05.11.15 Theatre Visit: Safina Al-Hayat (Life Boat) by The Paper Project

I watched this performance as a case study for my CW1 essay. The essay focused on refugee performance in applied performance. Most of the information in this entry has been used from there. Please refer to the bibliography at the end of this entry.

 

Safina Al-Hayat (Life Boat) by The Paper Project (Ovalhouse, London, 5th November 2015), meaning lifeboat in Arabic, is a refuge performance created by refugees from various locations, including Iraq, Bolivia, and Kosovo. Refugee performance is the exploration of refugee circumstances and experiences using drama techniques and aims. The refugees, collecting from their own experiences as refugees, created and dedicated the performance to the Syrian refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea, after collectively devising the performance with The Ovalhouse theatre.

 

The Ovalhouse Theatre, London, have supported and mentored migrants and refugees for more than ten years. The Ovalhouse Theatre allows migrants and refugees to learn artistic skills, such as theatrical performance, and are then able to create their own work. Safina Al-Hayat is one such project. The project was created by a group of seven migrants and refugees from various parts of the world. The project was created in solidarity with the Syrian refugees, drawing from their own experiences as migrants and refugees as a resource. Allowing migrants and refugees to create their own work on an issue they connect with and have experienced demonstrates Sheila Preston’s ideas.

 

Stella Barnes, the associate artist/director of participation for Safina Al Hayat, explains, “it allows them a voice through creativity.” (BBC Arts, 2015). This creates the space for empowerment and self-reliance for the oppressed or excluded, as the refugees speak and express their own experience and opinions to be heard, where their voice may be repressed. In support of this, Alison Jeffers states in Refugees, Theatre and Crisis: Performing Global Identities, theatre and performance that refugees or asylum seekers create themselves deepens and extends the ethics of hospitality (2012, p. 154).

 

Safina Al-Hayat a dedication to the Syrian refugees, invested in the emotional state and circumstances of the refugees involved in the performance through the display and performance of emotion and feelings, but the use of the minimalistic mise-en-scene and props was a reminder of the fact that the audience are viewing a performance of a real situation, playing on Brecht’s verfrumdungseffekt. The performance made use of wooden pallets to represent the boats used by Syrian refugees to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and a human barrier to represent the systematic oppression and unwelcoming state countries have towards the refugees. This alienation effect distanced the audience, in my experience, enabling us to examine and analyse even the emotional state of refugees. Throughout the performance, you are left wondering about each refugee’s background and the disadvantages they had to encounter as they separated from the boat and the other refugees, and pushed through the human barrier to enter the ‘country’. As each individual separated, it creates a spotlight on the individual within the collective of the refugees, creating a signifier of the many experiences, and lives that make up the Syrian refugee crisis. This was a constant reminder of the reality of refugees, reminding the audience to compare the performance to the Syrian refuge crisis.

 

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Bibliography

 

Atwal, P. (2016) ‘CW1 How can applied performance help explore the displacement of refugees?’, PA5404: Applied Performance. University of East London. Unpublished essay.

 

BBC Arts (2015) Life Boat: Exploring the migrant experience on stage. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4t0Yc7fJmWHsYK6RnZHXfLs/life-boat-exploring-the-migrant-experience-on-stage (Accessed: 28.12.15).

 

Jeffers, A. (2012) Refugees, Theatre and Crisis: Performing Global Identities. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

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05.11.15 Theatre Visit: Safina Al-Hayat (Life Boat) by The Paper Project

01.12.15 Applied Performance Session 10

This session focused on Theatre for Young Audiences, facilitated by Dominic Hingorani.

 

At the beginning of the session, to stabilise our understanding of the subcategory of Theatre for Young Audiences (TFYA), we looked at the differences and similarities between theatre in education and theatre for young audiences. This helped us better understand the topic.

 

Theatre in Education (TIE):

  • Aimed for young audiences in education, with a basis to teach or deliver an agenda or message.
  • Largely deals with serious topics, including drugs, and crime.
  • It is performed for categorised groups of young people, for example, 2-4 year olds, 5-8 year olds, etc.
  • It is used to explore
  • Both TIE and TYFA have arbitrary categories to interrogate or investigate.

 

Theatre for Young Audiences:

  • Contains various reasons for performance, for example, it could be performed simply for entertainment, or to educate.
  • Has a more open purpose, rather than TIE, which is to educate.
  • Young people actively get involved and are a part of the process of TFYA, to create and devise. Young people are able to make choices and decisions.
  • TFYA can be used to engage young people with theatre and performance.

