Smashing Times Artists Play It out Loud

Smashing Times staff member Veronica Leaney and artists Larissa Manley and Michael McCabe were in Łódź, Poland from 7-10 November, 2019 for a training course presented as part of the European partner project Play It Out Loud supported by Erasmus+. Play It out Loud explores the use of theatre games and exercises to build social skills with young people and the partner organisations are Akademia Humanistyczno-Ekonomiczna w Lodzi, Poland (lead partner); National Drama, Norwich, United Kingdom; Smashing Times, Dublin, Ireland; Instalofi Levante SL, Spain; and ECTE European Center in Training for Employment, Greece. More info can be found here. Below is a series of blogs written by the artists and staff while on the trip. Thanks as always to our wonderful hosts, and the project leader Akademia Humanistyczno-Ekonomiczna w Łodzi.

Day 1, Thursday, 7 November, 2019: In the Company of Strangers, Veronica Leaney

‘The Irish’, as we would be referred to for the next few days, met for the first time at the airport in Łódź. After checking in to our hotel we went for a walk and a snack to get to know a little about each other. However, being Irish, by the time we set out for the ‘meet and greet’ first evening of the Play it Out Loud training hosted by Akademia Humanistczno-Ekonomiczna w Lodzi, we had bonded. On arrival at Arterion (the University’s studio space) we played games, we laughed, we learnt about each other and the project. I will forever remember the name of every attendee thanks to the wonderful games organised by Camilla Witerska. The stage is set.

Day 2, Friday, 8 November, 2019: Michael McCabe

We were welcomed to the space with such generous warmth by our Polish hosts, and we started our work with similar games to the previous evening, where the group were made to feel so comfortable and safe, in order to delve into deeper group work. Simple games, such as one requiring those wearing black socks to walk into the circle, and when you sit down to change your seat.

We had a wonderful group activity were one volunteer caught people to become parts of a brick wall, and piece by piece, the escape route for others became less and less.

Another fantastic group activity I found was one where a group of four, one by one, constructed the ideal house with members of the group. Here, at a deeper level, we can find out children’s potential values, what may be missing in their house, creating and communicating this through working in a group.

Our main facilitator today after these games was Patrice Baldwin, and her aim was to share some new techniques of teaching drama inspired by the pedagogy of Dorothy Heathcote. While introducing herself, Patrice pointed out that she would be taking on different roles as part of her facilitation, from storyteller, to teacher, teacher-in-role, narrator, and that each time she would make it clear what role she was taking for a particular section of the activity planned.

She asked us all to stand, go into a working space, close our eyes, and visualise a rat, which I thought was an unusual way to start floor work. Of course, it became quickly apparent she was introducing the story of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’. Gradually, we went into pairs, and shared these descriptions. Subsequently, we were to go into the group, to share with the whole group these descriptions ‘in a gossipy fashion’. We finally had to summarise our experiences of this rat in one sentence/phrase.

Eventually, in groups of four, we all morphed into a carousel presentation, where Patrice gave each group one line of a part of the story that we were to present. Even when ‘not presenting’, she encouraged us to be aware that the curtain, once up, was always up for the audience to see, and we had to be very serious with play, as children are also serious with play. This story was played out, with Patrice calling us back at times on our role and task, to reflect upon such a task, or give alternative possibilities to different roles/angles the facilitator can take with such a story with a group of children.

We played with the possibilities of children providing the information, or receiving the information whereupon the facilitator would demonstrate, narrate or instruct us to react to a higher authority figure (like the Mayor of Hamelin and how he reacted to a plague of rats, in denial); to him/her as a middle authority figure, showing indecision; and to a low authority figure where he/she constantly is swayed by the passing wind. This extends imagination.

The workshop gave a lot of distinctly prescribed possibilities. In terms of application, my personal methodology would maintain flexibility is required with any group of children to fulfil our remit: enabling shy children to become more at ease in social situations, using drama. The play is the thing! We finished off the evening with a really delicious Polish meal recommended by our wonderful hosts. Of course, to complete this delicious traditional dinner, we collectively toasted our hosts with a shot of Polish vodka that made the heart warm.

Day 3, Saturday, 9 November, 2019: Larissa Manley

Bright and early on Saturday 9th November, we began our second day of training with Kostas (Konstantinas), a member of the Greek delegation. Having a background in biodynamics and an interest in the holistic aspects of the child, Kostas led the group through a wonderful and deep collective movement where participants were invited to engage in the learning through connecting to the energies of one another.

Beginning with an invitation to firstly connect to ourselves as we stood in the circle, Kostas started the process by introducing a breathing pattern completed by a body scan which brought an awareness and stillness to the group. Following his gentle instruction we were then invited to recognise one another through eye contact from our individual positions in the circle. It was a natural expansion of awareness and acceptance of one another, thus creating a supportive energy through the circle. This recognition was then passed around the circle like a wave with everyone holding hands. Kostas began by raising his linked right arm to the person on his right, a mutual look of recognition then passed between one person and the next, the arms passing the physical movement and direction.

Without instruction, Kostas started clicking his fingers. Intuitively the group followed the movement. Leading with a pat on the chest, crossed arms over the chest, claps and knee patting, the rhythm, quite extraordinary, became a non-verbal collective movement exercise. Taking it even further with the eyes closed and holding hands, Kostas led the group around the room eventually amalgamating into a spiral until there were no gaps between the company. With our heads resting on one another’s shoulders, a wave of different sounds began emerging. The moment of truth then arrived – the conflicting tensions within our individual selves became obvious as people began laughing with the absurdity and discomfort of the exercise and the overwhelming feeling of support that was sustained from the group also. Quite a powerful and difficult exercise, it allowed for the participant’s energy to shift within the connected whole as if searching for perfect equilibrium in energy and connection – an exercise symbolic of ensemble building and not one for the faint-hearted!

