The working process described below is based on 2 two-day workshop sessions implemented by Grodzki Theatre in Ireland on 22-25 November 2014 at the invitation of two organizations: ALâ – Adult Participatory Theatre, Arts and Education (Galway) and Clarecare (Ennis). The main aim of the training was to explore different use of objects in theatrical activities for approaching difficult social problems. The techniques which proved to be the most effective and appreciated by participants are presented in the form of four modules, containing detailed descriptions of several exercises and activities, also illustrated with photos and short films. Both workshops were designed and led by Maria Schejbal and documented by Krzysztof Tusiewicz.
The implementation of this learning path with a group of 12-16 participants should take 12-14 hours. A space big enough for independent work of sub-groups is needed. The participants can be asked to bring different objects with them. Thus a variety of workshop materials will be ensured.
To integrate the group through a simple ice-breaking activity,
To focus participants` attention on the world of objects.
The participants sit in a circle. They are asked to look around and choose one or two objects which somehow correspond with their personality, profession, life situation and present state of mind. Then, one by one they share their observations, talking about themselves and the chosen objects. While introducing the exercise to the group, the facilitator can give an example of how to do it. My name is Maria, I come from Poland, where I work for an artistic association. I have been fascinated with puppetry art for a long time and I always try to use it in my workshops. My role here is to lead this session, so I feel both excited and tense. Like this big mirror in front of me, I am exposed to the group and I should respond to all your actions, to the group dynamics. I hope that I will manage. When I entered this room, my attention was also attracted by this little blue clock on the wall. Blue is the color of water and I love to swim. Clock means time, and here is my role again – we have two days and plenty to do. As always in such situation, I feel that it is a great challenge to be a good workshop facilitator.
It is up to each participant to decide how much they want to tell about themselves.
This exercise helps participants to get to know each other and to “tame” workshop space. It also fosters creative thinking, through linking information and messages with different shapes, colors and images. Moreover, this simple game facilitates self-expression and helps to overcome shyness and resistance. Reference to things in the space allows participants to “hide” behind physical objects.
OBJECTS AND STORIES
To introduce participants to creative use of ordinary objects,
To make participants aware of meanings and messages that can be conveyed by elements of a visual creation,
To practice storytelling and verbal expression.
1. Chairs – characters. Joint creation
The participants sit in a semicircle. The facilitator places one chair in front of them, and proposes to create a personage out of it through adding different items/objects. Whoever wants to contribute to this joint act of creation can provide the evolving character with new attributes. Everything can be used – pieces of cloth, shoes, bags, any found object. After a while another chair is placed on stage, this time lying upside down on the floor. Again, the group is encouraged to transform the chair into a character in the same way as before. Finally, the third chair appears on stage, perhaps turned away from the two other characters. Once more, the participants jointly create a personage using all different materials that they can find in the room.
2. What matters? Image analysis
When the creation of all figures is completed the facilitator invites participants to analyze the image. First, the group reflects on the whole picture, talking about relations between individual personages and about the general character of the scene. Next, the facilitator focuses attention of the participants on every figure, one by one, asking what visual elements are the most and the less important for their look and expression. The following questions can be helpful: What makes this figure to look like a man or a women or an animal? Which elements can be taken away with no harm to clarity of the image? What details of the figure appearance are essential for its identity?
Such a way of a thorough analysis of each individual character helps participants to understand the language of visual expression better.
3. Written narration – inventing the plot
The participants work individually. They have 10 minutes to write down the stories which come to their mind in relation with the three characters created out of chairs. They should feel entirely free to weave different associations and ideas together into a plot. No suggestions regarding the form and style are given. In result a great variety of stories are created. Here are a few examples of the narrations written by participants.