 

What would we see in shows for young people?

We discussed our ideas or knowledge of TFYA. This question allows us to draw upon our own experiences as young people, and also what we might expect young people of other ages to engage with.

 

As a class, we came up with the following ideas:

  • Performances that use a great amount of characterisation, like Pantomime, are visually interesting, and provide entertainment. This could be engaging for young audiences, who largely enjoy being entertained.
  • Expanding on the last point, the performance might require to be visually appealing, as this is stimulating for young audiences, especially young children who enjoy bright colours or an interesting setting.
  • Interactivity is a successful way to attract the audience’s attention. This allows the audience to feel involved in the piece, and helps keep the young people engaged and intimate.
  • Relatable or understandable content helps the young audience stay in line with the performance and its message. If it is something the audience understand, it gives them room to feel invited and involved. The performance directly references their understanding.
  • A safe environment is important. For a lot of young people, a performance could be their first experience of theatre; therefore a safe environment ensures that the young people are not alienated by the experience.
  • The voice and verbal communication of different kinds, including speech, singing, spoken word, etc., engages and is stimulating as it adds multiple dimensions to the performance.
  • Concluding the above points, the performance needs to be engaging. This will keep the attention of the young audience, and it will also make it easier for them to understand and intake the intended message(s) of the performance.

 

Some questions raised during this discussion are:

  • How can we make it more engaging?
  • Regarding ethics, what do we show?
  • What do the audience take away from the performance?
  • What happens after the show, how is the young audience affected?
  • How do we bring intellect, truth and dignity to a younger audience? As Hingorani explains, this question highlights that there is a risk that we hide or conceal details from young people, but we should aim to be able to bring the truth, similar to theatre directed at adults, in a safe way. How, in this way, can we bring awareness of issues to a younger audience?

 

Ripped Paper

In this activity, Hingorani provided the class with pieces of paper. The class were given very few rules, and were encouraged to experiment and play with the tools we were given, in order to devise and create different things.

 

Firstly, we were instructed to rip the paper. As the class began to rip the paper, different ideas started to emerge from different participants.

Secondly, Hingorani said that we could now fold the paper as well as rip it. As different things and games developed, we looked at the different creations. One participant created a farm hosting snakes, another created a hat.

Finally, we were allowed to scrunch the paper. From this ability, I created a shield with balls made of scrunched up paper. The balls, in my game, are thrown, and the shield is used to avoid being hit by the paper balls.

 

This activity presented one of the ways young people can improvise and devise, and get involved in the process of creating a performance or creation. It is a simple activity, which provides an open opportunity for the exploration of he imagination, and for a wide range of ideas to be experimented with. The activity is not clouded by too much information and instruction, and is instead displayed as a ‘game’. In my experience, I found that with bits of paper and a few ways to experiment with the paper that I could create anything. I felt free of being plagued by rules and limits. The activity allowed me to experiment with my imagination, and to create absolutely anything I wanted to. It is enjoyable and engaging. This is impactful for young audiences, who may get bored easily and need constant stimulation. It is also efficient, as not many tools are required to participate in the exercise.

A criticism that I present is that since the activity is very open ended, it could be difficult to begin creating. To counter this, the participants could be given a stimulus to begin with, and then their creations could evolve in different directions from there.

 

Case Study: The Forest by Fevered Sleep (2009)

The Forest was a performance created by Fevered Sleep for an audience demographic around the age of 6 years old. The performance was set in a forest-like setting with tall tree trunks and worked around a relatable non-linear narrative of small occurrences, e.g. calling for or finding your friend, or playing with leaves. After watching the video of the case study, we discussed the key elements that make it effective:

  • The performance is simple to follow. It uses small sequences of happenings of different activities or everyday occurrences.
  • It is playful, fun and enjoyable to watch. The audience are watching the performers play with objects, and create movement and dance. It is interesting to watch and is visually stimulating.
  • The performance makes use of natural objects, like nuts or leaves, to allow the children to play with at the end. The nuts are also dropped at the end, which makes a loud sound as they hit the floor. This is exciting for the young audience as evident by the loud gasping and excitement. This shows that the performance and this aspect were appealing.
  • The use of music helps engage the young audience, as it further supports the narrative and transmits emotion. The sound of music allows the children to draw upon the motion and feel of the scene, like tension, etc.
  • The simple set encourages the young audience’s use of imagination. They are able to fill in the space and create their own version of the story presented. The setting can provide various ideas, as it is conflicting. It can deliver various interpretations. An example is that for children a forest could be a setting that is scary, a place where you get lost in, or it could be a forest from a fairy tale with mythical creatures.

