Peter, Craig, Justin (our documentarian), and I were initially blown away by the level of skill and willingness to jump in given our assumptions about the population we were working with. Within an hour of arriving, Dr. O’Connor had created a safe space in which the participants felt supported enough to share some of their lowest points. He led us through a traditional New Zealand acknowledgment, which he called whakawhanaugatanga (roughly translating to “making family” in Māori). This ritual acknowledged the land we were on, the people who came before us, the spirits in the room, etc. The day also started off with the participants being promised two gifts for their work – a yearlong membership to MOCA and a swag bag from the University of Auckland. From there we led into introductions and people were very willing to share their stories, which allowed us to jump right into playing to make and create.
Personally, I was amazed by the initial buy-in of the group. Perhaps the goodwill extended through the whakawhanaugatanga ritual, the welcome gifts, the love of performance among the participants, and the energy of our creative leadership combined to foster this willingness to share themselves early on? Or maybe it was how we (Peter, Craig, Justin, and I) individually went up and shook participants’ hands as they trickled in and got to know them for a few minutes on a one-on-one basis? Or perhaps it was the promise of hot coffee and food from our producer, Cheryl, within the hour that got them to open up? Probably some combination of all of these. Whatever planted the seed, the generosity of the energy on day one catapulted us through the day.
From introductions, we moved to collaborate in small groups. Peter led us through an exercise in Image Work focusing on the last 10 seconds of a basketball game and then worked that into the form of a short .gif or looped tableaux with movement. Next up, I led an ensemble percussion activity called “Jazz Music” in which everyone adds on rhythm, sound or scat melody in a 4 beat loop. Once everyone had established their loop, we played with crescendo and decrescendo and highlight certain portions of the ‘band’. The next layer we added in were solos and it was wonderful to see people highlighting their talents. It gave us a sense of their comfort, their skill, and their sense of play. It really helped bring the group together before lunch.
The afternoon launched us into the first phase of creating work for the show – Craig taught the group a brief ditty that would be sung in the round. He wrote the tune quickly on the spot and distilled the text, “Hurry up. It’s time to go,” from a common theme pulled from the stories everyone shared during the morning introductions.
Monday’s work concluded with a final devising activity led by Peter. Working in trios, participants told each other stories of a personal memory around this theme “Hurry up, it’s time to go.” We then used the form of the Image Work from the morning to craft tableaux around one of these stories or incorporating all of our stories into one .gif image, which we shared.
Take-Aways from the Day:
- Flexibility of facilitation – Craig, Peter, and I had a general plan going into the day, but really mixed things up on the fly as we responded to the group’s energy and focus.
- Innate sense of group energy – Peter has a knack for reading a room and seems to effortlessly harness that energy to funnel into the work at hand. He can sense when the group needs to sit and observe, work together, rehearse, blow off steam, etc. I tend to get tunnel vision when I’m working in a moment and will persevere until it’s right, which can be effective in a professional theatre setting, but not so much in this particular one.
- Acknowledgment – From shaking hands with everyone in the room to listening to their stories to passing the baton of leadership from one of the creative team to another – always acknowledge the person and their contribution.
- Coffee and food on hand at all times – never underestimate the power of a snack and coffee to create camaraderie.