YTAS Interchange14: Glee, MP3, You’ve Got a Bigger Head Than Me.

It is Monday the 24 March 2014. I have just led two nursery drama sessions and have two hours until the next. I have just spent the weekend in Aberdeen at Interchange 2014. Interchange is a national exchange of leading practice in youth theatre arts run by Youth Theatre Arts Scotland (YTAS). I feel somehow changed after the event. I am not 100% sure why; but Love Drama love a good blog so here I go…

I have been attending these training events since 2008. I remember the first one I attended in Perth and I was terrified. I really did feel like a small fish in a very large pond and I felt a bit intimidated by the older and more experienced people there. What a difference that six years makes – this year I felt a bit like I could be everyone’s auntie.

Attending Interchange is like being part of a big YTAS family. There are people you don’t really know in ‘real life’ but when you get there you feel like you just saw them yesterday when in fact it could be a year, two or even more since you last saw them at a training event. Being a drama practitioner can be quite an isolated profession – especially if you are freelance – and it is invaluable to get together with others in the same line of work and realise that everyone is in the same boat, facing similar problems and having similar thought processes.

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So anyway – I couldn’t make the Friday of the event as my own students were presenting their term’s work to their parents. So I jumped (not quite) on the 5.30am train from Edinburgh on Saturday morning and arrived at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen ready to go. Straight away I got chatting to a education lecturer from the University of the West of Scotland. We started chatting about what we do – as you do – and she was literally buzzing when she spoke about teacher training in drama. This is something I am also very passionate about so straight away the day was off to a positive and energetic start. I find that drama people are generally very smiley, energetic and positive people. It is infectious.

Our warm up was led by the practitioner who runs the Glee group. Amazing. What better to start your day than with a bit of musical theatre? Not a lot of people know this; but I have an HND in musical theatre from back in the day so this was right up my street. Best warm up at Interchange yet. I loved it. I have already asked that next year we get a dance routine at the start of the day too. We’ll see…

My first workshop was with Professor Jonothan Neelands. This is the one I was really looking forward to. Jonothan Neelands is a drama master. His workshops are effortless. I love being in his classes as he is someone I really look up to. In short we: started off with a very simple game; played the game; had fun; discussed theft; looked at social issues; put ourselves in the shoes of others; saw a much bigger picture; surprised ourselves; did a lot of reflecting and thinking; created scenes, created still images; gave advice to characters; got a bit emotional; had a laugh; worked together; exchanged opinions; kept forgetting the names of the characters (oops); worked with Jonothan working in role; thought about relationships; thought about consequences; explored bullying; explored families; explored friendships; discussed relationships in the workplace; spoke about community, hierarchy, sibling responsibility, disappointment, threats,  fear, cyber bullying, gang mentality……. I could go on. Not only was the workshop excellent and thought provoking but the participants were so supportive and easy to work with which made the whole experience so valuable and fulfilling.

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Taken from from the YTAS Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/YTArtsScot

Next up was a brilliant experience with Julia Samuels and Bradley Thompson from 20 Stories High. The experience was enjoyable, humorous, very experimental, a bit weird and great fun. The workshop was inspired by 20 Stories High’s production ‘Tales from the MP3’ which will be at Summerhall for the Edinburgh Fringe from the 10th-25th August 2014. I will definitely be taking my 12-16 group to see this. In the task we were set, I worked with the lovely Gemma Nicol – former Love Drama tutor and current Acting Head of Creative Learning at Dundee Rep. We basically sat and recorded ourselves chatting about parts of our body that we like and didn’t like. We had a great time sitting chatting and talking about calves; skin so white it is like a pale rhino’s; yoga; pumping iron and lots of other things that I will not be getting into in this blog! This then turned into a piece of verbatim theatre performance which was natural, comedic, true and entertaining. I won’t go into how the theatre was made – that is for you to discover for yourselves at this year’s Fringe. I will be using this technique with my own 12-16 group to experiment with and am very much looking forward to it. The work we did with Julia and Bradley was very different and raised a lot of questions which was exciting and interesting in itself. For me, the work made me excited and engaged as both a performer and as a facilitator. It was also amazing to have EJ and Ciaran from Solar Bear in the workshop experimenting with how these techniques could be used with deaf actors and performers. It was great to be part of this experimental work and there were experiments with recording, signing and film. The practitioners from Solar Bear showed us all that everything can be accessible – even theatre using mp3s for deaf actors – which was a huge challenge. Getting to know Ciaran and EJ over the weekend was one of my highlights as they have taught me so much about accessible theatre and drama.

