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Reflection, something we are not so good at, and when we do….

Those of us who create know what happens when a show comes to an end…there is a sense of “What will I do now?” So many many hours focused on one play, a group of actors, writers and producers, stage managers, designers, assistants. When it is a new group of artists together for the first time we have to negotiate ways of working. How do we create an environment that nurtures the artists, satisfies the producers, appeals to there writers and fit in with the designers? Yet somehow,despite so many relationships, we do it. That is what we do.

And each time we do it, we learn new ways of becoming. New ways of operating within the rehearsal room. The rehearsal room is like a microcosm of the real world: intense relationships, deep connection, glorious ideas, mini explosions, all going around and around. I always walk away from a show so much richer, having learned more about myself in 8 weeks than the whole year. What triggers me, what amuses me, what breaks my heart, what makes my heart sing.

I am in love with actors. I know that. Their willingness to go where others will not. They open their hearts, they surrender to their role and they give as much of themselves as is humanly possible. My question is always “How can we keep actors safe?” “How can we ask so much of them and make sure they are stronger and more nurtured on the last day of performance?”

We tried, through the weeks together, to create rituals that would hold the actors in good stead, tapping, checking in, checking out, warming up together, “balls”, looking after one another. Once the show is up, a director has little control of what happens ritual wise, and I hope that this team of wonderful artists looked after themselves, and each other. Every night they entered the emotional landscape that “Hedonism’s Second Album” demanded, complex, intense, electric.

Claire Christian and David Burton gifted us with a beautiful new script after working with Dramaturg Michael Gurr, one of my favourite Australian playwrights. The script explored the landscape of young manhood and friendship in comic and tragic ways. The pressures, pleasures and seductions of fame. The politics and behaviour around acceptance of difference, in this case the character Michael’s homosexuality; preconceived ideas of motherhood and fatherhood (the character Chimney is having a baby and the perceived effects this will have on the band); betrayal within friendships and the working environment and how subtle and not so subtle it is; what women have to do to make it in a man’s world (the character Phil’s approach to leadership is shaped by the world she finds herself in…she has to give what she got). The character Gareth is committed to fame and success and growing it in whatever way he can. And finally Sumo, the naughtiest of them all, who says things without thinking of the consequences and yet at the same time whose heart is so big, so loving and so generous.

These are the characters who danced with us in all the rehearsal rooms we worked in. I watched them grow and thicken. I nurtured and shaped in the way that directors do. I think I lost it once, when I thought the cast ‘phoned’ their performances in, a fabulous expression I’ve always thought, though in reflection it could have been more about my unrealistic expectations than their individual performances. Once, when I was performing in a show a couple of years ago, my partner Bill said to me afterwards “There is no electricity in you anymore” and in a split second I understood what was missing. I was not giving my all. I was saving some for I don’t know what. Did i feel unsafe? I am not sure. But it only took seven words to turn me around. So was that what i witnessed one early evening with this ensemble? Perhaps, and perhaps not. That is what i love about reflection. It causes one to pause. To reflect on what went before in order to grow what is to become. Perhaps the lesson for me here is to see clearly what is before me, rather than wanting to see something that I imagine is the ideal…

As a director I know I have little control once the show is up whereas as a performer I continue to shape the piece a little bit at a time. The actor is “inside”, whereas the director can only ever be on the “outside”. I think that is one of the biggest adjustments I have had to make. Stepping away from the performer’s shoes and realising that the director can only do so much.

And then the actors take over: and take over they did. Their audience loved them, adored them, despite their naughtiness, their inappropriateness, their political incorrectness. Because, when things descended into dark chaos, they were there for each other. Perhaps not forever, is there ever a forever, but at least for now. And really, that is all we have.

So we move on to the next play, but always bring with us our learnings from the one before. “Hedonism” taught me many things. I can’t put all of them into words yet, but i am satisfied that the many weeks spent thinking only of this play made me a richer artist. And a grateful one.

I now move on to He Dreamed a Train, at Brisbane Powerhouse in October. A big challenge. One where I shall stand in the shoes of a co-director (with Ben Knapton, someone I have been wanting to work with for many years…his ability to create metaphor through image and space is a worthy thing) as well as a performer (with Travis Ash). I am nervous, anxious and strangely excited about this next move.