This becomes collaborative, as Hingorani stated, this aspect on behalf of the performers becomes “they’ll make the rest up with us.”

 

Puppets with Coats

In the final activity, Hingorani asked us to bring our coats to the circle. As we bought our coats, he asked us to place it on the floor and to grab on arm of the coat. This became our puppet.

As we created our puppet, Hingorani asked that we believe in its existence as a living puppet. In order to do this, we were able to give the puppet characterisation. I gave my puppet the characterisation of being cautious and shy, but observant and knowledgeable, like a scholar from different portions of history. This was how I imagined the puppet, since my coat was heavy; it caused my puppet to have slow, steady movements. This, I felt, gave my puppet a “wise, old man” connotation. To add to this connotation, the puppet avoided contact with others, and looked around cautiously with its head.

 

This activity, again, is stimulating for young people since it is open for the imagination to be activated, and provides a variety of ideas. The young people are in control of their puppet and can shape the puppet how they feel. This is important as young people need to feel their contribution and that they can create their own work. This gives them freedom, and can be more rewarding and efficient at teaching skills than being told what to do, which can block the imagination.

01.12.15 Applied Performance Session 10

The Young Audience – Exploring and enhancing children’s experiences of theatre by Matthew Reason (2010)

Reason, M. (2010) ‘Theatre For Children and education’ in The young audience – exploring and enhancing children’s experiences of theatre. Staffordshire: Trentham Books. pp. 3 – 14.

 

 

Matthew Reason focuses on children learning and the arts, and the experience. Reason explains that learning is a natural part of a child’s development and it happens instinctively, but there is an attempt by adults to formalise it with systems and schools. It is explained that learning and education carry significance of childhood, as childhood itself became symbolic of development as people.

 

Reason discusses distinctions between theatre for young audiences (TFYA) and theatre in education (TIE), both are theatre aimed at the same demographic, and both exist within education. Though TIE deals specifically with education and learning, and its relationship with theatre. This may include performance but includes a variety of other aspects, including “workshops, talks, playback and the use of forum theatre” (p. 4). TIE is structurally devised and researched, and are planned events. Education is centralised and is the primary focused. Whereas, TFYA features education but does not contain it as the primary focus.

 

TIE uses theatre practices to accommodate education in numerous areas, like health, the social, and the personal. The productions used usually raise “awareness of the issues, stimulate empathy and encourage self-reflection and development” (p. 5).

Some issues brought forward by Reason is that the mixture of education and theatre, though education is well facilitated by theatre, it is said that the education aspect sacrifices the theatrical quality. TIE is largely education driven, thus making it difficult to measure how well theatre or art is engaged.

 

Reason supports the effectiveness of art involved in theatre, by showing that pupils engaged with art perform better academically (p. 8). Using Champion of Change’s report Learning in and Through the Arts, it states that pupils highly involved in art perform better in “creativity, fluency, originality, elaboration and resistance to closure” (p. 8). This shows that art can help push learning – the primary function of TIE. Reason claims that theatre and the art combination creates an enhanced set of skills for children learning in formal and informal areas.

The Young Audience – Exploring and enhancing children’s experiences of theatre by Matthew Reason (2010)

Impossible Audiences: The Oily Cart’s theatre for infants, people with complex learning disabilities and other young audiences who are primarily non-verbal by Tim Webb (2012)

Webb, T. (2012) ‘Impossible audiences: The Oily Cart’s theatre for infants, people with complex learning disabilities and other young audiences who are primarily non verbal’ in Maguire, M. & Schuitema, K. (eds) theatre for young audiences – a critical handbook. pp. 93 – 103.

 

 

Tim Webb aims to discuss and analyse theatre for the disabled, young children and other audiences that are, as he states, unable to see or hear what’s on happening on stage, get anxious with new experiences and other possibilities, which can make it difficult for the audience to understand the performance.

 

Generally, theatre makers avoided very young audiences of under 5 years old, underestimating the level of understanding they hold, holding the idea that they have “limited language skills and an inability to sit still” (p. 94). Webb learnt that young audiences are able to be engaged and communicated with through the use of themes, language and characters that are comprehensible to them, with changing theatrical language, such as strong visuals and live music.

