In this third blog, I continue to log my DYCP activity and thoughts that have come up along the way.
The Silent Approach (Separate Doors Theatre)
I came across the opportunity to join a workshop by Separate Doors Theatre about The Silent Approach — “a non-verbal rehearsal method which increases access to text-based/mainstream processes”, with an aim to increase the representation of people with learning disabilities in theatre, film and TV. I was particularly intrigued by how this methodology could potentially break down communication barriers, including for people who don’t have English as their first language. I attended the workshop at Salisbury Playhouse, which I visited for the first time, and it made me reflect that sometimes spoken language is unnecessary and inefficient. There were several aspects I would like to experiment with in my practice, such as the silent warm-up activities.
My DYCP plan included a trip abroad to Ghent in Belgium, to further research theatre director Milo Rau’s work and study NTGent’s model of accessibility. Upon becoming Artistic Director of NTGent, Milo wrote The Ghent Manifesto with ten rules for the theatre to follow. I was particularly interested in learning further about his work with non-professionals and different languages.
THE GHENT MANIFESTO
Six: At least two different languages must be spoken on stage in each production.
Seven: At least two of the actors on stage must not be professional actors. Animals don’t count, but they are welcome.
As with Dogme 95 in film, these are strict rules which act as creative prompts and a starting point, even if they are then broken. Open rehearsals are part of point two of the Manifesto but have been present since Johan Simons was artistic leader of NTGent. This attempt to make theatre more open resonates with me and I learnt it requires structure. I am very interested in using aspects of a rehearsal process in the actual performance, exposing the making of the work.
NTGent’s “publiekswerking” department (public communication/outreach) develops mirror projects every couple of years with community or youth/school groups. It was interesting to speak about the differences between professional work with “non-professionals” and community theatre. The dialogue between professional actors and “non-professionals” is vital, as both sides learn from each other. I feel there is a need to find a less hierarchical term for people who are not professionally trained, especially as actors in Milo Rau’s shows continue to be called “non-professionals” even after years of performing and touring.
I had a very useful meeting with dramaturg Giacomo Bisordi, who worked on Milo Rau’s The New Gospel, which involved a big team and a cast of local migrants and refugees in Matera, southern Italy. We spoke about how theatre can be more open and not limited to professionals. This type of work requires sensitivity in communication and a different kind of support. Not necessarily more support, just different. Trust needs to be established and some sort of mediation is important. By having people tell their own stories, authenticity and an aspect of “unrehearsedness” can be achieved. I also met with the dramaturg Kaatje De Geest and we discussed potential opportunities of getting involved and finding out further about Milo’s next production Antigone in the Amazon.
I was intrigued by NTGent’s offer of theatre tablets with captions, language translations (including sign language interpretation) and audio description. Audiences can request these in advance and then simply place them in the seat in front. Brightness and text size can be easily adjusted and sign language is pre-recorded with Deaf interpreters (by accessing a recording of the show). All these cues are connected and triggered at the same time, which becomes tricky when actors speed up their lines or change them. I found this an innovative way of increasing access. Due to the different languages present on stage, Milo often uses surtitles in his work but these don’t include the language being spoken, which would have increased access to people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. There is still resistance from some actors about having captions of the spoken language on stage. They are concerned about the audience reading what they are going to say in advance, and knowing when they make a mistake. Furthermore, some are opposed to having a Sign Language interpreter on stage, arguing it would be a distraction for the audience. Disability awareness and advocacy for access are so needed.
Whilst in Ghent, I met with David Bauwens, the General Manager of company Ontoerend Goed who make devised contemporary performance. I had seen their cutting-edge show Are we not drawn onward to new erA at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2019. It was now interesting to learn about the company’s history and how it operates. We spoke about the current state of theatre and the differences between the UK and Belgium theatre scenes, as well as funding opportunities. Our conversation offered me a new perspective on access and how sometimes a clear separation between a piece of work and its audio description (AD) can be useful. In particular with dance, AD often doesn’t allow for open interpretation. In the right space, dance pieces are inherently audible and I wonder how this can be played with more.
In terms of live shows, I got to see Milo Rau’s Grief & Beauty, The Funeral by Ontoerend Goed, and a work by Silke Huysmans & Hannes Dereere titled Out of the Blue. Each show had a great impact on me but Out of the Blue at CAMPO arts centre, was particularly inspiring. The extensive use of technology — laptops, voice recordings, images, videos — was surprisingly absorbing. When it finished, I wanted to go straight to a rehearsal room and play.