The Value of Theatre Reviews as a Tool for Reflection

IMAGE OF HEDONISM AFTER A GOOD NIGHT OUT

Reviews are interesting documents. Some theatre makers regard them as not worth reading, others hold them in good stead. I find them interesting in that they direct my reflective practice: what is it that the reviewer saw? What did they expect to see? What is it about the play that is challenging them?
I read reviews: as a performer I avoid them until the end of the season (Bill reads them for me). I do not like the practice of printing them out and sticking them on the noticeboard back stage. Thats all very well if it is a glowing review (though even then, one can slip into complacence, which is anathema to theatre), but if it is good for some and not for others it can create tension in the dressing room and can sometimes be taken onto the stage, which is not good.

As a record of what one is trying to do and how well it has been done, it is a worthwhile exercise to gather them and see what is similar and what is different. The one review that i do miss very much is my old friend and colleague, Doug Leonard’s review. He wrote for Real Time, and died a couple of years ago. His way of reflection was so lateral, so detailed, and allowed the artists who created the work to dig even deeper into what I call the “landscape of the hidden” (those things that are not in the dialogue but most certainly in the structure of the piece, the part of the play that I adore).

I have cut and pasted all the Hedonism reviews below, and have put them into Wordle, a fun program that analyses how many times a word has been spoken. The words that emerged from all of these reviews are viewable on this link:

title=”Wordle: Hedonism’s Second Album”> alt=”Wordle: Hedonism’s Second Album”
style=”padding:4px;border:1px solid #ddd”/>

Words that stood out for me in the word cloud that seem to sum up the landscape of the production include: energy, enjoyable, entertaining, exciting, expectations, fun, emotional, group, humour, life, masculinity and personal.

FULL REVIEW OF HEDONISMS SECOND ALBUM IN CRIKEY:
Here’s another stunner from La Boite’s Indie season, which is again presenting some of the most exciting theatre in Brisbane. The budget is minimal, the venue tiny (the upstairs Loft theatre space seats fewer than 100 people), and cast and crew in all the shows are independents who wouldn’t have a forum anywhere else. This year we’ve already had Niz Jabour’s spell-binding Sufi story-telling in Mullah Nasrudin, and Richard Jordan’s Machina, with two new plays from award-winning playwright Sven Swenson coming up.

Over the years, many of the plays in the Indie seasons have gone on to perform in main-house theatres in Australia and overseas, thus fulfilling the stated aims of La Boite to nurture an independent theatre culture and new audiences in Brisbane.

The success of Hedonism begins with an obvious but topical idea –the disempowerment of young men in Western society. Whether this is due to the rise of feminism, the disintegration of family, the effects of the drug culture, or the imminent collapse of society as we know it doesn’t really matter — the point is that here are four members of an indie rock band from Brisbane who can no longer get it together.

Their first album was a huge success, and they’ve become rock stars with all the privileges and freedom that entails. But testosterone is no longer enough to sustain their hedonistic lifestyle, and they have to come up with a second album to ensure their future.

Writers David Burton and Claire Christian examine their dilemma in a fast, furious and totally engaging way. Over the years the four guys Gareth (Thomas Hutchins), Chimney (Gavin Edwards), Michael (Patrick Dwyer) and Sumo (Nicholas Gell) have progressed (I won’t say grown up or matured) differently, and somehow the old glue that held them together has dissolved. One is married with a baby on the way, one is having issues with his homosexuality, one has lost faith in himself, and one just wants out.

Four young men at a crossroads, but why should we care? They’re the kind of selfish aimless half-hour-of-fame characters who could be seen as contributing nothing to society, because their music (suggested rather than played) is probably no better or worse than anything else in the genre. It’s a clever move not to include it in the script, so that we don’t have to judge it, but must take the reason for their success on trust.

it’s impossible not to love these characters in spite of their misogyny, violence, selfishness and casual racism. The uneasy relationship the audience has with them is not just in the script, but in the assured performances of the four actors, who have captured the essence of these young men with their personal and social dyslexia. They are a perfect team, playing off and against each other, in naturalistic dialogue that captures their true personality, with a profundity that belies its superficial incoherence.

