2021 A Retrospective Part 1: Practice, Practice, Practice…
It has been a while since my last blog and in that time, I have been busy having wonderful conversations and working with a range of different creatives. It has been a really enriching period of time and makes one realise how important it is to look outside ones’ own practice and be inspired by others. It has also been a time to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone and re-engage with and improve skills that I haven’t focused on for a long time.
The Language of the Body:
One area I was particularly interested in stretching was my physicality and how to explore telling stories just through the body and so I took a mime course with Les Bubb, (https://www.schoolofmime.co.uk/about).
Due to covid, the course took place on zoom and the first hurdle was setting up my home space to allow the room to move around whilst being seen through the screen. It was a learning curve for us all, but hurdles were overcome and the whole experience was a joy. It was so good to be playful and Les is a wonderful teacher/ mentor who both encourages and nurtures. I also found it very freeing to remove the verbal language which can sometimes inhibit and try and push the boundaries of what my body is used to doing. It certainly highlighted how I’m not as supple as I used to be! This did lead to frustration as well as a sense of freeing the body and has made me consider my body and its limitations. Mime is a very hard discipline to master and the greats, like Les make it look easy. I know some of the exercises and techniques we explored will certainly inform my future work and I hope to be able to attend more of his workshops in the future.
From mime to improvisation and more challenges for body and mind! The upside of the pandemic was that it finally gave me the time to participate in The Laughter Academy’s ten-week course (https://www.facebook.com/LaughterAcademy/), which has been something I have wanted to do for a while now. Improvisation is one of the core elements of drama and vital in developing key skills of listening and cooperation. Adding the ‘laughter’ factor in and seeking to find the ‘funny’ in the art form was something that particularly interested me. I have never considered myself funny and the quick reactions and openness to looking ridiculous, filled me with dread. Luckily, Lee Terrell and John Oakes, the course leaders, are masters in creating a space to allow everyone to feel comfortable and to take risks and each week challenged in a supportive and friendly environment. The course came at the perfect time and the two hours of playful short form games and exercises provided a much-needed release from the challenges of being an artist during Covid. The comradery and laughter proved a real tonic and certainly helped keep mind and body active and creative in an overall oppressive period. Thanks to Lee and John and the rest of my brilliant co-participators, I left each week having had my artistic and laughter muscles stretched and a sense of well-being restored.
At the end of the ten weeks showcases are held to use the skills acquired in front of an audience and my god was that an experience! Having spent over twenty- five years performing and having the normal adrenaline and nerves associated with standing up in front of an audience, I can honestly say I have never felt more terrified! To say I was out of my comfort zone would be an understatement and I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. I pushed through though and did it and the sense of achievement of having survived was brilliant. I learnt a lot about myself in the process and it has inspired me to incorporate much more improvisation into my future practice. Again, it is a course I hope to have the time to participate in again and continue to learn and stretch my improvisational muscles.
Words, words, words!
As a storyteller I often get asked if I have written books or told that I should write my stories down. I would love to think I could and have often thought it would be wonderful to have a book that others could get lost in, just as I do with my favourite authors. However, writing has always been difficult for me, which perhaps explains why I love oral storytelling so much and although my mind is often buzzing with ideas and images, putting them down on paper is challenging. So, in the spirit of wanting to stretch and challenge myself I enrolled in Sally Pomme Clayton’s (http://sallypommeclayton.com/) ‘Mythic Imagination’ creative writing course.
The five-week course allowed the opportunity to take an hour out of my week to just explore free writing and respond to prompts without judgement. Again, the space was expertly and sensitively held by Sally and I found myself able to express ideas in a way I hadn’t before. I actually read some of the writing I did during those weeks for the first time recently and I’m surprised by the fluency that I thought I lacked. It certainly helped feed into my writing for my performance project and hopefully I can use some of the tools, tips and prompts to help with future projects too. They say we all have a book in us and maybe someday I will find mine thanks to courses like this.
Practice, practice, practice!
The completion of this first phase of stretching and re-invigorating skills and my practice came with a trip to Bleddfa in the summer to undertake an intensive performance course with Michael Harvey
(https://www.michaelharvey.org/ ). I had several fellow storytellers recommend Michael and this long weekend course at Bleddfa as a must to attend and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Not only was the Welsh countryside the perfect place to connect with my current project, but again it came at the perfect moment in my development as a storyteller. Michael created a safe and joyous space to explore our work and to stretch and challenge our methods of existing practice. His permission to ‘be wonky’ opened up very special moments of discovery and his non-judgemental style of support helped to bridge much of the uncertainty that was creeping into my mindset towards my abilities. My fellow storytellers also played a huge part in making the whole experience very special and to share in their discoveries felt a huge privilege. It has also made me realise that, in order to have the room to grow as an artist, we need to allow and find time to take these moments in a space outside of our everyday and immerse ourselves in our practice. As a mother, wife and daughter, it is very often that artist comes low down the list in roles to be prioritised, but I know that even just a short amount of what feels selfish ‘me as an artist time’ can pay dividends. I have now made a promise to myself to find a minimum of one short period of time in my year to get away and allow this time for myself and my work.
As always, I am immensely grateful to The Arts Council for helping me to afford to participate in these wonderful courses thanks to my ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ grant award.