Unfortunately two performances I was meant to see — Reporters de Guerre and A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction — were cancelled, due to the rise in the cost of living and consequent low ticket sales. However, I managed to meet Martha Baltazar, who directed the latter. It was great for me to meet someone in a similar stage of their career and learn about the theatre scene in Belgium, plus some links and references I will look into.
This visit emphasised to me the importance of experiencing other work and different cultural scenes in order to better understand the work I want to make. I returned feeling energised and with lots of ideas bubbling.
I had some fruitful conversations in the last month, including with Counterpoint Arts, who support migrant artists in the UK. I was excited to find out more about what they do, especially Platforma Festival and the resources they have available online. I also had a Zoom with Teatro Due Mondi, who create socially-engaged performances in Italy. We spoke about how we can help to break down language barriers by using music, images and movement. Their shows — which they refer to as “actions” — often take place on the street, allowing them to encounter new audiences. Their creations are not framed as theatre but they take the approach of simply “making something together”. By following concrete actions, participants can more authentically play themselves on stage.
I practised my BSL (British Sign Language) in a tutorial with John Mancini from Sign Jam BSL, and learnt new signs related to my practice. I am looking forward to another session in the New Year.
With Nir Paldi, co-artistic director of theatre company Ad Infinitum, I discussed access, ethics and considerations when making socio-political work. I also saw their latest show Beautiful Evil Things at Tobacco Factory Theatres in October (more below).
Shows in Bristol
The performance of Beautiful Evil Things I attended included integrated BSL, along with captions. Some people say captions are distracting and I have been wondering whether it is merely a question of getting used to them, as is happening with subtitles in film and TV. In the rest of Europe, surtitles in theatre are common to make shows accessible to tourists and English speakers, or foreign shows accessible to locals. However, as mentioned above, captions in the language spoken in the show are not a priority and are still rare. I am excited about continuing to use access and inclusivity as creative tools and experimenting without worrying about getting things perfect.
Other shows I saw by Southwest-based companies/artists were Old Market (Remixed) by Tom Marshman, This Is The Land by Red Room Productions, and a showcase by Kiota — a collective of Black & People of Colour (BPoC) Creatives in Bristol. Seeing regional work will be helpful in developing connections. As part of my research, I also watched Blue/Red/Deport, a film by Lina Lužytė. Set in the Moria refugee camp in Greece, it portrays an eye-opening account and an insider’s look into people’s realities and experiences of asylum in Moria.
Webinar Wednesdays (The Place)
I have been catching up on a series of online webinars on The Place website, which took place between May and July and focused on skills and questions for dance and performance professionals to feed their practice. The first one was with artist Leah Clements who co-created the website Access Docs for Artists (www.accessdocsforartists.com). The resources provided are so useful as I continue to develop my access rider. In her webinar, Leah touched on the importance of having separate accessible performances that support different needs, for example, a relaxed/loud performance and a quiet one, instead of trying to address all aspects at once.
The other webinars helped me reflect on the topics/causes I want to make work about, who I want to engage with, and what is the best art form to serve those communities and causes. Daniel Oliver’s session made me question whether theatre (and art in general) requires clarity. The work I am interested in is often abstract and intentionally open to interpretation, so how can I make sure this lack of clarity is not a barrier? Perhaps we can accept that people like different things and that a piece of work does not need to please everyone.
Despite having to miss a couple of sessions due to Covid and other DYCP activity, acta’s Elevate training has been extremely beneficial to connect with others and continue to explore my facilitation practice. I also attended their online seminar “Inclusivity in the arts” with inspiring presentations from Nickie Miles-Wildin, Holly Thomas, and Drag Syndrome. I am hoping to follow up with some conversations.
I had my second mentoring session with Ingrid Jones, Associate Director at acta, learning from her vast experience of community theatre. We spoke about the importance of soft endings in workshops, allowing people to stay longer and speak to each other, especially in challenging processes, and acknowledging when something is difficult and any feelings that might arise. When creating something, it is essential to question ourselves about who the audience is and what the intention is. Having started this DYCP with big ethical concerns, I am now realising that worrying too much about ethics can be counterproductive. As long as we know we are doing something for the right reason, and have questioned our intentions, sometimes it is better to trust our intuition. These insights have been extremely relevant as I continue to plan 4 workshops that I will be facilitating next year for migrant women in Bristol. I am in the process of booking a venue and have been receiving crucial advice from local organisations who support refugees and asylum seekers.
One of my goals for DYCP was to see lots of shows and understand what kind of work I want to make. Now that I am halfway through it, I am eager to be in a room creating. The 4 workshops will act as research and development for a potential show. I was recently very inspired by shadowing some of the R&D for a new documentary theatre production in Bristol, which I will write about in my next blog.