Bursting into and disrupting the selfish disorientation of this quartet comes Phil, their manager, played by Ngoc Phan as a kind of Madame Lash, who begins to beat into them some kind of structured approach. She’s seriously scary, but even she has her secrets and her weaknesses, and just when it seems as if Hedonism are beginning to get it together, all their secrets are revealed and things fall apart again.

Margi Brown Ash, who is surely one of the most exciting and boundary-pushing directors in Queensland, holds this explosive team and script together so that it doesn’t descend into chaos, but forms an amazingly coherent whole. She lets the humour of the situation share prominence with the more sombre reality, and it’s a foot-stomping experience all night, as the audience swing from shocked recognition to pure enjoyment, in one of the most exciting nights of theatre in Brisbane all year.

The vocabulary the characters use is as robust as you’re likely to hear on stage, so it might offend some people, and although it catches the modern idiom perfectly, old-fashioned feminists will regret that the word cunt is still in use as a term of abuse in popular idiom.

Hedonism’s Second Album is at The Loft, La Boite, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane until August 30. Tickets at qtix.Main image by Simon Hall of Sumo (Nicholas Gell,left) and Gareth (Thomas Hutchins).

FULL REVIEW THE BLURB:

Hedonism’s Second Album
Editor August 17, 2014

This has to be the most entertaining Indie show I have seen in years. It was so refreshing to see young writers and young actors providing a show that hit home with a young audience as well as hardened critics like me. I loved the freshness and life in the work.

It has great characters, a tight script, witty lines, action, drama and comedy – and best of all; no giving in to self indulgence. Another clever thing is that the play is about musicians and yet the writers refrained from putting in songs!

Hedonism, a four-piece rock band with a successful first album is now poised for fame and fortune with the recording of the all-important follow up. The musicians meet in a music studio in suburban Brisbane. There’s front man Gareth, newly clean of a drug habit; lead guitarist Chimney; Bass player Michael the gay muso; and Sumo, the drummer. Into the mix comes hard headed A and R man – or woman I should say – who calls herself Phil.

It’s taken 10 years for the musicians to pay their dues and move from pub gigs to rock heaven – stardom. After a weekend bender involving under-age girls, bikies, racial slurs on YouTube and a wombat from Australia Zoo, the boys turn up to start recording while Phil is there in to pull the boys into line and keep their bad behaviour out of the news.

There is a mass of bad language; there was probably more cursing than speaking, but it was in character and the roles were interpreted with such energy and belief that they became real. It was odd how, despite the apparent basic communication skills, so much of the inner man was revealed.

In my years in showbiz journalism I’ve mixed with rockers from the Beatles to Ritchie Blackmore, Meatloaf, the Bee Gees, and Robert Plant and I truly believed the guys on stage were newly crowned rock stars. Watching those four characters took me back in time. It was just like it was in the dressing room with the Beatles when their first record made it to Number One.

The sheer exuberance mixed with the fear of the follow-up; the brashness and insecurity and the feeling of immortality; it was all there on stage with Hedonism. I tell you, I knew those musicians, they were so real.

The script ran for just 75 minutes on opening night, but it was an intriguing and emotion-packed script.

Director Margi Brown Ash did a brilliant job and the set was another piece of magic from Josh McIntosh. The lighting fitted the mood of the play, top stuff from Ben Hunt and the sound track mixed by Riley Schleinstein was highly effective.

As we filed into the theatre, Gareth was squatting on a cushion doing his yoga while Chimney wandered in and out checking microphones, furniture, and his guitar. Then the houselights went down and the actors’ pace hotted up as the blasé stars blasted onto the stage in an absolute frenzy of talk and movement. From then it never looked back as the boys joked, fought, cursed in earnest and in good nature like a bunch of brothers. They laughed at each others’ drunken or drug-soaked revels. Laws meant nothing.

Thomas Hutchings was Gareth, who seemed to be the organiser the one who pulled the group together. He swung between dedication to the music and success and the battle against his addiction; it was a beautifully drawn character. Sumo, played by Nicholas Gell was a loud and abrasive drummer. Again he was so real as he slowly revealed all facets of his complex soul. The quietly introspective Chimney, who was soon to be a father, was played well by Gavin Edwards and Michael, played by Patrick Dwyer played a subtly written character. Finally was the dynamite girl Phil, a tough cookie who mixed it easily with the men. Ngoc Phan was terrific; sexy and tough at the same time – a perfect mistress of discipline.