The woman had decided it was time for the dog dragon to find its own home. She had to enlist the help of Black Bush who was reluctant to be drawn into the plot. Black Bush was over worked tired and feeling unwell…
The first and second characters are connected, I see them as a gay man and a controlling woman who thinks she is cool. But in fact she is trying too hard to be “different” and interesting. The third character is a woman also, an older woman living on the streets, she is not concerned with convention. They live in a big anonymous city, eg New York…
A tale of three sisters. Toward end of life. Eilis, Mabel and Baba Collins. Grew up in rural Ireland…
The image/scene is that of a mother and two of her children. The mother is busy. The younger child is looking for her attention – arms out stretched waiting to be lifted from the area he has been playing in. The other child I see as “pre-teen”…
4. Stories on stage – sharing individual ideas
The facilitator places a chair next to the three figures and asks participants to come on stage one by one and read their stories aloud. Sometimes the stories are of a very personal character, so some participants don’t`t want to share them with the group. They should be allowed to keep them confidential in such case.
5. Summing-up the exercise
The participants again gather in a circle around three chairs-personages and discuss the whole working process. Everybody can reflect on personal experience and professional lessons learned. It is an important phase of the exercise, since the members of the group exchange different points of view and ideas, thus learning from each other.
At the end, the participants jointly take all the three figures to pieces.
The participants spontaneously created three different characters and invented a number of stories inspired by these figures. They also practiced performing skills, while reading their stories in front of the public.
As a result of the implementation of this module, the participants learned:
– how to create figures/characters using ordinary objects,
– how to develop an image into a story,
– how to convey messages and information through visual signs.
THEATRE – FOCUS ON ACTION
To explore the potential of puppetry art as an efficient tool for reflecting on social problems,
To practice team work and develop communication/cooperation skills,
To analyze strong and weak points of visual narration in order to be able to create a meaningful theatre piece.
1. Puppets and problems – working in sub-groups
The participants are divided into two or more sub-groups (4-6 persons in each). All teams should agree on the problem they would like to present on stage. It can be any kind of social phenomenon they find significant and worth exploring. Next, each group discusses the way of presenting selected problem and works on the puppets to be used in their short theatrical piece. Any found objects can become part of the puppet construction. In this particular case it was proposed by the facilitator that one group would use mainly various kinds of paper and the other would make the puppets out of different plastic materials. The main focus should be on visual narration, no spoken language allowed, only sounds. Finally, both groups rehears their acts and arrange space for presentation, including seats for the audience.
2. Presentations and discussion: what did the audience see?
When all the groups are ready with their presentations, the participants watch each other`s work. The facilitator initiates the discussion after each show, asking first the audience what they saw and how they understood the message of the scene. Next, the creators can also explain their intention and theatrical choices. The main focus of the discussion should be on efficiency of specific ideas and theatrical actions. Do they serve the presentation of the problem well? In what way could they be improved to make the message even more clear and sharp?
3. Swapping puppets – looking for the reasons
The participants continue working in the same groups but this time they use the puppets created by another team. The new task is to reflect on the phenomena or situations that caused the problems presented on stage before. More elements and characters can be added to the set already existing. The new piece should bring the action to the moment when the original one began. After discussing and rehearsing their acts, all groups present them to other participants.
4. Summing-up the exercise
The same reflection routine as described in the second module should be repeated at the end of this exercise to let participants talk freely about the whole process.
The participants managed to define important social issues and agreed on the stories to be staged as their representation. They performed twice and got involved in a lively discussion on different aspects of the visual narration.
As a result of the implementation of this module, the participants learned:
– how to make and animate simple puppets,
– how to approach various social problems and present them on stage in the form of a non-verbal story,
– how to be flexible and open to new challenges in artistic activity.
CLOSING THE PROCESS
To let participants share reflections and thoughts about their working experience
The participants sit in a circle. Like at the beginning of the workshop, they are asked to look around and choose one or two objects which could serve as a metaphorical representation of their feelings and present mood. Then, one by one, they sum-up the whole workshop process, through linking their thoughts, reflections and emotions with the material items available in the space.
Thanks to repeating the exercise at the end of the process, the participants were able to get back to the starting point of their experience and reflect on the path they went through together.
Both workshops proved to be useful and inspiring for participants. For most of them puppetry art and object animation were new ways of working but still, everybody got actively involved in the creative experimentation with different materials.
The workshop in Ennis concluded with a short open presentation for an international group of English classes students (organized by Aine Loftus – one of the workshop participants). This was an important added value to the working process which gave participants a unique opportunity to immediately implement what they learned.