Even at dinner I was speaking to people who were sparkling with creativity and I heard tales of story machines made on ironing boards; taking over housing schemes with art installations and teaching cooking through drama. After dinner we got to watch a collaboration by two young companies who had basically been left in a room together for three hours and told they could create what they wanted. The Tron Young Company and the Aberdeen Performing Arts Youth Theatre presented an imaginative, creative, hilarious and very refreshing devised performance that the audience members, especially acting CEO of YTAS Helen Bain will remember for a life-time. The young people in attendance at Interchange were a very focused and fun group of theatre-makers and having them there completely added to the event – especially at the karaoke on Saturday night.

The first workshop on the Sunday morning has massively changed my perception on my own practice. Robert Softley Gale of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company  led a ridiculously enjoyable session on accessible and quality theatre. After lots of information and discussion we got to make our own piece of ‘accessible’ theatre. Which I learned really just means that’s an experience for everyone. I paired up with Ciaran from Solar Bear. Our performance was supposed to be filmed; but it hadn’t been recorded properly. I think this was a message from a higher place that this experience could only be appreciated when seen live. So this is what we did… bear in mind this whole performance was to The Benny Hill theme tune. So, we ran around playing tig with post-it notes, smacking each other with them all over our bodies; I then boasted about being taller than Ciaran so made him go steal £3 coins. He did and put them on my hand and started physically making fun of my fingers. In turn I insinuated to the audience that he was ‘small’. This made him mad so he chased me around the room until I grabbed a rope which was attached to a divider in the restaurant. I then lassoed it as I chased him and wrapped it around his head; he then did this back to me; Ciaran then went crazy physicalising my large head. This upset me so I got out my secret diary which was flip chart paper folded in two; I then confided to my diary and the audience that I was getting paranoid about having a big head. Ciaran would not stop making fun of me so I did the only thing I could do – challenged him to a fencing dual with plastic teaspoons. We fenced for a bit until his sword (spoon) snapped my sword (spoon) and I couldn’t take it anymore so fell to the ground as he celebrated with his still intact sword (spoon).

Again so much creative chat at lunch. EJ from Solar Bear has written a book which is available on Amazon: Dad’s Basketball Girl. It was also quite amusing that Ciaran had seen me in my youth theatre days playing Audrey in little Shop of Horrors at the Ayr Gaiety when he was six! Help ma Boab.

So the last workshop I attended I would say definitely got my brain thinking the most. It’s lovely to meet people who are enthusiastic about the same things that you are; but is much more interesting when you meet people who are just as passionate about the same things that you are but they have a completely different approach that you may not agree with. These are the people who are going to push you as a practitioner and help you to mould and figure out where you stand on things and force you to give more definition to what you do and what your values are. Paul Gorman’s workshop jumped into my brain and messed it about a fair bit; which from what I can gather is what he aims to do. He wasn’t trying to educate us in any way – he was providing us with a space to learn. I learned a lot in that session. What is learning? What is education? MASSIVE questions that I now have swimming around in my brain along with my biggest one at the moment which is: WHAT IS DRAMA? Any comments very much appreciated!

Thanks to everyone who helped to provide these unique learning experiences: the chatters, the players, the dancers, the karaokiers, the laughers, the experimenters and especially thanks to Colin Bradie for creating something so important.

Kirsten McCrossan: Link in with me here. :-)

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