It is rare to see such real people in a modern play who are disreputable, unlikeable and yet loveable at the same time.

Company: La Boite Indie
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane
Dates: to 30 August 2014
Eric Scott

FULL REVIEW AUSSIE THEATRE:

Hedonisms Second Album
Reviewed by: Bobbi-Lea Dionysius on 13-08-2014

After ten years of working their way up from the pub circuit to opening acts, Hedonism has struck fame and fortune after the release of their first album. But now they have hit a snag. They need to follow it up with a successful second album.
Presented by La Boite at The Loft theatre, Hedonism’s Second Album is a new Australian comedy from David Burton and Claire Christian.

The play opens the morning of Hedonism’s all-important recording session for their second album. The problem – it’s the morning after the weekend before. Enter balls of steel, record label exec Phil, and she’s pissed. In crisis management mode, Phil lists the very public, not to mention illegal and expensive, path of destruction the boys have left in their wake. Adding to the expensive clicking of the studio clock, the drummer (and a wombat from Australia Zoo) is nowhere to be seen.

Director Margi Brown Ash’s special brand of creatively controlled chaos was obvious in guiding this production. The action was hyperactive and story unpredictable, keeping the audience engaged for the full seventy-five or so minutes.

The play set in the greenroom of the recording studio, complete with random acts of furniture like a beanbag and a mini-tramp, gave that bachelor pad feeling, which then easily converted to one of the band’s living room later in the play. Josh McIntosh’s clever set design included a set of stairs leading up to the recording studio door off-stage, which were fully utilised by the cast adding levels and visual interest to the blocking.
Ben Hunt’s lighting design and Riley Schleinstein’s sound track helped create the party-boy atmosphere. In a play about musicians, it was great to hear even a few snippets of singing and guitar playing which helped to sell them as a band and gave the boys extra cred as actors – nicely done.

The -man band consists of front-man Gareth, (played by Thomas Hutchings), who has become overbearingly serious and unfashionably boring since he got clean; Chimney (Gavin Edwards), the quiet creative genius behind the group who has problems closer to home with a new bub on the way; Michael (Patrick Dwyer), the closet gay musician living under the public spotlight; and Sumo (Nicholas Gell), the loud but lovable, touch of chaos, drummer who keeps the dream alive for the band.
The chemistry of the actors in the cast was strong and their character’s were fully drawn living beings, but Gell stood out as especially thrilling to watch. His acting was idiosyncratic and impulsive which injected an electrical charge into each scene he was in. Edwards as the laid back Chimney also had an organic acting style, which helped balance out the energy onstage. It was also great to see Ngoc Phan tread the boards as the strong and sassy recording exec, Phil.
There are so many talented under-utilised actors (and script writers) in Brisbane, I can’t even begin to put into words how totally awesome, the Indie Theatre platform is, and on behalf of the theatre community, we give a whole hearted thanks and shout-out to La Boite (and QTC) for sheparding such needed programs.

Hedonism’s Second Album is not just about an Aussie band living the Rock n Roll lifestyle, but a bunch of mates trying to keep it together on the edge between fame, family, and oblivion.

Hedonism’s Second Album is a highly entertaining ride and is the perfect play to convert your non-theatre friends. Playing at The Loft in the Kelvin Grove Cultural Precinct, Hedonism’s Second Album runs until August 30.

XS ENTERTAINMENT REVIEW
Hedonism’s Second Album

La Boite Indie, David Burton & Claire Christian

With the support of QPAC

Loft Theatre
August 13-30 2014
Reviewed by Guy Frawley

Presented as a part of this year’s La Boîte Indie schedule, Hedonism’s Second Album is a thoroughly enjoyable show that explores with humour, the meaning of modern masculinity, growing up and friendship.

The show poster’s attempt at replicating an actual album launch poster was so successful that I felt quite the fool arriving at La Boîte last Thursday to discover that I was indeed reviewing a play and not covering (as I had originally wondered, perplexed) an album launch. Once the initial confusion was erased I settled into my seat with anticipation to view a piece with absolutely no preconceptions or expectations.

