Monday, 5 November 2007

Group Discussion - Choosing a Topic

During our last session (week five) which was the final session before rehearsals begin, we spent approximately the last hour discussing what topic we were going to base our final performance on. The discussion also led on to the various issues surrounding the creative process, when it comes to devising the final piece: the division of roles, timing, the order of the creative process etc… Before we began this discussion, Matthew suggested we follow a certain structure, as laid out in the ‘Wise Fool’s Handbook’ which has been our constant companion throughout this course. Various roles were given out, Time-keeper (Rob), Vibe-reader (Charlotte), note-taker (Carmen) and Cheryl took on the role of the ‘Organiser’ (to be honest I can’t remember the actual title of her role, sorry!) she was in charge of who would speak and when. Initially this plan wasn’t received very well, with most of us taking a very cynical attitude towards this very controlled form of discussion, but towards the end of the ‘conference’ style talk, it was clearly successful as everyone got a chance to speak their mind and a general consensus was reached in a very democratic and intelligent way. As I was assigned the role of ‘Note-taker’, I will now try my best to write up the notes I took of during the session. I tried my best to write down what everyone said and apologise in advance if I leave anything or anyone out but we’ll just have to put in down to human error! I wasn’t sure what form to present the notes in, but as I just wrote down what everyone said, I will simply recount the conversation that took place and the conclusions we reached.

To begin with Cheryl announced we had 10 minutes to discuss or put forward our own views on what topic we wanted to base our performance on. We were given a choice of three current affairs: Globalisation, Climate change and The War and Terror. The discussion was opened by Lou who expressed her reservations about choosing ‘The war on terror’. She felt it was a topic that we didn’t know enough about, and was a subject that may require research into the whole history of the Middle East. This statement was more or less the core of our ‘debate’. Laura then told the class that she had studied this ‘issue’ at A-level and was therefore fairly knowledgeable already and this would be of great value to the production. Alice then admitted that it would be easier to take on Climate change but that the war on terror was currently more relevant. Nia then made a very important point, she reminded the group that the war on terror was an extremely broad topic and it would be better if we specified or focused on a certain aspect of this broad theme. Examples were given such as ‘Guantanamo Bay’ and the theme of torture as a product of the war on terror. I feel that even though many of us may not know a lot about the war on terror as Georgia commented, we should take this opportunity to educate ourselves about such an important issue. This reminded me of the whole concept of bread and puppet – educating and informing people about the important issues in our world today. Matthew then voiced his preference and interest in focusing on globalisation. He made it much more relevant to our current community by connecting it to Egham and the corporate food industry’s (e.g. Dominos) monopoly of the food market, which made smaller businesses suffer. This topic was discussed further but the conversation was eventually brought back to the theme of the war on terror. Laura suggested that we use our performance to inform people about what’s going on. Or maybe use it as a form of protest against the general ignorance found in our society. Rob also gave some ideas about the style of the performance, which signalled the move to more concrete ideas. He suggested we create something comical and satirical, maybe highlighting the media’s stereotypical presentation of this topic. Cheryl then brought the conversation to a close, and gave those who hadn’t spoken a chance to voice their opinions. Lou then expressed that even though she would rather do climate change, she was willing to accept the topic of ‘war on terror’ without any reservations. Cheryl then suggested a vote through a show of hands and it was decided that we would base out final performance on ‘The War on Terror’. The discussion carried on from there with ideas surrounding ‘The War on Terror’ expressed. One of the main ideas was that the whole concept of ‘The War on Terror’ is very recent, only beginning after 9/11. This makes it all the more relevant and immediate, which is an essential quality in the Bread and Puppet ideology.

The Next fifteen minutes were dedicated to discussing the creative process we are going to undertake as a group. We were basically trying to decide the next step after choosing our theme. Emily started out by highlighting the advantages of working in smaller groups: it can be more comfortable to share ideas and then these ideas can then be presented to the group as a whole. Laura supported this by commenting that smaller groups are better for focusing on the various aspects of the performance such as puppets, script, music etc… Cheryl also expressed reservations about the disadvantages of an ensemble piece, with the strong possibilities of conflicts arising easily. However Rob then reminded the group that the final piece was an ensemble piece and we needed to stay true to the ‘theatre group’ we were trying to recreate, including the creative process. Matthew then reminded the group of the ‘Nicaragua model’ of group work which had been discussing earlier. In the Bread and Puppet’s work in Nicaragua, various groups had formed naturally during the creative process, with each focusing on a different area. This was generally agreed on by the group to be the way forward. We also discussed whether a ‘director’ or as we put it a ‘Schumann’ type role should be allocated. After a lot of discussion we decided it would be better to have 3 or 4 people assigned to that role and also to depend on our ability to function as a group more. Matthew reminded as that it was too early to decide at this stage and we came to the general consensus to wait till after we had decided on a concrete idea to choose people to take this position. Jollie suggested that we go away and do some research over reading week and then come back and present it to the group as a ‘pitch’. After a lot of discussion we also felt that each member of the group should conduct their own research and also come back with some sort of practical vision as well as knowledge surrounding the issue. This information could then be developed as a group. So we finally decided that reading week should be used to gather general stimulus and develop personal ideas rather than rehearsal as we all would feel more comfortable beginning the creative process around a concrete idea. The group was also asked to think about various aspects: The audience, the performance space, images, puppets, words, songs etc… The 15 minutes was then brought to a close and a further 5 minutes given in order for people to express any reservations or concerns.
Some members expressed concerns about the smaller groups being fixed and would rather gain experience in all the various creative areas rather than be restricted to one. Concerns were raised about the location of the performance being outdoors during December, and the need for a back up plan if it rains etc… Although most people wanted to perform outdoors we decided we had to create a performance that would be adaptable indoors and keep in mind the limitations this creates. We also discussed the ‘Bread’ aspect of the performance which raised many issues concerning the ‘ethos’ of bread making within Bread and Puppet’s ideology. Many practical concerns about the bread making were also raised. The session was concluded with the unanimous decision to use reading week to research and develop ideas, the present them to the class next week and begin the ‘group’ creative process from there.
Personally I felt that the discussion was very successful and the group has become much more comfortable with each other as a result. I am really looking forward to what is to come.

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