The fact that infants are unaware of the fourth wall of theatre affected Webb’s development of performance. The performance needs to have an open interaction with the audience, including open questions, and an active role in the development of the piece. Open questions allow a variety of responses from the audience, in turn allowing improvisation to progress the piece. This successfully engages the young audience, explains Webb.

 

Whilst working with a school of young people with varying disabilities, Webb was advised to think about the duration and the location of the performance. For example, a longer duration allows the audience to get familiar with the performers and vice versa.

Kinaesthetic sense was also an important aspect to work with. This sense allowed please for the young audience, through exercises like hammocking, for example. This is especially effective for audiences with hearing or sight impairment as their kinaesthetic sense is activated and this allows them to sense space and location.

 

In working with audiences with PMLD and ASD, Webb discovered the wide variety of engagement and reactions they received. Now concentrating on these audiences, Webb uses similar aims as the infant audience – theatre relevant to their perception of the world, using language they utilise. The aim is to use themes and characters the audience will find interest in, and be able to engage the audience in a range of abilities, writes Webb. Webb places a strong importance on kinaesthetic sense.

Webb continues to explain that this type of theatre must also be highly interactive. Adaptation is important to fulfil the spectator’s needs. Listening is essential with this audience, as it is difficult what they may be thinking, so Oily Cart needs preparation and space for listening.

 

Oily Cart makes a point to create or link a social story in their performances with audiences with complex learning disabilities, as this further engages the audience. This could also be used to understand or help audiences facing issues with “social interaction, new experiences and changes to their daily routine” (p. 100). Social story also helps the audience with such needs to create a bridge of communication with the performers, or responses to characters.

This is helpful as the world, or event the performance space can be a strange experience, leading to “disorientation and panic” (p. 100). Oily Cart work on demystifying theatre and performance for these audiences, Demystifying carries value in engagement.

 

This type of theatre, as Webb describes it as being multi-sensory, close up, and highly interactive theatre, can appeal to other audiences, such as babies aged six months to two years. This audience too is largely non-verbal, and theatrical ideas and conventions are unimportant to them. Oily Cart aims to create theatre and space for the opportunity to participate in multi-layered work, which creates additional benefits.

Impossible Audiences: The Oily Cart’s theatre for infants, people with complex learning disabilities and other young audiences who are primarily non-verbal by Tim Webb (2012)

Making a Performance: Devising Histories and Contemporary Practices – Narratives of Community by Emma Govan, Helen Nicholson and Kate Normington (2007)

Govan, E., Nicholson, H. Normington, K. ( 2007) ‘Narratives of Community’ in Making a Performance – Devising Histories and Contemporary Practices. London: Routledge. pp. 73 – 87.

 

 

Emma Govan, Helen Nicholson and Kate Normington begin by outlining that devising, as a tool, is effective in shaping community and challenging social injustice.

As professional theatre practitioners collaborate with a community and its participants, it aims to bring benefits, such as an improved way of life, extension of cultural democracy, and social change. Devised performance is generally considered to be effective due to its collaborative nature, and participatory working methods, as stated in the reading. It deals with “collective forms of community participation and social identification” (p. 73), rather than individual narratives.

 

This form of social change of community based-theatre holds its foundation in allowing participants’ own stories to be heard and “represented, reframed, rewritten and re-interpreted in ways, which challenge cultural orthodoxies.” (p. 73). It relies on concepts of community and narrative.

 

Community, however, can represent negative aspects. As well as offering inclusion, it can also exclude, creating a them and us mindset. It can affect marginalised groups of people, states Govan, et al, by “entrapping the poor, and confining women to the sphere of the domestic, and creating hostile environments for migrant populations” (Young, 1990, p. 300-303).

Though many people rely on community for support, homogenous narratives of local identity and shared listening and identity can be limiting. Communities are generally formed when populations believe they share values and identities (Anderson, 1991). “People consider communities to be a ‘resonance and repository of meaning, a referent of their identity’ (Cohen, 1985: 118)” (p. 74).

Storytelling shapes community, as using narrative theory creates distinction, or lack of, between “prescription and description, between fiction and reality” (p. 75). As Govan, et al. describe, it is the space that constructs life and perception, and its reconstruction and recognition in the future.

 

Community represents various possibilities. It focuses on narratives of selfhood and community as being continually produced and reproduced due to interaction with others, the reading questions this to analyse it. Through this community become cultural practice, and interaction, and reciprocity between participants performing this allows them to negotiate through “competing attachments and the different narratives” (p. 75) of their different communities.