Hedonism’s Second Album tells the tale of a young Brisbane based indie rock band, the eponymous Hedonism, who after the success of their first album are about to begin recording their anticipated sophomore recording. Due to their hard partying, questionable work ethic and laissez-faire attitude a series of Hangover style escapades ensue that guarantee this won’t be a smooth recording process.

The cast of five fill their roles with well crafted personalities that under the direction of Margi Brown Ash evoke both depth and pathos.

Patrick Dwyer, Gavin Edwards, Nicholas Gell and Thomas Hutchings are the bandmates who are all struggling with their own demons, some more obvious than others but all revolving around the reoccurring themes of masculinity and growth. Hedonism’s Second Album spends the majority of its dramatic arc exploring what it truly means to grow up and how young men are adjusting to these changes in the modern world. The excesses offered by celebrity and the microscope of the public eye add further to this tumultuous time and kickstart a week of drama as the boys question their roles as friends, bandmates, husbands, lovers and men.

The script by David Burton and Claire Christian is crackling with energy and humour but in the wrong directorial hands Hedonism’s Second Album could have easily been clunky and inauthentic. This is a play that relies heavily upon the tone set by the director and the charisma of the cast and it was a pleasure to see both so perfectly on point.

Dwyer, Edwards, Gell and Hutchings deliver delightful performances both individually and as a unit. Each oscillating through a range of conflicting emotions and responses, convincingly portraying fully fleshed out individuals that convince us these guys have known each other for years. The emotional core of this play is to be found when we see how this group reacts to the changes in their own lives and within the band. What happens when you don’t live up to your close one’s expectations? How do you handle not living up to your own expectations? When the group are together and able to ignore all adult responsibility these problems seemingly cease to matter, but outside of the vacuum of the recording studio real life will always eventually catch up with our protagonists.

Ngoc Phan rounds out the cast as the iron willed studio representative who is tasked with the Herculean job of keeping the boys under heel and on schedule and delivers a fiery performance. Phan plays the role with the confidence and fire required but displays enough emotional depth of character to avoid becoming a stereotype.

The soundtrack curation by Riley Schleinstein presents an atmospheric mix of indie tracks and audio soundscapes that help to both set the scene and heighten the moments of drama.

Hedonism’s Second Album is a thoroughly enjoyable 80-minute journey through the inner workings of a band as they battle with themselves, their success and each other. It’s thought provoking, entertaining and at some moments incredibly touching. See it at the Loft Theatre until August 30 and, for one night only, at Nambour Civic Centre on September .

FULL REVIEW: CONCRETE PLAYGROUND
HEDONISM’S SECOND ALBUM REVIEW

When: Wednesday, 13 August – Saturday, 30 August
Where: La Boite Theatre , Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove
How much: $$22 – $$28

Hedonism’s Second Album is the latest show to grace the La Boite stage as a part of the theatre’s independent season. In the last few years La Boite’s indie season has gained quite a bit of prestige, and Hedonism’s Second Album is an an artistic testament of how far this program has come. Under the direction of Margi Brown Ash, Claire Christian and Dave Burton’s wonderful show has taken shape into one of the best pieces of theatre you might see this year.

Hedonism’s Second Album is first and foremost fun. Naturally. Anyone familiar with Christian or Burton’s writing won’t be surprised at the play’s vamped up showcase of humour and thrills. It’s all dick jokes and swears, and the crazy life we imagine Rock’n’Rollers to live; from pub gigs to international record deals, crazy parties and crazier tension. But, of course, there is a downside to fun. In the words of writer, Claire Christian, “It’s a tragicomedy about men who’ve been given permission to live hedonistically and never grow up… but should they?”

Director Margi Brown Ash has done wonderful things with this multi-layered, humour-packed script, in order to explore the concept of masculinity, and life without responsibilities. And the cast seem to be having almost as much fun as the audience.

Hedonism’s Second Album is a just as much a must see for those who rarely frequent the theatre, as well-versed veterans. The show runs from the August 13 to 30, and tickets start at $22. And it’s pronounced Hedonism.

