Friday, May 6, 2011

When a cast becomes an ensemble - those special experiences!

It's been a very big week.. actually a very big year so far! This week was rather special though as we staged as first show Cleo Missing as 2Muse Productions. My partner and I (business and fun partner, Mary, as opposed to my 'life' partner Ray) have formed a production company to help create innovative performance work with and for young people. I thought I was getting a bit long in the tooth to still be working with young people (looking at big birthdays coming up and having worked mainly with adults for a few years now) but you know, it's been such a joy to work with young people again - I love their enthusiasm, their energy, their ideas and the openness to possibilities. It's also reminded me about how special and significant drama was in my life as a teenager, having those opportunites to experiment with other ways of being, finding voices and attitudes I could express and explore, and the thrill of excitement when all the peices came together in performance. I was particularly reminded of this one day when I heard one of our cast members say "I don't know how I'd get through the school day without drama" - I remember writing the exact same thing in a diary I kept when I was about 15. What I found magical and amazing about these experiences several decades ago, is just as special today... and I guess that is why I felt the call to return to working with young people, pay it forward as it were.

Just three months ago we held open auditions and met a range of 13-16 year old from across the coast. Several came with friends, and some knew each other from going to Mary's after school drama workshops with S.O.D.A. Others knew no-one, but came along, interested in the idea of performing in a professional space, extending their experiences beyond the school musical (and I'm not putting down school musicals - hey I've directed about 20 of them over the years) and some had already read the script online and wanted to be part of telling this story. But it was a big risk for some of them to do this, knowing nobody and yet willing to invest their trust in us.

Over the course of two weeks we found the right people for the roles and began our explorations and interpretations, moulding the script and energising it. With 'Cleo Missing' I had wanted to create some great roles for young people, ones they could get their teeth into and to relate to... and it was so exciting to see the characters blossoming and the young actors finding new depths and sides to roles. What was also exciting to see was the way the sense of ensemble grew - when that sense of self consciousness, of being afraid of the judgement of others, of being afraid to try something totally left of field ... all of that disappeared and the young people involved were able to accept each other, to know each other and to become friends. That is not to say everyone became best buddies with everyone else, but there was this growing acceptance of others foibles and mistakes, and support for each other.

We knew it had happened when it became harder to get people back from their breaks and the noise of animated conversation filled any gaps in rehearsals, when nicknames were shared and when certain words and sayings were adopted... (I can't experience an awkward silence now without hearing Gemma's ''awkies"). There was a collective sense of support and all of a sudden we moved from little groups of one, two and three with polite exchanges and interactions, into becoming an ensemble. It doesn't always happen - sometimes the egos, the fears, the histories are hard to work through and there just isn't the will or energy to be able to do it. But when that transformation does occur, it makes the whole experience more meaningful.

And that was what I was touched by this week. I know the actual performance experience, the stagecraft and acting skills they developed were what most of them came for and that is a very important outcome from the project. However, when I asked them to identify one thing that stands out for them from across the project... they said things like this:

"I found it incredible how coming into the production I knew no-one but everyone welcomed me into their arms and now they are all amazing friends"
"the fun one can have when everyone is working well together"
"How fantastic everyone is and how well we all get along"
"The great environment created by everyone in the cast and crew".

This has been an important experience in their lives, they created something special, and their hard work and willingness to trust paid off! This is not self-congratulatory twaddle by the way - I just wanted to take the time to note the importance of these types of deeply engaging, significant experiences for young people (and the not so young)!

Thank you to (in order of appearance!!) Cameron, Harry, Brylee, Mark, Andrew, Umi, Paige, Gemma, Liam and Julia - (and the little bit older 'young at heart' people), Mary, Mark and Bruce. My dream became your dream and now your dreams feed mine!

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