A space of mischief-making and freedom
When Imaginate invited me to participate in the Immerse Project at Brunstane Primary the first thing I did was to think about the kind of things I wish I did more when I was a kid and what I missed out on when I was in primary school. I knew that the workshop was going to gravitate towards the theme of freedom. That is how I set out to design a workshop in which children could explore fun games, have space to invent comedic characters, and work with movement, choreographic tasks, and materials.
The reason why I wanted to explore the theme of children’s freedom was because during the Trump administration there was a “zero tolerance” policy on the U.S. Mexico border and hundreds of Central American migrant children were detained and separated from their parents in a the most inhuman way. In fact, around 545 children were never reunited with their parents due to the indifference of the U.S. justice system, the lack of records and the vulnerability of the parents who were either deported or detained. When images of the detained children were published, those who were aware of the news were horrified to see that these prisons looked like animal cages. Small children slept on gym mats and their tiny bodies were covered in foil blankets. This heart-breaking image opened my eyes to the very real dangers of bigotry and the importance of safeguarding basic children’s human rights.
I wanted to use foil blankets at Brunstane, and I wanted to resignify their meaning and reclaim their use. The material proved to be remarkably expressive, beautiful, shiny, and malleable. There wasn’t a single child who didn’t play, move, and had fun with them.
We worked with P3/4 in the morning who loved being outside in the playground. Fortunately, we had some great sunny days and were able to play different kinds of choreographic games and explore the possibilities of the material. On the last day the children were ready to create their own mini show. The group was divided into two groups and so Catherine Alison, who worked as assistant on the project, facilitated a choreography with one group and I facilitated a choreography with the other half of the group.
As soon as we gave them the foil blankets, the children spontaneously ran around the playground, using the blankets like flags. Some wrapped themselves in the blankets and stood in a row, facing the sun, others went to the ground and used it as a costume or as a hiding place. Some used the blanket as a cape.
The children put into practice many of the choreographic principles that we had explored during the week: copying, making offers, going to the floor, making clusters, moving as a group, and creating solos. Something that surprised me was the intuitive way in which the children memorised the choreography. Each of them created a shape or movement that the rest of the group had to copy. After each person made a new offer, we got back to the beginning. So, they decided to name moves to memorise the sequence. Their body registered the moves without having to think too much. We had names like: “meditation” “tiger” and “karate”.
The afternoon group, P3, worked in a slightly different way. Although their sessions were shorter, this group worked really fast.
My favourite scene was about kindness. A child opened an umbrella and covered his scene partner with it. She then came closer and put her arms around him. Perhaps due to the time constraints, this group seemed more able to concentrate and work as a team. We didn’t go outside but played inside the classroom. Playing ball games was definitely a challenge!
Their favourite part of the workshops was the creation of short scenes with a single action and an object. I brought costumes and wigs and they absolutely loved transforming themselves into new characters. Because they had more opportunities to present their scenes in front of an audience, they also experienced what it feels to give and receive feedback. It wasn’t always easy, and one group didn’t like the feedback that they got.
“It was messy”, someone said. This comment seemed to offend a member of the group. “Is being messy a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked. This opened a discussion about what feedback is and how to give and receive it. What is considered bad behaviour in school is good behaviour in theatre. I would argue that being messy is a good thing in theatre and other creative arts. It means you are living life and you are creating something from scratch and yes, there is a perception that parts of this process are messy but sometimes we need to embrace messiness in order to discover new things and be creative. When we marvel at a finished play, we don’t see the multiple drafts that a playwright had to write before. We just see the tip of the iceberg. Realising that messiness is part of being creative can make us relax more and judge less.
There were scenes that were totally absurd, chaotic, and irrational and they made us laugh. Scenes didn’t need to be logical; the only requirement was to play and have fun. One of the kids came in wearing a black wig and a long coat and he kept falling on the floor, getting up and falling on the floor repeatedly. This kid never spoke but his physicality was amazing. He knew about comic timing; he knew about the rule of three. He knew about repetition. I am sure he has never seen a Charlie Chaplin film in his life, but he certainly knows that watching someone fall is fun and gets a good laugh. Another group put on a hat and said no and passed the hat to another person who also said no and passed it on to another person who said no. This was both absurdist and hilarious.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the children after 4 intense days full of fun, messiness, and a bit of chaos but we left knowing that the children had enjoyed playing, moving, creating characters and exploring the principles of comedy and choreography. Hasta la vista!