Thursday, 1 November 2012

Meetings at the IAA and some Mysterious Letters.

An early morning session meeting the staff of the IAA and a chance to talk about the Applied Theatre work that we've carried out at Drama St Mary's over the past six years. It's bizarre that in all the time the degree has been running this is the first time I've had a chance to present a retrospective of the work we've achieved.

There's always been two distinct sides to the programme. One is an engagement with theatre as an educational tool, looking at the way improvisation and role play can imagine possibilities and explore alternative ways of thinking, behaving and being. The other is to look at the communal act of bringing people together to create or share something - a story, a problem, a meal etc. Implicit in both forms of theatre making is the notion that the aesthetic comes from and through the participants.

When I do talk about the work that we do at St Marys the moment that always seems to raise eyebrows is when we talk about how much of the work is produced by the students. We don't really believe any more that there is a secure theatre industry ready to open its arms to the hundreds of Drama students graduating each year and so much of our focus is on developing the entrepreneurial skills needed to create new opportunities. Most of our students still come to us at 18 and it's such a narrow window of time before they're leaving again at 21 or 22. In that time we need them to become industrious actors, discerning critics, intelligent directors, crafty writers, imaginative designers and problem solving technicians, but most of all we need them to able to do all of that without fear. There's not much time to wonder if it's the right kind of life for you.

The Academy run a similar kind of programme, but focused much more on live art than on community engagement. One of the hallmarks of the artists, actors and directors I've met in Iceland is an enhanced understanding and sensibility of the nature and texture of things. I guess it comes from growing up surrounded by fire, ice and water - but it's always striking that at the heart of much Icelandic art is a desire to capture a moment of dynamism and hold it frozen in time. Some of the work done by their students in this field represents a new generation looking for the simply beauty of a weather worn bird skull, the purity of a pebble or the expectation of a hanging raindrop. There is calmness and breath to everything here. On one level it feels like a polar opposite of what we're trying to achieve, on another it seems very closely aligned.

The IAA team seemed to enjoy the morning and we spent a lovely lunch break talking about possibilities for future collaborations. It'd be great to find a way to work with them.

This afternoon back with the students we did some further exploration of verbatim work, focusing particularly on found texts - letters, diary entries, newspaper reports. We talked about piecing together evidence to create a new story. The day after tomorrow we're going to try a mini-assessment.

Back at the house Vigdis revealed that when the family had first moved in they'd discovered boarded up in a cupboard a stack of hidden letters written in the fifties that had been lovingly placed there by a previous owner. They were sent to him from a lover who'd sailed away on the SS Gulfoss, which regularly plied a route between Reykjavik, Edinburgh and Copenhagen. The woman eventually got to London, staying first in a boarding house in Bow before moving to Hampstead. There was a photograph of her sleeping peacefully sent in one of the early ones.

As time went by the letters grew more distant and eventually after a couple of years stopped.

Vigdis doesn't really know what to do with them. It's clear that the man had placed them carefully, but did he want them to be found quite so soon? What became of the woman? Are either of them still alive? And if they are would they want to be reacquainted with the correspondence?

My instinct was to do some more research. Vigdis' is to let sleeping dogs lie. Still they are too precious to destroy and so they'll sit in the house until a clearer plan emerges.