We have been reshaping and refining our piece throughout this week. Trial and error.
After our two showings at the Brotfabrik, we moved again, for the final time, to the Heinz studio of drama school Ernst Busch. The home of our company member Runa Schaefer. Runa, a fourth year acting student at the school, showed us around. Lots of studio spaces for rehearsals and classes, voice rooms where students meet with their individual voice tutors, a library, movement spaces, male and female locker rooms, an impressive costume room, a canteen area that serves warm meals and a foyer showcasing pictures of the final year acting students of the school. In one hallway, auditionees for the next year intake were waiting to do their monologues, song and poem for the panel. Apparantly this happens every thursday for a half year. Around 2000 people try out to get into the school.
So here were are. Thursday, 12 February. A grungy, old building, located in the former east Berlin (DDR). The school trained many of the most famous and renowned actors in the German speaking region. You can feel a history of hard work. It is an honour to get the chance of performing here and to leave a little mark in this environment.
After the generous warm up of Runa's voice tutor, we were ready to meet the audience at 4pm. Nervous but also excited to share our work, we had a room full of teachers and first and second year students of the school.
I sat as an audience member in the back of the space and experienced how quickly this gathering became a warm encounter. Ease, elegance, playfullness and generosity in the room. For me it was exciting to witness how the 'natural' strength of the company to connect was showcased next to strong precision, rigour, craft, leadership and focus. Charm can never be an excuse to hide or not taking risks.
Investing in the two territories meant that the collective created trust in the room, which was essential for the audience participation and involvement to work.
I became interested in how the whole community can learn from each other by setting up an honest 'game'. I realized how we have created a set structure with performance variables that are dependant on the actual encounter between collective and audience. One being that at the start performers would ask questions ('What is your favourite writer?' ' What was it like to perform a play at your primary school?') and the audience's answers would be put in the monologues of the various characters at different points throughout the showing. This worked very well, and created an instant relationship between the story and the community in the room. How could we design more of these variables?
The audience was with us, slowly a dialogue and conversation started to manifest itself in the space. I do not think people were thinking about judging us anymore, thinking in terms of good or bad acting, but just related to what was happening around them.
The forum touched on various research topics of our workshop and gave an insight in the training a lot of us had at Toi Whakaari. The task of finding Chekhov in Berlin (and the different stages of doing so), the inspiration from company models Dood Paard & Gob Squad in our process, the performer as facilitator and storyteller, the journey of an event, building of a community by audience participation, and collaboration from different cultural perspectives. The audience was very responsive and there was a true discussion. Even when people questioned our approach of warming the audience & inviting audience participation, these people did feel like they cared about what they experienced. A good thing.
It is important for us to consider in what context a company meets an audience and how to design the right opening according to this situation. In the Brotfabrik we met a group of people who were strangers to each other, here at Ernst Busch we encountered a group that was already a community in itself. The opening is then foremost geared to making us part of the community. What this means for the actual event is then less about connecting them as strangers, but instead letting the community see each other in a different way. I think this happened as well. All of a sudden, students spoke the Chekhov texts through the filter of a headphone instead of having 'to act' on a big stage in front of their peers. People started to engage with each other with different eyes. More as human beings and less within the role of a student actor (and the expectations attached to this).
We did a mihi for the lovely Runa and sang for the school. And that was it. Around 6pm we ended our adventure at Ernst Busch.
All of us were buzzing afterwards. We actually did leave a mark in this place. We celebrated the warmth of our collective, using the story of THE SEAGULL as a TOOL to connect and relate to an existing community. I had never felt the power of doing that with a classic text to such a degree.
Yesterday we came together for our debrief. It highlighted again how we all have shifted in terms of our thinking and experiences of performance, community and audience participation. I am still reflecting and making sense of a rollercoaster month, but am sure that this all will seed into my future work. Like it will with many others of the collective.
Thanks collaborators for working and learning with you.
(BUT I AM 72)