UNinspired!

On Saturday 27 October, as part of our residency at the West Yorkshire Playhouse we ran “UNinspire”. We asked our twitter followers if anyone would like to write an account of it and Jessica Brooks put her hand up. Here’s what she wrote. Thanks, Jessie…

As part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s ‘Furnace’ weekend, Unlimited Theatre delivered a workshop aimed at developing ideas, meeting new people, and learning new ways to work collaboratively. Having lived in Leeds for five years and now living in London, I was interested to return to my beloved Yorkshire and (having been told about the event by my mother!) was intrigued to see what was happening outside of London, where I struggle to ‘meet new people’ a lot – even though there are 8 million of them.

Standing in the Playhouse café waiting for the UNinspire workshop to start, felt reminiscent of my first day at secondary school. I tried hard to remind myself that at the ripe old age of 26, I should be nonchalant and breezy about the prospect of spending the afternoon with around 40 people I’d never met before.

Despite my caffeine-fuelled nerves however, upon entering the room and being greeted by Jon of Unlimited Theatre, the heart palpitations waned a little. Jon set out a sort of manifesto – three very wise pieces of advice for the afternoon ahead; be generous, don’t be too precious about your ideas, and say ‘yes and’ instead of ‘no but’.

We were then asked to write down an idea on a postcard – it could be big, small, developed, spur of the moment, an observation, or something which might have been niggling at the neurons on the bus. What followed was a sort of ‘idea speed dating’, where we mingled in the room, introduced ourselves, and swapped our postcards. It was a relief to see the postcards pass multiple hands: first manifesto rule acknowledged – at least I couldn’t possibly be precious about that idea any more, and even better, nobody knew it was mine…

In groups of four we knuckled down to achieve the next stage of Jon’s brief – to unfold our cards, and based on what was written, come up with an ‘event’ – something which had a beginning and an end, lasted 30-90 seconds, and could be taught to someone else.

Part of the momentum of this period of generating was the fact we had strict time limitations imposed on us – just a few minutes for each ‘event. The age-old mantra that restrictions can liberate your creativity rang true. A quick glance around the room showed a hub of surreal activity, and an almost tangible creative electricity. We worked eagerly to share ideas, test them, embellish them, dismiss them, turn them upside down and look at them sideways. It felt refreshing to be in a group of strangers, and the energy was exciting, supportive, safe, and all about the task at hand – to take other individual’s ideas, and realize them in some way or another, as a group.

As part of the afternoon, four performances took place in the space, and broke up the pace of the afternoon with a chance to see some diverse and exciting pieces of work. Dug Out theatre performed an improvised scene based on Hamlet, Manic Chord performed a witty analysis of language combining a fast-paced cooking demonstration with physical story-telling, Uncanny Theatre dissected our thirst for superstitions with innovative use of torches, whilst the Flanagan Collective employed beautiful folk harmonies to accompany a narrative.

The final part of the afternoon was the culmination of our group work – for half an hour the centre of the theatre became a playing space which groups and individuals entered and performed the physical and vocal manifestations of the afternoon. We could sit or stand in amongst the action, or we could watch from the edge. It was a living, breathing, spontaneous performance, where surreal and bizarre moments emerged in which you could infer narratives (think flu ridden commuters crossing herd of emotionally unstable cows) or simply watch the beauty of different bodies in space. At times ambient music played, and we all occupied the space, staring up towards the ceiling. We had, as Jon had promised at the start, ‘made a performance’, in the space of only 3 hours – go us!

More than anything, this workshop impressed upon me how great it is to work with new people – and as well as being a good opportunity to network, see ideas flourish, and have fun, it also felt incredibly cathartic. I really appreciated working with other people’s sources of inspiration. If I had been asked to work with my original idea, I think I would have been paralysed. It was a safe space – at times nerve racking, but without the overbearing responsibility to ‘perform’. Instead, it was about collaboration, meeting new people, and the chance to see some, more developed work, which by the way, made me feel quietly miffed that I don’t still live in Leeds now…

Jessica Brooks is a theatre-maker from Yorkshire, currently living in London. She is a member of Mayday Theatre, who will perform their devised show ‘This is a Reconstruction’ at Camden People’s Theatre on 1st and 2nd Dec.

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