Scattered chairs and order out of chaos

Daniel McElroy

Friday, 16 June 2017

It always amazes me that theatre can so consistently draw people into its arms, embrace them, and then be changed based on the encounter. And it’s not picky—theatre is always ready to be just a little bit better because of the people who make it so, regardless of their experience level.

This week, six of us have be working together to create a play of sorts, to be performed next Tuesday in front of HIA Fellows, staff, and invited guests at CREA, a beautiful performing arts center that’s part of the University of Amsterdam. The experience has been particularly special for me as I’ve seen my group members, who all have varying levels of previous engagement with theatre, create something poignant and collaborative. As someone who makes theatre whenever and wherever I can, I’m used to this sort of creative space and the modes of thinking that get us there, but the magical qualities of the theatre have been revealed to me anew this week as I see them through the eyes of my fellow players: suddenly, I’m reminded not to take for granted that this art form is so democratic. More often than in maybe any other medium, people who make theatre call the end result “our play.” It’s something we made together, and something that couldn’t have existed without all of us.

So what does happen when you put a group of people with vastly different levels of theatre experience in a room and ask them to make a play in one week? Absolute magic.

After a couple crucial workshops with David Limaverde, a Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner based in Amsterdam, our group felt ready to take on the world. We came out of David’s exercises with a newfound faith in one another, and we were prepared to listen and to build upon one another’s ideas to create one cohesive vision. In fact, I’d say my own knowledge about “what we do in theatre” has been challenged in the best way by my group-mates, who have at moments trusted me and at others questioned my assumptions, which is all for the better because their own input at these moments has been spot on.

I’m struck by the juxtaposition of all that has happened during our program this week—high tensions and an explosion of honesty—and the vulnerability that the six of us working on this play have shared. It seems that the broader environment this week, which has seen fellows organizing and attempting to put their own ideas about the program itself into action, has carried into our creative space in a really special way. From my perspective it seems that we, too, have felt the urgency of making this entire HIA experience “worth it,” but working so intimately on a project that is deeply personal for each of us and simultaneously “ours” seems to have had this effect on a smaller scale.

As we’ve tried to bring order from the chaos of the world and of this HIA cohort, perhaps our work has unconsciously been influenced by those surroundings. When you enter the theatre next week, you can expect to find chairs scattered about the room—this is not going to be the theatre experience you may have been expecting. Think of this as the chaos you’ve felt over the past few weeks. But also, let this chaos settle as you focus on the stories of five women who all have something vital to share, and then work with us as we try to climb out of the chaos together. If you give yourself over to that creative process as much as we have this past week, I hope you will find that there is more than one way to make sense of it all and to feel like you’ve obtained something from this whole experience.

Let the theatre embrace you; it and you will be better for it.