Ten – The Sacred Box of Eyes

The Sacred Box of Eyes Talk – Tampere May 2014

The Sacred Box of Eyes was first dreamt up by a single small voice in a large civic hall. there were 250 people in that hall. I stood in front of them with a small box of possible eyes to glue onto their puppets. The voice shouted out: That box is sacred. The rest of the hall spontaneously chorused back: Oh no, not the Sacred Box of Eyes. A moment was born that would be re-created for the next 30 years with many many thousand of people. In 2014 I gave a talk in Tampere, Finland. These are notes of the main points of that talk.

Big rooms, lots of children and many sacred boxes!
  1. Uncertainty – the world presents itself in uncertainty. We don’t know what will happen next. This unpredictability is mirrored in the creative process. In living a creative life that is the artist’s commitment there is an embracing of uncertainty. In a world of constant measurement uncertainty can be seen a as a weakness but it is from acknowledging uncertainty that the artist’s creative process and life unfolds.
  • Invitation- this uncertain world offers opportunities to the creative spirit but one has to listen and be receptive to pick up the invitations on offer. This means that sometimes the artist can notice, and offer, invitations that others who choose safer paths might not recognize as invitations. Invitations come from unexpected places, such as a little voice in a big hall saying, “that box is sacred.”
  • Signature – we cannot avoid our cellular signature. Our story is written on the first cell that becomes us and multiplies inevitably and can be seen on everything we create. We all have our own way of doing and learning.  We learn by doing. Making and playing with puppets is a special sort of signature. When someone makes a puppet, especially one that exceeds their expectations, they bring a being to life. A being that is not that person but is of that person, crafted from their subconscious. This new being is a special sort of mirror, proof of the maker’s inherent creativity – a story of self. It tells of the person who made the being and it tells the maker, “you are creative and you enjoy being creative.”  This is a crystal memory that, even if it gets buried, can resurface again when it gets the chance.
  • Relationship – puppets, like humans, need the air of others to breathe. When the puppets meet each other they are freed from the rules of normal human existence. They are not human but like masks, they are humanesque and like masks, they can speak stories in ways that are hard for us to speak as humans. They are unfettered by psychological complexity. The language of the puppet is direct.
  • Ecology – We tend to think of ecology as systems outside of ourselves – the Amazon, the Ozone Layer, the Arctic – but we are part of that ecology. In fact our most imminent ecology is our relationship to each other. The social systems we create can be simple systems – systems that maintain an order but can’t stimulate transformation or the opposite, complex systems from which newness emerges. Working with many people making puppets revealed an aesthetically astonishing complex system – it is a workshop.
  • Pudding Proof – the workshop is transformative, complex and proves itself by creating new meaning. Puppets are an excellent media for providing the transport for this journey of discovery to make whole universes of story that are made then and there.
  • Dual Focus  – the workshop focus of the artist is a dual one: as much on the unfolding of the social or group process as it is on the creative process and product.
  • There is transference of ownership – all material brought into the workshop by that leader, facilitator, story-guide is an invitation or provocation for the group to make something that is theirs. The aim of a workshop is that nobody is in the same place when they leave the room as when they entered.
  • Fluidity of roles – In a workshop, one moment a person can be maker or performer and then a moment later they can be witness or audience.
  • Absolute specificity -everything is made then and there by them. So each workshop is unique and has its own porous structure. The facilitator has intention to guide a group on a journey but the route is theirs and the end often does not correspond to the facilitator’s original idea.
  • A pedagogy of not-knowing – nobody knows exactly what is going to happen. It is a journey into the unknown, of discovery – a pedagogy of not-knowing, a creation myth in action and, at it’s best, a journey from I can’t to I can (that description came from a child).
  • The world is made anew – each workshop is the one story and it has a thread and one thing leads to the next to the next, to the next to the next. It is built there and everything goes towards building that story – nothing is wasted.                   

As Proust said, “the creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day.”  Proust was possibly not conscious that many indigenous peoples had been telling their story of no single origin way before the Big Bang or the single origin mythologies were expounded.

Nine – I didn’t even exist yesterday

A Report on the Peepeekisis Puppet Project

October 2013


“Why do you get so tired from your work?” a friend of mine was once asked by her partner. She asked him whether he felt tired after his first day in a new job. He said he was. And she told him that every day in her work was like starting a new job.   This starting over is attributable to the fact that onset of each project always brings a near unimaginable host of variables; the great unknowns and unfamiliars awaiting your arrival.

