documentary, as well as with video and agit-prop, with recorded and live voices, even with humour. I'm sure this will re-surface in future devised work. Great to be able to research like this and call it teaching. But the best teaching is learning really, I think.

No comments: