Twenty- The Ape and The Optimist

The astounding Cosmo, last Great Calpenkian White Ape

There are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are, and the one we have in common.” – Jacques Lecoq

I was awoken by a bright light. It was a milkman driving past my car. I was up on Dartmoor. It was October and I had fallen asleep in the front seat of my car with a large, white ape on top of me. It was 1993 and I was learning the true meaning of optimism. I wonder what that milkman thought. This is the story of what led up to me only having a large ape puppet to keep warm in my old estate car up on Dartmoor.

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Nineteen – All Together Now

all together now

The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.  Samuel Johnson

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. Carl Gustav Jung

The dynamic of a workshop depends on relationship. Not just the relationship in the space but those that go into making that space possible and they may not be physically present. At the turn of the century, I got a grant to interview workshop practitioners. The first person I interviewed was Wendy Greenhill. She had been in charge of educational outreach work at The Royal Shakespeare Company. It was a great conversation- a benchmark for the rest of series of interviews but, and there’s always an if or a but, we had bought a guinea pig for our son’s birthday.

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Eighteen – The Hare and The Wire

After the rest of the class had left to go out to play, one nine-year old boy stood around looking a bit lost. My friend, who I was working with, asked the boy if he wanted to ask us something.  The boy did, “What qualifications do I need to do this a job?” My friend explained that, although both of us had been to university, neither of us had any specific qualifications at all to do what we were doing. The boy flung his arms up in the air as if he had just scored the winning goal in the cup final and ran out of the room shouting, “Yes!”

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Seventeen – Knowing Me , Knowing You

Friedlander, the great Max Friedlander, is very good on this. ‘Correct attributions’, he says, ‘generally appear spontaneously and “prima vista”. We recognise a friend without ever having determined wherein his particular qualities lie and that with a certainty that not even the most detailed description can give.’ [Frayn – Headlong]

Fly like an Eagle…

I went to an all-boys school in the centre of London. I can’t say that I liked it. It had its moments but I missed my last year of my much-loved Primary School and got a scholarship to a grand establishment – The City of London School just near Blackfriars Bridge. I threw up on the front steps on the first morning.  I remember a new Maths teacher.  Our Maths book was written by a man called C.G.Nobbs. The new teacher strode in with great aplomb, complete with robe, because that’s what the teachers donned in these hallowed halls with cloisters and all, and commanded the class, “right boys get your Nobbs out!” This was not a good start. Mayhem, Lord of the Flies, Mutiny on The Bounty in a classroom of 14-year-old pubescent boys. What a cruel mess ensued and continued! More than 50 years on, it makes me squirm to think of that poor teacher.

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Sixteen – Making the Invisible, Visible

Making the Invisible Visible

Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying: Make me feel important. Never forget this message when working with people.  Mary Kay Ash.

On the morning I ran the workshop course to start the Moveable Feast Workshop Company I got into the space early. I had bought small coloured LED lights. I darkened the space, put out mats and cushions and placed the small lights so that there was a dim, atmospheric flickering of colour but near blackout. I had a story in mind. It was readied but I was nervous.

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Fifteen – Breathe In

There’s that mysterious dynamic, which is part fear and part excitement about what’s going to happen.  One of the things I always ask very early on in a workshop is, “Who’s going to create whatever we are going to create here?”  This is to make sure that they know it is they who are going to do it.  The Workshop Interviews  

Today is the day I officially become a pensioner. 43 years ago, way back in the last century, I got a job as an Assistant Playleader on a very rough adventure playground in London. There was an irony to my job title. There was only me working on the playground.

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Fourteen – Mothering Invention

Necessity is the mother of taking chances.  Mark Twain.

“When you get to the Parma Station go to the café just outside such and such exit and wait there where somebody will come and pick you up.” These were the simple instructions. The café in question was the sort of place with a pinball machine that looked like Noah had used it on the ark and where patrons didn’t so much walk to the bar as lurch towards it. People didn’t come in, characters entered.

Two travellers – there are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are and the one we have in common.
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Thirteen – I can’t to I can

Traveller, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveller, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveller, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.

Antonio Machado Caminante

Maybe 20, maybe 30 years ago I ran a weekend workshop with a group of young people called “Make a Show in a Day”. The idea was simple. All the participants would make puppets and, whilst the puppets were being made, we would find out about their characters and from those new characters we would create a story that would become our show. The realisation of the idea was not so simple. As the parent left, it began to dawn on me that the youngsters, I had been left with were a particularly complex group. For one thing, they didn’t really know each other. For another, there were some ‘special’ characters in there and I had not been forewarned. Still, I had a factor on my side – the puppet making.

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Twelve – Bang! Bang! Bang!

I have been told that among the many old Wild West potboiler stories one began: “Bang! Bang! Bang! Three bullets ripped through my chest and I knew that I was off on the greatest adventure of my life.”  Somewhere in the adventures of my working life I remember a lecture in which a man said that participatory arts were about experience, encounter and event.  Well, indeed. But then again that’s what life seems to be mostly about for us humans. Its all about relationship – even isolation. There are certain encounters, experiences and events that alter the course of where one’s heading. Let me wind my way towards one such encounter and begin the story of two wandering, nay wondering, travellers of similar persuasions. But first a question.

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Eleven – Shaping Narrative

The workshop artist’s journey is like any other journey. It has three phases: before, during and after the workshop.  The workshop artist or facilitator is in the business of shaping the most meaningful experience for the participants that they can by crafting a creative environment and paying attention to the potential encounters and events. The devising work before a workshop aims to identify the potential shape the narrative of that workshop by putting building blocks in place, visualising potential pathways and imagining what the final outcome might be. 

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