This lack of control is exacerbated by a commute to work of over 4000 miles which necessitated the abandonment of my most familiar props in my store, a whole ocean away in Devon. My anxiety is lifted immediately though by the warmth of the greeting smiles from familiar faces at Files Hill. It was just lovely to see the young people who we worked with from last year and to be greeted so warmly.

It also helped that John, the principal, was so welcoming and accommodating. We had his class for the day to work in, which was set up for Science and Maths so as guest (me) becomes host (me) it is incumbent upon me to make the space welcoming. We set up tables as making stations, lay out materials and put up a puppet stage. In the middle of the room is a circle of chairs. As we set up different people come in and out. Some of the people who came in are the people we are going to work with and they offer help. Then there are a few of their friends who they seem to want to display me to. One lad comes up and introduces himself as a chief of his people and tells me about the “ways of his people”.  By his demeanour and the tenor of his tale I decide he is joshing me so I say that I am an elder of my town in Totnes , Devon. And we chase oranges down the hill that is the main street once a year (this part is true, the annual orange race). We laugh together and shake hands.

Then Ron, our elder for the day, turns up and there is another warm greeting. All this coming and going, hosting and guesting, joshing and greeting creates the ambience for a good welcome. I feel very comfortable in this community, with these ways and in this setting.

The Karen arrived and it is great to see her again and later David arrives and it is good to meet with him after our exchange of emails across the Atlantic. In the circle we begin with prayers, a check-in from everyone and then I introduce the aim of my visit. Because of how the youth hear my accent they demand I say some words. I say the words that they want to hear from me, “groovy baby.” 

Much later in the story of my encounter with this project and in another place there is talk of consensual allies. Perhaps it’s not a phrase intended exactly as our encounter in that class unfolded but it seems an apt expression of how relationship develops across a workshop and perhaps why workshop has the potentials to not be a colonial process. Across a day we work together in a relaxed way and at each stage we welcome each other into each other’s worlds. We teach each other as our journey together unfolds. This can be intense but its hierarchies of relationship are largely organic and to do with attending to the matter at hand – the puppets, the show and performance – together.


This is what my plan looks like in my black book of plans and lists:

Voice of Youth on Well Being

  • Personal<>Family/friends<> Community<> World<
  1. The Challenge
  2. Find Material
  3. Story
  4. Make Puppets
  5. Rehearse/Devise
  6. Perform
  7. Extra-Needs

I don’t really understand what number 7 means now as I look back from a distance at that list. I think it refers to giving attention to the various details of getting the cast to the symposium the next day.


I explain to the group why I am there and what is being asked of them, which is to present their views as youth through a puppet show one night hence at a Symposium of researchers, artists and academics at the University. They are keen so we began by brainstorming what Well Being means to them. We fill a board with answers about exercise, diet, school, the environment, friends, family and lots more pretty bog-standard answers emerge.  This serve to introduce the subject and warm up their minds to the task but, I feel, does not quite provide the platform to start work on the story as intended in The Plan. So I decide to skip straight into puppet making.

At this point it is very good that David has arrived because my main occupation is guiding the group through their puppet making. And David is able to observe what is going on between individuals whilst they are being puppet makers and bringing their own creations towards life.

Puppet making is often a rich and fertile ground for dialogue. It works like an extended form of doodling. The hands are busy, the imagination engaged and the materials are guiding some of the decision-making. The concentration on making creates a relaxed and creative ambience that facilitates some interesting dialogue. It does not feel like work. Some of what there is to talk about is that which is physically manifesting from the subconscious and through their hands of the makers, some is their chitchat but generally I think this is a rich area and as the puppeteer my ears are mostly attuned to what might carry us forward. That is why to have other observant ears attuned to that community is so useful.

The making is a time of unfettered relationship to each other, their new beings and the matter at hand; to create their show about well being.  I am scouting for the show in the happenchance of their dialogue whilst guiding and supporting the making.  Towards lunchtime puppets start getting finished and a few wonderful things are occurring simultaneously. Puppets are being born and their creators are evidently delighted. The group are gathering around each other’s creations with admiring comments. Puppets are beginning to pop up and improvise on the stage that Warren and I have planted at the front of the class and all sorts of improvised scenes and new characters are emerging all around us. This carries on right across the lunch hour with friends from outside the group being brought into or science room/puppet theatre to be shown what has been going on.

It is because of the volume of emergent material that springs from the process of bringing a puppet into being, finding out who it is and animating it that invariably persuades me that this is the best starting point for a group rather than storyboarding or scripting and then making what emerges fit that script.


After Lunch the improvisation was still happening.  Those of us who are watching are quite amazed by the gusto, invention and characterisation we are witness to.  The original and unique stories that emerge in a workshop never cease to amaze. I arrive, there is a group, they make puppets and then suddenly there are twice as many characters in the room that there were when I arrived. Then the puppets come to life and begin to become who they are going to be. Then new relationships are made and stories begin to take shape. From masking tape and cereal packets come all sorts of creations that had not been imagined a few hours ago. How does this happen? I do not know but what I do know is that depends on the same sort of conditions that these new puppeteers are about to conjure up in this workshop.

After we reconvene in the circle, I summarised the elements of well being that they had alluded to earlier and highlight some of the directions that are emerging, from which I offer the idea of a games show format. This offer is greeted with muted enthusiasm.  Some like the idea and others are asking, “Can we make up our own stuff?”  The group is split and so they decide to make two shows. The two groups go into devising huddles and with a very little guidance when they get stuck, came up with two shows.

One group decide to work on a dance, which develops into a dance-off competition and resolves itself in the idea that ‘friends do not need to compete against each other”. This group need a little help with their choreography and puppet animation plus there is a bit of fishing for the right music (I come prepared with a good range of musical choice).

The other group is a motley crew of characters and intend to create a traditional tale from long long long ago.  The characters are A Russian, an Elder, a Grandson, a Clown Slave and a Cat. This group need a little bit of help because there are some dominant characters. As well as these two groups there is one lad who said he is not going to perform, which is a shame because he is a creative soul who had made a distinctive character. The story this group comes up with is about a Russian who has got lost in the unfamiliar terrain of the wild with his clown slave but is taught the meaning of respect through an encounter in the forest with a cat spirit. The tale is told by a cigarette-toting Elder to a drum-beating grandson. Their relationship is mirrored by the tale of the Russian in that it too is about establishing respect. These two shows embody many of the themes on well being from the initial brainstorm – respect, tradition, being in their environment, friendship, collaboration, story, music, dance. The shows though carry those concepts into another dimension. For one, they are made theirs andno longer about giving an adult questioner the ‘right answers’. For another it is story, not didactic, but resonant imagery that convey the stuff that has arisen in an authentic way, through making and playing, from their subconscious and imaginations. Authentic because story is a primary form of indigenous pedagogy.


Two things I have heard said are that god made people because god loves stories and that god laughs at those that makes plans. I have told a thin band of the stories that unfolded over that day from my own limited perspective. That day ends with a performance to some younger students of their two shows. One of the students, the one with the puppet Elder opens the shows, with traditional drumming and singing. Given that neither show even had time for a run-through, both were performed with smooth cohesion, comic improvisation and poignant messages. But, the last leg of our journey was still to come.

It seems that all, minus the one non-performer, would be coming to Regina University the next night to do a run-through before performing to the gathered symposium of researchers, artists and academics. The plan was to arrive an hour before the assembly of the symposium to fine-tune our productions. This did not happen. Neither did one of the main characters arrive. This happened to be the transformative cat. However, the refusnik performer turned up in her place and declared he would not be the cat but would be himself through his puppet character. This unplanned event diluted the story and we missed our cat puppeteer but we also gained another performer who had not even made a puppet. Fair to say, the cast did brilliantly,  given the lack of preshow preparation and these last minute.

Going back to the day before and number seven on my Plan for the Prairie, we had asked the cast if they were willing to be hot seated after the show by the participants of the symposium. Warren had chimed in, “and their puppets!’ which was a great idea. So, after they had performed the gathering poses questions to the puppets. As the audience get quickly used to the convention of asking puppets questions about well-being the symposium participants become quite specific which puppet they wanted to address. Also, the puppets became quite possessive about answering. For example, one question is posed and a puppet asserts herself, “that was my line, I’ll answer that one.” The authenticity and lack of inhibition afforded to the voices of this group of youth by a screen and a cast of puppets was joyful.  And in stark contrast to the nerves and lack of confidence to expressing themselves in public. The shows provoke laughter, thought and discussion and are a fantastic way of opening the symposium. It is hard for me to remember the specifics because I am the conduit between the audience and the cast but I do remember this. One audience member requests to ask the puppet with the blue feather in her hair a question. She asksthe puppet, “How do you feel about performing.”  The puppet’s answer is “ “I didn’t even exist until yesterday.”  Succinct, surreal and spot on!

Eight – The Moment under The Moment

Hummingbirds made by 7 year olds in two hours

The real reality, the flickering of seen and unseen actualities, the moment under the moment, can’t be put into words; the most that a writer can do—and this is only rarely achieved—is to write in such a way that the reader finds himself in a place where the unwordable happens off the page. Russell Hoban.

Recently I decided, for a lot of reasons, not to write a book.  As I reflected on why the book I had been working on for at least ten years remained unwritten, a thought occurred. Maybe a big reason that I wasn’t writing the book was that there was a better book than the book I was trying to write by not writing the first book. If you follow my drift.. It just seemed such a waste though to abandon all the attempts and thousands of words of the original to the oblivion of my hard drive.

Talking about driving. I have just driven around heaven. As Bob the Marley once said, “if you look for yours on earth, then you’ll see what life is worth.” I had just been working in a Swiss school, an international school with a headteacher who was from Guatemala and, by coincidence; we were bringing to life a Mayan creation myth from Guatemala. The drive was that of a tired man under blue skies through chalet dotted, tree rich, wild flower populated Swiss mountains with a backdrop of the snow-capped Alps. Tired or not, the scenery that earth offers does not get better than this. There were in fact several moments across the week that provided strong evidence to the dreadlocked troubadour’s assertion about looking for heaven on earth.

This school, unlike most that we descend upon, is the home of a small group of children of the fabulously wealthy. Do not imagine for one moment that affluence equates to happiness for these young ones. The affluence brings endless material opportunities but, in the end, the ability to meet a market-driven desire by a child to have the latest cool thing is not really what the child most needs, or indeed what any of us most need. The other day I asked a group of four and five year olds what the truth was that they held in the hearts. First thing they said: Food, then love, then home and their mums and dads.  That was in a very different sort of school in rural Dorset – A state school.

In the Swiss School, two-thirds of the children were borders. It is a caring environment. It can’t be mum and dad but one thing it can provide is good food. And the chef there takes his duties and art seriously. So one lunchtime, we’re basking in Alpine sunshine replete with a lovely meal and I bite into the fresh from the oven oatmeal biscuit that is our dessert. I take one bite and stop. And this comes out of my mouth, “I think for me, god might be a biscuit.” Then and there that biscuit was THAT good. If there is omnipotence, divinity then why not a fresh crispy biscuit on a beautiful Alpine spring day surrounded by the hubbub of children tucking into a good fresh meal?

But then again biscuits and curving alpine motoring are small fry when it comes to heavenly evidence of the bountiful offerings from the planet Earth. Like popcorn bursting beneath a lid on the stove, the moments of sheer delight keep popping as we work with the children. To be clear, we have been animating this particular myth from the Popul Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayan, for over twenty years and must have produced at least 30 shows with at least 5000 children performing. It is one of many myths and ways of working that we have. The ‘we’ here has a wee royal ‘we’ tang to it. The truth is the team has changed much and many times over thirty years. Two elements are consistent. My presence and a team of multi-talented, self-employed artists who have been highly motivated to provide children with the high intensity encounter with the imagination that these spectacular productions, which emerge in such a short time span, entail. It was nearly twenty years ago that we brought this Mayan tale to life over two weeks with 462 children and set a Guinness world record for the biggest amateur puppet show on earth. Not long after that I embarked on my first visit to Canada. Both relevant points to the story of why I did not write that book but am now writing about why I didn’t instead.

The biggest puppet show point is most immediately relevant. I told the children at the school we have just visited this story. And I told it to them because there were only 37 of them and although that was not eligible for a record as such, it was a record. It was the smallest group of children to have ever animated this tale with us. The challenge then was 37 children aged 4-11 to make more than 100 puppets in three school days and on day five perform a magnificent show featuring  the sun, the moon, trees, the sea, fish, dolphins, hummingbirds, parrots, condors, flamingos, , lizards, snakes, crocodiles, mice, coyotes, jaguar, mud people, stick people, monkeys , corn people and corn children and, of course,  Hurucan the Heart of Heaven who was everywhere in thunder, lightning, wind and rain and Feathered Serpent, Quetzacoatl, a quieter more graceful  who lives in the waters and is covered in blue and green feathers.  All made by them. This is what these 37 children were invited to construct and then rehearse and perform and, like in all places everywhere, some of the children were settled and easy within themselves and others, no matter the riches around them, were challenged by circumstance and uneasy within themselves. If you could have walked into the room or been a fly on the wall at any point in those days, you would have seen 37 children fully focused and absorbed in the activity of making puppets. You would see the 100 plus puppets coming to life and then, on day four, being rehearsed, moved and animated to music. You would hear narrators practising their words. And all of this would be like human popcorn popping with happiness. The puppets are the visible manifestations of this happiness. Though the statement “the children are making puppets” is  a very thin description of what is actually occurring. It is a less visible and longer lasting popping that is happening inside the children.  These are the moments underneath the moments.

There is the unhappy child, who can’t help messing about and messing up, and then exceeds all of their own and the expectation of others in what they make. There is the little girl who comes in one day and shows me a rock she has painted and then, from behind her back, she produces another rock. It’s white and slightly crystalline. She puts it in my hand. I remark on how lovely it is. I try and give it back but she closes my hand around it. Is it for me? She nods. A teacher comes in and says that a four year old couldn’t sleep the night before because he was so excited about the show he was going the next day. In the last year or so we have had such projects professionally evaluated and children have come forward with comments such as: “It was better than Christmas.” “It made me feel more than happy.”  Three days of making the puppets for these 37 children and then a day of rehearsing their parts – that’s about 10 minutes for each of the above types of puppets. On day five, the narrators run through their parts and we are straight into the dress rehearsal, which is the first run through. An hour or so later it is showtime in front of an audience of 100 people.  Here is the thing. The children hit every mark and what they perform is not just good, it’s extraordinary. What you see on every child’s face is motivated determination to create the best performance they can. They do not forget a thing.  From my position at the side of the stage, working the sound and guiding the narrators I can see face after face lit up with a the joy of bringing this creation myth alive; of making their own creation myth in five days. Each individual is amplified by the collective engagement with the imagination. Reified by the quality of their own productions. And here is where the corn really pops; here is where there is evidence of something very special on the planet.

The book that I was going to write was all about the principles and elements that underpin this process. One reason that I have not been able to write the book after so many years is that I keep getting interrupted by the process I am intending to write about.  Just like the visible moment of the puppet making and performance for the children is powerful because it opens so much that is invisible within them; the impact the process has on their inner, unwordable, personal story – so it is with me. I spend five days with the children but the workshop doesn’t start or end there. I am on a train now going back to Devon speeding past green-fused oaks and ash. The distant Blackdown Hills have replaced the alpine scenery. I have been travelling for twelve hours. I am pie eyed, knackered and sad to be leaving all those new human connections. At the same time, I am already thinking of what I have to do to finish another project started before this one and what needs doing to plan the projects coming up. The work is very worth writing about but it is the doing and being of the work that is the very thing that stops me writing about the work.

There are many reasons that I did not write that book The Art of Workshop. I shall try to tell you. First though there is something else that is more important. That is my home. Recovery time – that’s part of the process too. Not to be forgotten.

It’s an epic experience, bigger than a puppet show, there is more going on! It created a golden memory for the children. There was unadulterated happiness.” Teacher, Bradley Barton Primary

Croc made by 10 year old

Seven – All roads lead to E-R-M-O

‘The puppets express confusion, shuffle and reorder themselves, only to find that their proudly emblazoned shields now spell M-O-R-E. On the third attempt they manage to spell R-O-M-E and cheer their own achievement with wild enthusiasm.’

