As a Youth Theatre Leader at Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, my challenge this term is to encourage a group of 14 and 15 year olds to create some interesting pieces of theatre using historical stimuli – not as easy as it sounds, but certainly a lot of fun!
I run sessions for two Year 10 groups and have chosen two stimuli from the archives: correspondence regarding a charity cricket match between Chichester Festival Theatre and the RSC in 1986 and letters containing information for young people participating in a professional production of Jane Eyre in the same year.
I began by thinking of exercises that would allow Youth Theatre members to create performances based on this particular material. Cricket is an especially difficult topic with which to inspire teenage girls (and some boys). Introductory sessions included creating freeze frames to represent different stages of a cricket match, flowing between each one and moving to the sounds of Soul Limbo – a classic cricket theme. Following this, the freeze frames were combined to create whole group images of a cricket match thinking predominantly about clear body positioning and facial expressions.
With the Jane Eyre letters we thought about child-like feelings and remembered how the world felt to us as young children. The group then approached our initial exercises from the point of view of young children. We warmed up by improvising a seventh birthday party group– very loud, high energy and great fun. Another idea focused on opening a letter and being incredibly excited and happy or hugely disappointed by its contents, whatever that might be, and considering this approach again but as a young child.
In follow-up sessions we looked at creating soundscapes for a cricket match, where small sub groups chose aspects of cricket they wished to consider. This included the noise of the crowd and the sounds heard by each batsman- the intricacies of a heartbeat, heavy breathing and the whistle of a cricket ball through the wind.
The other Year 10 group thought about the sounds that would be heard backstage at a large professional theatre- actors and musicians warming up, set being moved around etc. This set some ideas in motion for a scene in which young children arrive at the theatre ready to rehearse in Jane Eyre. The emphasis on sound was used to accentuate the child-like wonder associated with arriving in a new and exciting place.
Workshops I have planned for the near future will focus on creating short performance scenes based on the themes of Jane Eyre – morality, religion, social class and gender relations – and similar scenes focusing on ideas linked to a cricket match – competition, winning and losing, sledging (distracting mockery of the batsman) and teamwork using Shakespearean quotes to incorporate the participation of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
All of this will be working up to short performances given to other Chichester Festival Youth Theatre groups in November. We will all share the performance pieces we’ve been working on inspired by the Theatre archives and I can’t wait to see the results!