A blog post by Rebecca Patterson
The 9th Drama Boreale conference for Drama/Theatre and Education was hosted by the department of Music and Drama at the university of Gothenburg on the 6th – 10th of August 2018. The event was designed to stimulate new ways of thinking about practice-based collaborations, not just in the spaces where the conference took place but across the Globe. Using film and technology to share ideas as they emerged the conference organisers, Ase Bjurstrom, Arjen Wals and Benedikte Esperi, based at Gothenburg University, curiously anticipated what might happen if they could bring together practitioners and researchers from far and wide without the need for them to be physically present in order to join in. The groups from the US, Uganda, Argentina, New Zealand and the UK where described as ‘nodes’, similar to the idea of telecommunications networks which distribute, redistribute and act as an endpoint for communications. It was an experiment in how drama, as an embodied and group based aesthetic language, might enhance the quality of a ‘Glocal’ (global and local) communication in the field. The term ‘Glocal-Mirror’ was used to describe the ways in which we might, as distant participants, mirror/relate/respond to the work that was being produced at the epicentre of the conference in Gothenburg. The idea that drama itself is relational was a starting point for considering what interesting social/inter-relational developments might emerge from the various nodes and how they might be willing and able to contribute to the project. As part of the funding for the event came from the Climate fund at the University of Gothenburg, this was an important element in planning for ways to widen participation without the expectation of traveling/flying to the destination and the resultant carbon emissions this would entail.
During the first two days of the conference a roving camera was used to capture moments of action, interaction, discussion, exploration and performance. The footage was collated and edited and sent to the five nodes (groups of drama practitioners/teachers/researchers) around the globe. On the afternoon of Wednesday 8th August a group of seven of us met in the drama studio at Brooks building MMU to watch the film footage received from Sweden that morning. The film included extracts from the keynote sessions which provided us with some context and footage from three workshops, all of which used the question ‘what can the art of applied theatre /drama be an answer to in relation to practice led research through art? We were asked to create an embodied response as a way of commenting on what we had seen on the screen, film ourselves and then send the unedited footage back to Sweden. These responses were then edited by Benedikte Esperi in order to share them with the rest of the delegates on the final day of the conference (Friday 10th August).
The group at MMU consisted of two academics, myself and Alison Ramsay, an NQT Drama teacher from our outgoing cohort, Charles Swift and members of Alison’s extended family Fiona Charlton, Suvi, Eeva and Lili Pursimo. Apart from Suvi who is considering a drama related course at university when she graduates from college next year, the other three have very little or no experience of drama. We were aware that the intentions of the conference were about extending and deepening the possibilities for collaborative work between disparate groups from around the globe who work with drama in some form or other. The threads and themes of the conference were essentially about the relational and performative nature of drama and the interplay between the body, knowledge and environment.
In the workshops we observed on screen, participants working in small groups were asked to sit in the ‘hot-chair’ and share personal stories of how drama had helped them in their lives. Fellow group members were then required to respond spontaneously in a physical and vocal manner to what they heard using the overarching question (above) as a guide. All three workshop followed the same format but they were in different spaces with different facilitators. The conversations that our group had after watching the films centred around the silences and pauses that occurred between the telling and the doing and we wondered what the participants were feeling as they listened to some very personal accounts of the ways in which drama had affected the lives of those involved. The three participants from our group who had no experience at all of drama in any formal setting stated that their overriding feelings were of discomfort and ‘cringe’ as they termed it. For those of us who are involved in the world of drama, especially in educational environments, the process was easier to watch but we still felt a little uncomfortable as the narratives and responses began to emerge but then moved on quickly on to the next account leaving the previous story somewhat in the ether.
If we had had a longer time to explore this we would have dug a little deeper and considered some of the theories underpinning this affective environment. However, due to time constraints we decided that first we would play a game that might help illustrate to the none-drama people the richness of possibilities for communication – both verbal and none verbal, in the process of creating meaning through the body. We then returned to what we had seen in the video footage and discussed words that we thought summed up some of our responses (words didn’t do justice but as a default we resorted to the norm). We continued with the playful tone and used bodies in space in an attempt to interpret the words for each other, with each of us taking a turn in our own ‘hot-chair’ and having to guess the word/emotion embodied through action.
What was really interesting was the change in our environment after we had worked together in this way. The atmosphere was one of generative productivity and camaraderie. This was in contrast to feelings of distance, awkwardness, uncertainty and inaction that accompanied the watching of the three films. We then wondered how much of the feelings of active participation were lost for us as we were removed from the physical presence of the groups in Sweden and conscious also of the time delay, as the workshops we were watching had happened the day before. The experiment was all about connectedness but I think there is something further to be explored here about nature of physical proximity in creative environments and the role of facilitation in the process of generating ideas/material/research.
For more information about the project go to www.openensemble.se