With our bodies and hearts warmed up, Kostas’ colleague Juliana switched up the energy with a fun exercise for the classroom. Walking around our lovely space within the Arterion film studios, our instruction was clear: be a monkey. Not too hard for the group of us present. We were birds, wolves, sheep and cats, embodying movements and characteristics alike. As we honed in on the animal that we felt akin to, we then joined with our relevant animal groups. Each animal group then improvised a short scenario resulting in performances with many possibilities.

In a reversal of approach, the afternoon embraced the form of ‘process drama in the classroom’ as leading practitioner Ruth Sayers presented an insightful and structured methodology in using drama as an educational tool. Interestingly creating tension from a simple story, we delved into the world of a ‘secret garden’ as Ruth took on ‘teacher in role’. Introducing challenges along the way, such as ‘trespassing on private property’, Ruth managed to create a space in the drama where us as participants were offered some autonomy over the development of the story we were imagining. Even though the process shapes itself within a restricted imagined environment, it has plenty to offer in regards to opportunities for children to vocalise ideas and opinions on the unfolding story and perhaps the direction that it may take.

After a great day of learning, the Irish contingency headed to Manufaktura, a part of Łódź that boasts an enormous shopping and dining vicinity. Almost a small town in itself, the area is mostly repurposed from gigantic old red brick manufacturing buildings from an age not long past. Deciding to go with a Mexican restaurant, to our delight the drama continued. On ordering desert the lights went out, sparklers were lit, shots were fired and the waiter turned into a raving bandito who slapped the desert down on the table and shoved a sombrero on top of our heads. Staying with the theme of playing it out loud, we certainly finished the day with it!

Day 4, Sunday, 10 November, 2019: Of Kittens and Farewells, Veronica Leaney

The final day of training took place on Sunday. We were a tired but enthusiastic bunch of troubadours arriving for our 9am start. Today, the Irish partner, in the person of Larissa Manley with her lovely volunteer assistant Michael McCabe, opened the session. We played games involving trust, transfers and making cars out of people. The whole session was educational, engaging and informative.

Participants particularly liked the idea of one person being the sculptor and one person being the clay which led into another game where the narrator guided the sculptor in making the clay into a Queen. The narrator then named the Queen and described her appearance.

Kamila from the Polish team then wove two beautiful narratives into dramas which had us vying to give our Queen back her happiness and on the floor playing in the role of kittens.

We then went through the next steps for the project which will involve the participants from all of the countries using 12 of the 20 lesson plans from the Play It out Loud booklet before the end of March 2020 and collecting data to judge the effectiveness or not of the lessons.

It was a testament to all of those present how sad we were to part. It was truly lovely to ‘play’ for a few days with new friends.

Smashing Times Artists involved with Play It Out Loud

Michael McCabe

Michael McCabe is a graduate of the prestigious Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq, Paris, and The Gaiety School of Acting, Dublin. Michael has an M.A. (Honors) in Dramatherapy, (National University of Ireland, Manoah), an M.A. in Modern Drama Studies (University College Dublin), and a B.A. (Honors) in Communication Studies (Dublin City University).

His theatre appearances include: The Drowning Room  (Project Arts Centre), Borstal Boy , The Risen People (The Gaiety Theatre), A Christmas Carol, The Ginger Ale Boy (Corcadorca Theatre Company), Lives Worth Living (Graffiti Theatre Company), Good Evening Mr. Joyce (Samuel Beckett Centre), Promises, Promises (Project Arts Centre), A Day With Daghdha (Daghdha Dance Company), Macbeth, Six Characters in Search for an Author, St. Joan, Ariel (all The Abbey Theatre), Wheel, Jeckyll and Hyde (Dublin and Prague Fringe Festivals), Resist /Surrender (Dublin Dance Festival), Where The Shoe Pinches (The Pavilion Theatre). His television and film appearances include Aristocrats (BBC), Ireland:1848, (RTE), Window (IFI), All God’s Children (RTE/IFI), Nationwide (RTE).

Michael has directed theatre work with the HSE, the Dyspraxia Association of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, St. Michael’s house, and other special needs organisations and schools as a means of developing the potential of theatre. Michael has been working as a Movement Director and teaching extensive movement classes for actors at the Conservatory of Music and Drama, TU Dublin, Rathmines, the Dundalk Institute of Technology, the NAYD, Ringsend Institute, the Department of Performing Arts, Bray Institute of Further Education, and The Gaiety School of Acting (full time course).

Michael’s theatre work is based on building a physical theatre ensemble style based on the techniques of Jacques Lecoq, Anne Bogart, and Arianne Mouchkine. Michael was movement director on The Merchant of Venice , at Mermaid Arts Centre, and on the World premiere of Guerilla Days in Ireland in Cork, which also ran at the the Olympia Theatre, Dublin. He was clown coordinator for 35 clowns and appeared in Barabbas Theatre Company’s production, City of Clowns, at the Dunamaise, Junction and Eargail Arts Festivals, and The Complex, Smithfield. He appeared in Pagliacci at The Everyman Place Theatre, as part of Cork Midsummer Festival.

Larissa Manley

I am a recent graduate on the BA programme in Contemporary and Applied Theatre Studies in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. I have a passion for using theatre in the ‘applied’ sense with people in society that are often neglected or without any autonomy or confidence. I believe the arts, and in particular theatre, play a vital role in offering participants a platform to rediscover lost identities. It supports advocation and creates perspectives around issues that are oftentimes oppressed. I am working in many contexts including educational and social groups, and I believe that the role of facilitator is solely to guide. This allows exploration to remain ethical and inherent to the participant.