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Andrew Paine

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Devoted & Disgruntled: What Are We Going to Do About Theatre?

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I was fortunate enough to support Improbable Theatre this week, with an Open Space event called 'Devoted & Disgruntled: What are we going to do about Theatre?' Improbable hosted their first 'D&D' four years ago; gathering in Open Space and working on what could be improved in theatre: an opportunity to talk about the things the community were passionate about and the things they wished were different. As Phelim McDermott, one of the Artistic Directors for Improbable says: "Working in Open Space allows you to set the agenda. It is an exciting open-ended event that enables a self-organising group to use its collective imagination to deal with complex issues and it will achieve this in an incredibly short space of time. On past experience of D&D, the more diverse our group, the more creative and exciting the work has been. All sectors and genres of the performing community are invited. " As we gathered together on a wet wednesday morning, sitting in our circle, hugging our coffees, I was struck by the power of a circle, the opportunity to do good work presenting itself without barriers. It's partly to do with the complicity of those present - mostly volunteered, either through real passion and responsibility or just mildly curious. Phelim opens the space and although I've used the same format myself, I tune in to his explanation of the process, particularly when covering the four principles and one law Four Principles •Whoever comes are the right people •Whenever it starts is the right time •Whatever happens is the only thing that could have •When it's over, it's over One Law •The Law of Two Feet Phelim talks about the self-organising group, how the process of OS tends to reflect how we lead our lives on a day-to-day basis. The interesting thing about this particular event, is that over two half days, there will be no reporting on site and no voting on the hot themes, no prioritisation. The responsibility lies with the convener to take some notes and decide whether or not to type them up at a later date and forward them on to Improbable. In other OS events I've been involved with, the material has either been typed up by the convenor during the day or left on flip charts to be word processed at some later date. The 'marketplace' is opened and cautiously people come to the centre of the circle and write their theme, announce their names and choose a space and time with which to convene their meetings. After twenty minutes we have thirteen issues spread over the two half days and Phelim describes the two insects our behaviour may mimic during the meetings. Firstly, we are told of bumble bees and how during the sessions we may decide to move from one group to another like a bee buzzing from flower to flower, cross-pollinating ideas. Secondly, we are told of butterflies and how we may find ourselves outside any of the groups, standing around looking pretty and possibly doing nothing. However, the butterfly may attract others and during gossip and small-talk (is there such a thing?), may spring a new idea and a theme will emerge and a conversation take place.. At one point during the first morning, I initiated an experiment by sitting in an empty space to see if I could attract anybody over. After a few minutes I was joined by Phelim and we discussed our mutual love of OS and various aspects of the work. Eventually, we were joined by somebody who had walked in off the street. He sat down and asked us what 'it' was all about. Over the next thirty minutes we talked about the philosophy of OS and how it's basic principles and law can have such a profound effect on individuals and organisations. Durung the first morning, a theatre company came in and set up their show - indeed - performed their show from 1.00pm - 2.00pm, while OS continued around them. What was encouraging was the acceptance that this was happening and how it simply became part of the event. The strength of OS seems to be in its adaptability - what other meeting could incorporate such a seemingly chaotic anomaly? Indeed, if we had been holding a formal meeting with a strict agenda, there is no way the theatre group would have have been allowed in 'our' space. It is the acceptance of the four principles in their purest terms, which makes this kind of thing a) possible and b) acceptable. On the second day, a friend of mine reminds me of a quote by Woody Allen: "The world is run by the people who choose to turn up." I like that - it fits with OS - and I may well use it to introduce other reflective practice meetings, where like-minded, passionate people have chosen to come together because they care enough to do so. Day two begins with some familiar faces and a cluster of new bodies. Phelim begins the morning with a resume of the OS process before an invitation is given come to the centre of the circle and write any new issues and build on those already posted from the previous morning. As the day progresses, I'm struck by how people really get stuck into the spirit of the thing, people bumble bee from meeting to meeting, before settling on something which really grabs their attention. everybody leaning in and giving space for people to speak; seldom interrupting; building on other's ideas. Not once did I hear anybody criticise another's viewpoint. There's a lot of laughter, a lot of creativity: whilst not every meeting solves a problem it does at least release a tension. It suggests possibility. At the end of the second day, some have already departed, the theatre technical crew are setting up a show all around us. We sit in a circle and before closing the event, all are invited to say anything they feel is useful or important. For me, one of the gifts of this way of working is how the benefits keep on working even after the space is closed. For further information on Open Space go to http://www.openspaceworld.org/

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Andrew Paine

Coach: Facilitator: Teacher

Read more from Andrew Paine
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