Blog: Holding Space by Andy Edwards

7 March 2023

An artist writes on a blackboard in a classroom - from Maria Jerez' Maria Goes to School
An artist writes on a blackboard in a classroom - from Maria Jerez' Maria Goes to School

During 2022, Andy Edwards was one of 16 artists selected to take part in Holding Space, an Imaginate mentoring scheme funded through PLaCE.  Their focus was exploring making performance work with young performers so they had paid time to talk with five different mentors - Ásrún Magnúsdóttir, Greg Sinclair, Nic GreenLou Brodie and Jess Thorpe.  Here are Andy's thoughts about these conversations...

I’m sitting in the room with twenty teenagers. This is the Strange Town Thursday group. We’re working on a play. I’ve been writing it for the past month, in between their regular weekly workshops. Tonight, we read a first draft for the first time. One of them offers the most astute, concise, dramaturgical feedback – and I don’t think I’d have noticed it, were it not for my time as a Holding Space artist with Imaginate.

Over several months in 2022, I had mentoring conversations with six different artists, exploring ethical and practical approaches to co-creating theatre with children and young people. We discussed their work and mine, philosophies, funding models and red tape. These conversations took place over Zoom, in person, and email, bolstered by trips to see work, including Ásrún Magnúsdóttir’s ‘Teenage Songbook of Love and Sex’, Nic Green / NTS’s ‘Like Flying’, and Greg Sinclair’s ‘Lots and Not Lots’.

These conversations began with a discussion of a project I’m working on – a series of improvised poems co-created with young people. Where they led too often contradicted the conversations that had come before, in a joyful and liberating way. From this period of research, I conclude with no conclusions, but below are some loose topics, tensions and notions that I’ve used to guide my work since.

1. Renumeration is complex

Each artist I spoke with had a different approach to renumerating participants. Rather than having a consistent philosophy, most were flexible depending on the project’s needs. Honorariums seemed to be the fairest method of offering financial payment. Yet doing so could alter the relationship participants would have to the project and this wasn’t a de facto good thing. I was particularly struck by the idea that co-creative processes could be envisaged as a gift to the participant, not an environment in which they are expected to “work”.

2. Transparency is vital

Whatever method of co-creation is offered, the artist should be transparent about it. The artists I spoke with worked across hugely varied projects, with differing levels of expected contributions from participants. What united them all was the importance of being transparent. Clarity about expectations was more important than what the expectations actually were. Participants needed to know the artist's hopes to produce from their contributions to ensure ethical creative practice.

3. Co-creation isn’t creative equality

Any dogmatic and high-minded notions of a ‘truly equal creative processes’ quickly subsided, replaced by a more pragmatic and flexible idea of empowering people to contribute on their own terms.  My mentors regularly mentioned the necessity for them to lead, be responsible and make creative decisions. Pretending that they weren’t the artist, that they didn’t occupy a position of power in the room, was negligent. Summing it up, one of them states, “not everyone wants to be an artist - that’s the job I’m paid to do.”

4. Participation isn’t always performance

Empowering people to contribute on their own terms means making space for participants to contribute to a creative process in different ways, without hierarchies. Watching, listening, and turning up are all ways to be involved – and what the artist wants for the work has to co-exist with participants’ desires for hanging out or messing about. Co-creative processes where participants aren’t asked to become “creatives” were inspiring and thought-provoking, such as Maria Jerez’s ‘Maria Goes to School’, in which the artist is taught a language they don’t know by local school children.

List of works that were super interesting to me.

21 Common - In the Interests of Health and Safety …
Ásrún Magnúsdóttir – Listening Party; Teenage Songbook of Love and Sex
GLASS Performance – Old Boy; The Jukebox
Greg Sinclair – I Do, Do I; Lots and Not Lots
Lou Brodie – Bricking It
Nic Green / NTS – Like Flying
Mammalian Diving Reflex – Haircuts by Children
Marcus Coates & Henry Montes – A Question of Movement
Maria Jerez – Maria Goes to School