By Molly Glassey

Post 2: Theatre of The Oppressed Conference, Omaha Nebraska

Whenever I am away from home, I read. Lots. And find that my motivation to create is central. Reading things like:

The Ten Minute Rule: “if work is going well we can sit down and get something good done in ten minutes” and “What I do every day matters more than what i do once in a while” and “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit” (Aristotle).

These quotes from “Write it Slant” (Tell It Slant

Miller (and many writers/artists/performers) talk about how we straddle the ‘borderland’ between chaos and order: we create “artistic order out of life’s chaos”. Miller chose her title from an Emily Dickinson poem:

Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant
success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm delight
the Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
with explanation kind
the Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

Tell the Truth but tell it slant

So I begin my days reading things like this before I hit the road to be awoken by public art, parklands, bookshops and the obligatory gallery (if the lines aren’t too long). In Omaha the conference was not close to the galleries but it was close to a beautiful parkland where I walked daily.

Elmwood Park is just next to University of Nebraska campus

Elmwood Park is just next to University of Nebraska campus

Pre-Conference: Legislative Theatre

The thing I liked most about the pre-conference were the people involved. We came from all over the world and our jokers (facilitators) were from Brazil (now living in Germany most of the time) and Portugal.

The second thing I liked most was the explanation of TO (Theatre of the Oppressed). This is how it was explained at the workshop and it made good sense to me: that we take a representation of the reality that exists, it is our own opinion of the reality. It is theatre, not reality, and we use word, image and sound to talk about this representation. we are the producers of beauty, of knowledge and of culture. In my representation of the situation, I can exercise the change in order to change the reality.

As per usual in TO, we began with games. These games are fun, simple and my experience was that they created connection among all the participants. We learned each other’s names, we got to know each other’s rhythms and style.

Another wonderful learning, or better to say re-learning and re-emphasis, was the talk about dialogue as opposed to monologue. Throughout the whole conference I became very aware of the monologue and the dialogue. It was most enjoyable when we were in dialogue, which is the basis of TO work. It is what distinguishes it from regular theatre. The audience and the artists (we are all artists together) remain in dialogue with each other and influence each other.

For legislative theatre to work, the participants need several things: desire and necessity to change the situation, to provoke change along with the motivation to change. Necessity is not enough. You need the desire to provoke change in this work.

In the zine 20 Years of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed (20th PTO Conference June 26-29th 2014

Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed

I read the following, and I thought it was relevant to the people back home reading my blog post. Katherine Burke, our current president of PTO wrote this:

SO YOU WANT TO BE A JOKER, KATHERINE BURKE writes

Where to start?

STEP 1: Get people together.
This can be the hardest part! Start with people you know. TO is theatre BY the oppressed, FOR the oppressed. So ti can be helpful if you have a group of peole who are concerned about oppression.

STEP 2: Look in Games for Actors and Non-Actors for some simple, fun games (GAMES FOR ACTORS AND NON ACTORS (PDF)

Katherine then writes “Talk about your experience with the games, try different variations. How are the games metaphors for life? how do they make your body feel? do they alter how you move through the world? do you see or feel things differently after the game?

STEP 3: DECIDE HOW YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD. Becoming a Joker means that you want to change the world, in small and big ways. Start at home, in your own community. What needs to change?

STEP 4: Tell Stories:
Focus on the problem and tell your stories to each other. one or more of these stories may inspire a Forum Play. for those of you who want to use this in the classroom I\'ve added this link

STEP 5: Create a play
Everyone works together democratically. use Image Theatre to help you find clairyt and potency. rehearse, revise, play, perform.

STEP 6: Share your play
Invite more friends and people concerned about this problem to see your play. Where? Anywhere! in a school, park, church, living room, coffee shop…anywhere people can gather.

STEP 7: PROBLEMATIZE
The work of the joker is to be a Difficultator, not a Facilitator. It is not your job to find the solution but to encourage hard questions.

STEP 8: Get out of the way.
Trust the group. Trust the games. Trust the process. And get out of the way. You don’t have to make it perfect.

THANK YOU KATHERINE BURKE!

TO BE CONTINUED.

