Part one of this interview is here
Can you go back to the beginning of the pandemic and what impact that had on your work?
We were two weeks away from our annual spring showcase at the Lyric Theatre. This annual event brings key KIC groups together to perform. It is a celebration of achievement and very important to our participants, providing an opportunity for family, friends, their peers and the wider public to experience high quality youth theatre in a professional setting, allowing performers to challenge any preconceived ideas others may have and raising the bar for youth/community/disability theatre.
Due to the vulnerabilities of some participants and their families, KIC has always had a policy that if people are not feeling well they shouldn’t come to a workshop. We were therefore closely monitoring what was going on around the world and listening to the growing concerns of participants and their families. On the 9th of March, a short time before the lockdown regulations came into force, the KIC Board made the difficult decision to cancel the performances on the 16th and 17th of March. This gave us six days to rescue some sort of showcase of participants work. Participants had worked so hard all year and were very excited to perform, and therefore KIC’s immediate concern was to provide a sense of completion, so we could avoid as much disappointment as possible.
Thanks to the fantastic support of BBC CIN NI we were able to quickly turn the final few live sessions into film shoots and produce a series of short films for social media. While this was certainly not comparable to the joy of live performance, taking decisive action meant we could provide a sense of closure and acknowledgement of achievement for participants, and allowed others to celebrate with them. I think we managed this difficult few weeks in the best possible way under the circumstances, and although quite stressful, everyone involved rose to the challenge. I am very proud of the participants, the artistic team, and the families who all gave their full support.
It was quite a shock to realise that I must suddenly leave my natural working habitat and make a rapid conversion of my working processes to online encounters, principally via Zoom. There was rapid adjustment, involving a team effort to make risk assessments and establish safety protocols for online work with young people, many of whom had come to our projects with complex vulnerabilities and frailties.
On March 29th this year, we launched our two core projects, Physical Graffiti and Adventures in Human Being, online. It was a leap in the dark for our team, but we wanted to keep all our young people connected, replacing the platform they would have had at the Lyric Theatre with an online experience.
As I said the crucial thing for me was to maintain a connection with everyone so that they did not feel like they had fallen off a cliff edge with no access to creative activity. I gradually came to terms with Zoom and the reconfiguration of our work and how we could get an element of KIC physicality established digitally.
I do think though it is important to point out that there have been mixed results. Some things have worked and other things haven’t. It is an experiment, and initially we thought it would only be for a few months, and clearly that isn’t the case. I was fairly hopeful in June that there might be some way of returning to face to face work, but I am not so hopeful that will be sustainable.
Probably we are looking at a mix of online digital work and, when it is possible, when the virus has been contained, then we can resume some socially distanced face to face work. The experiments we are currently conducting in film formats for our physical theatre storytelling are opening up possibilities for a future combination with live theatre performance.
For me there were a couple of real positives in the early days of lockdown that were essential in helping KIC to keep operating: the artistic team were immense in turning their attention to re-orientating how KIC delivers; the support of the guardians and carers of participants was and continues to be outstanding.
The KIC team worked hard to secure as much of our programming as possible. We were able to adapt and secure 5 projects. This took a huge amount of work during a time of high anxiety. It was challenging and time consuming, requiring a lot of thought and an increased commitment from staff Nevertheless we have forged ahead in the best possible way considering the circumstances.