A few years ago we gathered 80 young people together from all over Europe for ten days of working together to make theatre. We used a school in Ipswich and every morning these 16-18 year olds started the day with with a warm up. We didn’t just want them to warm up their bodies and their voices but also their minds and their feelings.
I told them that I wanted us to create together a feeling of chaos and then harmony.
You might think that sounds a bit like a recipe for disaster and I bet some of them did as well – certainly some of the other teachers seemed apprehensive about what I was asking for. I thought the group had a lot of energy but they lacked the ability of focusing together which is an essential for theatre. I helped them a bit. I said for chaos I wanted them to stay within an area of the large hall we were in but I wanted them to be as loud and raucous as possible. They couldn’t come into physical contact with anyone else (they had to be safe) but I should feel a bit scared by the sound and spectacle they made. Then for harmony I asked them to explore holding onto a single note and blending it with everyone else.
So off they went. They loved being loud and scary. They smashed that one out of the park. Were they loud? You bet. People were running around shouting and screaming at themselves, each other, at us, at the world in general. It was crazy and although it may seem a bit risky everyone doing theatre understands that it is made up so they are very safe. No one loses control. We do all drive on the correct side of the road.
It went on for some time but they kept up the noise then I decided to move to harmony. That was difficult for me. I hadn’t anticipated that no one would hear me when I shouted out HARMONY! So I kept shouting it until eventually enough of them understand and made a joint sound that made everyone stop shouting. It worked. I don’t know how but out of the shouting and moving it gradually grew into a gentleness, an otherworldliness, a sound of peace. Truly beautiful and the stillness and harmony was extraordinary. It made you hold your breath and it seemed “up there” somewhere. Everyone felt it and was part of it – even those who were just watching. They shared something unexpected and special and carried on with it for what seemed half an hour although it was probably only 7 minutes.
It was the move from the wild abandon and crazy chaos to the stillness and dreamlike community of harmony that made it so powerful. Like the sunshine after a storm, it carried something more. I’ve never forgotten it and I like to think it may be the same for many of them. It touched something deep and spiritual inside us. In some ways the best of theatre training at work.
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