This school is sited in a new building high on a hill with a wonderful panoramic view towards the sea on one side and fields on another. On the third side is a housing estate with an eclectic mix of difficulties, disturbances and statues. As we drive up the hill towards the school we pass a group of festooned bulldogs, a large mermaid on a roof and a twenty-foot high biblical statue that towers out of the small front garden of one of the terraces. In the prophet’s hand is a tablet that advises,’Your Honesty and Self-Respect Contribute to Happy and Safe Environments’.

Over the four days we spend in this school we make a puppet nativity show with 100 six to eight year old children.  On the first morning when we meet the children nothing of the show is present. Over three school days, that’s less than fifteen hands-on hours, we (a company of four plus three class teachers, two teaching assistants and one hundred children) create a whole show that is performed three times on the final day to a total of over 400 people.

The children devise the show. The most fundamental principle of our workshops is that what is created is their creation. Each workshop evolves new form and content within its own compass and is also fed by previous workshops – an ever-expanding organic toolkit. In this way, scenes evolve. One scene that has evolved in the puppet nativity workshops revolves around the four ‘Italian Battalions’ of the Roman Army, who are demanding that all citizens must return to the place of their birth to be counted.

The distinctive feature of these four puppet battalions: ‘R’ and ‘O’ and ‘M’ and ‘E’, is their lack of a strong spelling instinct. So, the first time they assemble along the top of the puppet stage they are commanded to shout out the letters of their battalions in order. ‘E, give me an E!’ and they all respond with a bellowed, ‘E!’, then ‘Battalion R’an ‘R’, ‘Battalion M’an ‘M’ and ‘Battalion O’ an ‘O’; then the lead centurion demands, ‘What’s’ that spell!’ and the battalions proudly respond, ‘ERMO’! 

The puppets express confusion, shuffle and reorder themselves, only to find that their proudly emblazoned shields now spell ‘M-O-R-E’ On the third attempt they finally manage to spell ‘ROME!’ and cheer their own achievement with wild enthusiasm.

Over two days the children make 100 puppets that range from these imperial soldiers, to the shepherds who dream of sheep that dance, to a lantern-lit heavenly host, to a ten-foot high angel Gabriel. The cast then spend one day devising and rehearsing their moves, carols and lines; then, they perform. Imagine one hundred adults doing that – it’s hard to picture how adult egos, inhibitions and fears would not fracture such an intensive collective space. The children always pull through. This time though we have a small problem during rehearsal with a single centurion in Battalion R. The teacher takes the child to one side. Whilst the other children are involved with shuffling their puppets around and learning the call and response sequence, I ask if we can reintegrate the lonely soldier. The teacher says that it is too big a risk. She says that if the child ‘loses it’, he loses it ‘big time’ and we risk all sorts of mayhem. As the creative process involves so much mayhem anyway, we are not usually bothered by a little more but the teacher is clearly alluding to underlying circumstances beyond our radar range.

When the soldiers have completed their concentrated rehearsal, the teacher asks if the child can stay in the hall and draw. And so he does. At the end of the day when everyone has gone and it is just the artist team left in the hall, we notice a piece of paper where the boy has been sitting. On it is drawn roman soldiers killing each other and above in big letters, ‘DIEY’.  On the way home we wonder how to include this child in the performance.

We decide, as the boy gets overwhelmed being part of a large group of ‘Ermo-an’ legionnaires and he likes drawing, that we will ask him to draw a large standard and for his puppet to be The Standard Bearer. It works. The boy is in seventh heaven. All morning he draws and colours in like a prize-fighter possessed by the prospect of a contest. In the show, at the moment when the Italian Battalions finally get the spelling right and cheer, high above them rises the standard of Imperial Rome, held aloft by a solitary soldier animated by one very proud, self-contained puppeteer aged seven.

It is ten years since we began making these large-scale creation myths such as the Aboriginal ‘Rainbow Serpent’, the Mayan ‘Huracan and Feathered Snake’, the Egyptian ‘Sun God Ra and Apep’ and the West African ‘Nyame and the Sky Spirits’. From the outset, engagement with these core myths of different cultures was an extraordinary experience.  Creation myths are about the mysterious relationship between the finite and the infinite – the essential paradox of how nothing becomes something. In fact you might say a metaphor for Workshop. You might even say a metaphor for Education. This paradox holds as true whether it is about the origin of a universe as it is about the origin of the universe. Watching children in a primary school giving expression to a universe of puppets, of sound, movement and unadulterated celebratory energy expands many universes. It was clear that there was correspondence between the content of the myths and the process of the myth being brought to life that resonated with the children. So what was that process? In this instance, it was a four-day workshop with, at the end of it, the visible face of a puppet show. However, underpinning the utter conviction of that performance are a billion invisible experiences and encounters that press out towards their own meaning.