Community building becomes a creative process, as storytelling produces social coherence. Drama also utilises stories for the creative process, allowing the space to question how narratives of community are performed, and their possible re-interpretation.

 

Participating in drama goes against the ‘top-down’ approach hat other options of community coherence may present, as it worked on participants’ ideas and interactivity, rather than centralised ideologies and agendas (Mayo, 2000, p. 179-180). Taking from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, participants are encouraged to reflect on personal experience and use their own ideas for development of social action. This is known as the art of knowing. It allows participants to re-order, construct and re-evaluate their ideas, narratives ad knowledge to gain insights.

 

Autobiographical performance or narratives can be a political process. Furthering from Freire’s banking education, which he says positions the oppressed as vessels to soak up centralised agenda and information. Devising performance is one way against this system of work as it encourages participants to reflect on personal experience through inter-personal connection, to construct new social identities and communication. Devising also allows participants to perform narratives that hold significant social changes. This allows navigation between the real and the possible, what is and what could be.

 

As mentioned before, communities are generally based on shared experience and struggles. Community based theatre is efficient when it presents a level of understanding and relationship, offering a space for imagination. Bringing people together to share narratives and common experience permits marginalised voices to be heard and presents psychological and social benefits.

Devising usually emphasised the blurring of the truth and fiction. When communities use devised theatre, it offers representation of memory, and it shows “social, communitarian and historical significance as well as personal relevance.” (p. 82).

Making a Performance: Devising Histories and Contemporary Practices – Narratives of Community by Emma Govan, Helen Nicholson and Kate Normington (2007)

Drawing a Line – Participatory Arts with Young Refugees by Stella Barnes (2009)

Barnes, S. (2009) ‘Drawing a Line’ in Participatory Arts with Young Refugees. Oval House.

 

 

Stella Barnes opens the article describing a refugee performance from 2004, in which a refugee, mid performance, relives the trauma and finds it difficult to continue. Barnes discusses the ethics of the theatre company’s agenda or aim.

 

Barnes discusses the sharing of refugee stories and autobiographical performance. As privileged people, we want to know refugee stories and the details and context, but Barnes avoids using stories in her participatory art, as these stories carry a sense of exploitation. This allows the opportunity to bridge the notion of us and them, creating equals. As refugee projects and performances around this subject area grew, the question of ethics largely decreased, as many practitioners either do not hold a lot of experience, or have not participated in this critical debate.

 

In her own work, at The Oval House, Barnes uses role-play, person in role, forum theatre, story telling and physical theatre to engage emotionally, intellectually and physically (p. 36). The Oval House utilises an enjoyable and inclusive environment. As The Oval House works with people from troubled, traumatic backgrounds, increased by governmental bureaucracy and poverty, drama offers escape, relationships and allows participants to pick up skills of empathy, understanding and engagement with the world, and their personal challenges. To emphasise these, the theatre connects to the participant as people and the young people of London, and not by associating “refugeeness” to them, or other identities they do not like.

 

The Oval House focuses on four elements when working with young people:

  • Choice: The participants must feel they have choice, to create a cooperative working environment, with them as “partners in the process.” This allows self-definition and creativity, and relationship building. This brings alive their own ideas and creative processes, and identifies them as practitioners in their own right.
  • Respect: There is a mutual agreement and trust. As many of the participants have little experience of interactive, cross gender, mixed culture group work, it is important to establish respect and trust to create a safe space.
  • Equality: The establishment of equality is important, as many of the participants have lived in contexts of the repression of quality. As participants participate, they may still hold views that go against these elements, but The Oval House use a blame-free approach, as it is a complex issue, which is unlearned slowly. This helps the participant gain understanding and development in equality.
  • Safety: The Oval House commits to physical, emotional and psychological safety for young people, through assessment of creative and personal risks the young people may embark on.

 

There is an acknowledgement of the therapeutic effects of theatre and drama, whilst making it clear that it is not therapy.

The ethical framework is regularly assessed and new strategies are formed and improved. Ethics leads to safety, which allows room for creative and personal risks, as long as the work focuses around fiction. Fictional, metaphorical and symbols leaves space for creative transformations, allowing a tool for communication to develop. This keeps the safe environment, and avoids escalating personal risks and reliving trauma.

Drawing a Line – Participatory Arts with Young Refugees by Stella Barnes (2009)