Out of the Woods

Feature in Issue 8-3 | Autumn 1996

MAG in association with The Hawth, Crawley and Bodily Functions co-ordinated Discovery 1: Out of the Woods, a week-long exchange workshop this summer. Natasha Klugman was among seventeen MAG members who attended and exchanged ideas with fellow practitioners.

Inspired by the success of the Moving Into Performance Workshop Symposium in Manchester 1994, Discovery 1: Out of the Woods evolved out of a need for practitioners to exchange their working processes. As a result, seventeen mime and physical theatre practitioners came together this August for a week to share, explore and exchange current ideas. Faroque Khan gathered proposals from prospective participants through MAG and a truly unique event was created. The final workshop group operated without a facilitator with each participant taking responsibility for themselves and each other.

Participants pitched their tents beside the Hawth’s carpark. Not even the pouring rain on our arrival dampened our enthusiasm and willingness to participate. Cathy Bailey, Arts Officer at the Hawth played host, with help from South East Arts Board who provided subsidised catering and access to several excellent theatre spaces including an amphitheatre which was transformed into a perfect site for midnight storytelling around a camp fire. We began each day together as a camping community, then split for group work indoors or outside in the woods or amphitheatre. The need for privacy and space was totally respected by participants and staff alike. Charlotte Walsh reflected the general feeling when she observed afterwards, ‘I loved the bonfires and storytelling. I felt so totally at home in everyone’s company and the atmosphere was amazing.’

The way in which the days evolved with individuals exploring their own needs in a collectively supportive environment was not unlike the working methods of Odin Teatret who during the 1970s explored collective responsibility which they named ‘paratheatre’ and ‘active culture’. The process of creation required the actors to spend time becoming sensitive to each other by carrying out tasks such as building a hut of natural materials, aiming to rid them of their city habits by bringing them closer to nature.

Each day, participants were up and eating breakfast by 8.30am ready to go into small groups by 9.30am. Three working groups were carefully selected to maximise the needs and wishes of each individual. Each participant had the chance to facilitate a three-hour workshop. These included ‘Methods of Documentation’, ‘Personal Journeys and Memories’, and ‘Clowning’. Two sessions run by Sally Cook of Activate, explored rules and ensemble work in participative theatre and raised many issues regarding group trust, freedom and discipline, and developing ways of working for a wide range of participants. Jon Potter distributed part of a new piece of text he is currently writing called Enter the Clown. Two of the groups improvised with this and fed in their thoughts.

The trust and security felt by the participants was apparent and through the duration of the week there was a strong feeling of safety and a real feeling of renewed excitement and belief in creation. John Keefe observed, ‘the week proved the value of group-led, peer exchange sessions which worked in an open structure. As well as meeting new people, I found new ways of seeing the people I already knew and fresh perspectives were mutually opened up.’

At approximately 5.30pm each day, participants were given the opportunity to feed back the work of their small groups to everybody else. This was valuable as it allowed ideas to be presented and discussed. There was no doubt that everyone who attended the week gained from the experience – from new friendships to renewed passion in physical theatre. It is hoped that Discovery 2 will attract funding to enable practitioners to continue exchanging and sharing their working practices.

Participants at Discovery 1: Out of the Woods 1996 were: Kate De Buriatte, Katrina Caldwell, Sally Cook, Phil Gunderson, Siou Hannam, Emma Harrison, Deanna Johnson, John Keefe, Faroque Khan, Natasha Klugman, Georgie Morgan, Sarah Pearce, Jon Potter, Dorothy Max Prior, Emi Slater, Jane Sutcliffe and Charlotte Walsh.

This article in the magazine

Issue 8-3
p. 9