So, what is Workshop?  In some ways its meaning is currently pretty vague. A term of convenience used to describe everything from a long-winded, dry lecture with a few questions at the end, to a free-for-all spontaneous group happening. But is there a core idea – a definition held in the collective consciousness, like that of a song, a concert, a play or a novel?

In truth the essence of Workshop is so precious we should be careful to keep its definition clear. Workshop is essentially about learning by doing. Learning and doing are no longer separated into: first you learn to do and then you do.  In a participatory workshop everything tends towards connection, we learn while and where we do.  Whether its productions are co-authored or authored by an individual they arise out of the encounters, experiences and events within that group, then and there. Nothing is turned into something. There is co-incidence as we, that is everyone in that workshop, engage with our most imminent ecology: each other.

The workshop artist has a unique dual focus on social process and creative process. The combination of these entwined dynamics give form to a transient community and the most important ingredient of this, as with all workshop experience, is story.  Experience is a story, is story. And always there is more than one story involved: the story of the leader (or guide or facilitator), the story of each participant and the story of the unfolding material. The glue that binds these tales into a manifest shape is their locality: time and place. Each time a group embarks on a workshop journey a new story is made that is unique to those people, then and there. A narrative community is formed.

The making of creation myths with children has opened our eyes to an array of possibilities. As a result, we set up events for other artists to share, reflect upon, expand and validate their workshop practice. Workshops on Workshop which we called, ‘Moveable Feasts’. This led to a network throughout the South West of England of nearly 400 workshop artists and eventually to the formation of a company: The Moveable Feast Workshop Company. In our first year of operation we have collaborated and mixed art forms to devise and deliver many workshops including – a conference for service users and providers, research for educators, training for emerging artists, creative renewal and inspiration for experienced artists, projects for disabled youths, youth arts at festivals, sessions for an international MA group as well as running many primary school events. Genuine Workshop is endlessly flexible; and always it allows us to be celebrants of something that is integral to the epithet, ‘human’ – our ability to story. We are as we tell ourselves. In workshops we can re-tell ourselves and, in so doing, re-create or re-member ourselves. And that is education.

The story of the boy with the roman standard was a tiny fractal of a big event. Without that moment the show would have been entirely different and without the show that moment could not have happened. We can have discipline and rigour alongside freedom and play because in workshop everything matters, nothing is wasted – it is not about success and failure, it is a journey from I can’t to I can. It is an ecological pedagogy.

Moreno, the originator of psychodrama wrote that, “we may survive in this changing difficult world only if we are able to perceive what is really going on in the ’here and now’ and if we are spontaneous and creative enough to invent new solutions.”  It is too late for us to be dictated to, we must discover for ourselves. Workshop as a popular form is in its infancy but it is crucial that it is not viewed as an educational luxury but positioned at the heart of an education founded on dialogue, participation and discovery. This requires us to embrace the central premise of 20th century science: uncertainty. We start all of our workshops with knowledge of how we will begin without ever knowing who will be the one to raise a new standard in Ermo. If, as in a prescribed curriculum, you know what is going to happen then you don’t come up with anything new, nothing is created, least of all solutions.You are not part of the fundamental generosity essential to generate active and creative culture. Our workshop experiences in art and education lead us to believe that all paths lead to Ermo.

What is Ermo? We don’t know but we’ll find out when we get there!

Six – The Efficiency of Friendship


Eastern Sun by John Moat

There’s a marvellous passage in Don Quixote. Don Quixote goes into the studio of a painter and the painter is standing in front of his painting which he is working on and Don Quixote says to him, “What’s that you’re painting?” The painter stands back from it and looks at it with a sort of curious lack of understanding and says, “That is as it may turn out to be.” This is the core of creativity – by creating, by the gnosis of actually making something we finally know who we are. The big contribution that we can make to anything is making ourselves. John Moat

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