Theatre of the Oppressed: Omaha Conference celebrating 20 years

I have just returned from Omaha, Nebraska where I attended a TO conference (Theatre of the Oppressed). It was a full six days of workshops, dialogue, performances and socialising. There was a three day Legislative Theatre pre-conference workshop and opportunities to work with practitioners including:
Charles Adams
Julian Boal
Mariana Leal Ferreira
Jesse Hagopian
Gloria J. Ladson-Billings
Barbara Santos
José Soeiro
Biographies can be accessed at KEYNOTE BIOGRAPHIES

HERE IS AN OUTLINE OF THE PRE-CONFERENCE WORKSHOP ON LEGISLATIVE THEATRE:

WE explored Theatre of the Oppressed’s Legislative Theatre with jokers Barbara Santos (who worked with Augusto Boal at the original Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro) and Jose Soeiro, TO activist in Portugal. Our theme was Education, and we created Image Theatre, Forum Theatre and finally a full Legislative Theatre Session which was attended by invited guests and conference participants.

What is Legislative Theatre?

From The Forum Project’s website:

Legislative Theatre is an extension of Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques and functions to determine the need for, create, and enact laws. Beyond community building and issue awareness, Legislative Theatre uses theatrical techniques to create concrete and specific socio-political impact:

“In the Legislative Theatre the aim is to bring the theatre back to the heart of the city, to produce not catharsis but dynamisation…The Legislative Theatre seeks to go further [than Forum Theatre] and to transform that desire in to law” (A. Boal, Legislative Theatre 20).

After an intense three days we began the Conference at University of Omaha where Doug Patterson started TO twenty years ago. TO BE CONTINUED.

Ten things I learned at The Creative Aging Conference, Washington DC JUNE 2014

So I am sitting in a sun drenched room in a gorgeous little hotel called Hotel Lombardy in Washington DC.

taken at ENCORE! Hands on Creative Aging Training for Artists, hosted by Susan Perlstein and Stuart Kandell

I have just spent four crazy filled days talking about something that previously I would have thought “What…you mean what?”

These four days have opened other worlds for me and in turn hopefully for our community back in Queensland.  I have met gloriously friendly and extremely capable people who have spent years bringing creativity to the elders of their community. Why you may ask? Well I learned that too! Gene Cohen, a revered elder of the NCCA  community dedicated his life to researching the effects of creativity on the elderly. One of his favourite sayings was “Creativity is like Chocolate to the Brain”. NCCA, or National Center for Creative Aging here in Washington (http://www.creativeaging.org) has based their work on his research and this was their first ever conference. Several Aussies crossed the Pacific to attend, and I did not know any of them, but I know them now: Margret Meahger from Port Macquarie who founded Arts and Health Conference, Australia (its in Melbourne this year http://www.artsandhealth.org.au/conferences/the-art-of-good-health-and-wellbeing-melbourne-2014.html) and Steve Mayer-Miller who began CrossRoad Arts in Mackay Queensland (http://www.crossroadarts.com.au/site/ ).

I loved this image: for me, a whimsical image of belonging

I loved this image: for me, a whimsical image of belonging

So what did I learn at this hugely impactful conference? The below points are not chronological. I am allowing the thoughts to emerge as I write, rather than predetermined…I think it is more alive that way, at least for me:

1. There is a very fine line between friendly, open and equal exchange of processes and a slightly condescending tone.

Mostly I witnessed enormous skill where facilitators worked with us in a collaborative and open manner. The challenge is how to present creative arts to people who may have hearing loss, memory loss, dementia, etc. and still remain collaborative. Some of the facilitators were brilliant at this: on our final post conference day, we worked with four facilitators:  who all excelled at connecting to their “clients” (and we were their clients that day) in such a light, fun and respectful way:

  • Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, Co-Founder MacPhail Music for Life
  • Margot Greenlee, Founder, Bodywise Dance
  • George Merced, Associate Artistic Director, Pregones Theater
  • Jeff Nachtigall, Founder Open Studio Projects
I watched exquisite skill, huge sense of humour, “yes-and”, strengths based work.
2. I learned the importance of planning programs and how these plans are not so different from the collaborative rehearsal processes that we use at Force of Circumstance (FOC)  and 4change. I have dreamed on these approaches to include:
  • emphasis on process AND product. Jeff Nachtigall talked about the importance of not sacrificing one for the other, rather allowing both to sit side by side. This is certainly how i see FOC: highly aesthetic productions with a very powerful process.
  • Mastery: that all participants learn new skills. In our case (FOC), the involvement of professional actors from multiple generations opens up opportunities for new learning across the age groups.
  • Social engagement: the importance of sharing the space, food, conversation, as well as the work.  FOC places a lot of emphasis on hosting and it is wonderful to see how this is reflected here in DC.
  • Adult Learning Principles: now this expression was new to me, though the process was not. Check out  http://www.qotfc.edu.au/resource/?page=65375 for more clarification.
3. That artists have summed up the joy of creation so beautifully. Here is a quote from Willa Cather
What was any art but an effort to make a sheath a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself-life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose
3 and 3 again: “Setting an Intention”: Patricia Dubroof, the gallery Director at Iona Senior Services, began her presentation with “lets set an intention”. I loved the language she used. I normally use “what is our goal for today” or “what do we want to dream on”, but “to set an intention” seems to combine both of those things and keeps us firmly in the drivers seat. Thank you Patricia! I will use that expression!
4. That there are so many wonderful organisations dedicated to working with elder, both in homes and in the community. So many intergenerational programs. Such richness, and I feel motivated to bring these ideas back home and begin to implement them. Should I set up a meeting with Campbell Newman (our Premier of Queensland) to discuss where we are going regarding creative ageing?
5. The importance of evaluation: The conference had very simple evaluation forms that we filled out after every session. It covered the content and process, the skills and the logistics.  A very simple evaluation which I loved was suggested:  “If this workshop was a show, how many stars would you give it?” So simple!
I think evaluation is something that artists often fall short of: we are too busy creating our work let alone evaluating it. I think I will create some evaluation forms to have on hold, something that can be pulled out and adjusted depending on the workshop/performance.
6. Our Potential:  something our keynote mentioned is still resonating with me: Mark Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist, entertained us royally with a beautifully prepared presentation that set the tone for the conference.  First of all he quoted Gene Cohen:
What has been universally denied is the potential. The ultimate expression of potential is Creativity.
Its worth checking out his website: http://www.marcagronin.com
He also said “the arts bring us together and transcend” and I will add the arts bring us together and transcend limitations and obstacles, and open up the doorway to our enormous potential, regardless of age and circumstance.
7.  We can no longer only focus on K-12 education. We need to change that to “Cradle to Grave”…what a disturbing expression but it really visualises the fact that we never stop learning. and science can now prove that our brains continue to grow as we age, and in fact can work even more effectively.
8. Problem solving is creativity with a capital C: there were so many people wanting to present at this conference, that the solution was bringing several facilitators together on the floor at the same time. So not only did they have to improvise their presentations most of the time, they also had to negotiate relationship. What was so marvellous about this was the modelling that I observed. Most facilitators warmed to this way of working extremely successfully, to the extent that in one particular workshop (Using Storytelling to Build Community and Enhance Cultural Understanding with Cathy Dewitt, Molly Sturges, Russella Bradman and Anthony Hyatt) I was convinced they were a team. Anthony simply joined in with his violin at most appropriate times as Molly and Cathy moved seamlessly between their own presentations.  I think more collaborative conferences and leadership exchange conferences  should risk this format, because not only do you get an insight into multiple ways of working, you also witness the modelling of the process.
9.  There is such a thing as an Age Friendly City. There is a whole movement! And it is international! Again, a meeting with Campbell Newman may be a good idea here: is Brisbane an Age Friendly City?
10. DREAM BIG: all the people I met who have achieved huge things in this area have dreamed big. People like John Zeisel (“I’m Still Here” his book…check out his website http://www.imstillhere.org) who talked about environment not just being a place. It is also how you are welcomed into that space.  His research will enrich mine: the importance of hosting the space as well as providing the place.  Susan Perlstein who founded National Center for Creative Aging (http://www.artfulaging.org/meet-the-team-1/) modelled the way she works with elders: respectful, deep understanding of time, process and needs. This reinforced the importance of ‘know thyself’ when embracing the role of facilitator. The more we know ourselves, the more we can model best practice, and “the medium is the message”.
Thank you National Center for Creative Aging: I have learned so much and hope to take much of it back home and ‘Dream Big’.
Margi