Part two of this interview is here
Does Physical Theatre transfer easily to the online medium?
I have actually surprised myself with how much of my work I have been able to reformat. I still do yoga-based work and Qi Gong exercises as part of our warm-up, and movement-based work to music. All of that work can be done facing the camera.
When it comes to making up the stories, constructing the narrative, that process takes a lot of time, as well as a lot of side coaching for the carers and guardians, because they are the ones doing the filming in their homes. They are the ones in close proximity to the participants. For others, it takes time to come to terms with composing everything you do for the screen in front of you.
I have enjoyed dynamizing movement with hand-held work; that is, using the mobile phone as an extension of the arm. There has been much enjoyment in creating ‘cinematic’ lighting effects within participants’ rooms. We are currently editing a short film, filmed largely by participants of all abilities, in their homes, that explores the impact of social isolation, together with the consolations and rewards of creativity and connection with others online. The film will be screened as part of the Bounce! Arts and Disability Festival in December.
So, we’ve adapted, and I think it is worth saying that in some ways I have become more aware of the lives of the young people in our online work. Working through Zoom I was able you see their vulnerabilities in a way that I might not have witnessed when we’ve worked face to face. I have also been enormously gratified by the involvement of parents and carers in supporting participants in Zoom encounters. I think I know them better than ever, and they are now directly involved in the KIC process.
Of course, the online adaptation was certain to provide challenges, for participants more than the KIC team. Some young people have been resistant to the encounter to the point where they have had to withdraw. For those young people, we have provided outdoor meetings, restrictions permitting. Furthermore, for some who have been ‘shielding’, we have provided socially distanced workshops in front of their homes. Apart from the initial awkwardness of being filmed, some participants have clearly been uncomfortable with online sessions in their home, with others not having adequate digital technology or a private space. These are issues that must be navigated sensitively.
There are several of our young people on the autism spectrum who have found working on Zoom overwhelming and a sensory overload. In response, the artistic team organised meet-ups outside, going for walks and organising outdoor workshops close to the homes of participants that are shielding. So we have been exploring a number of ways to keep vulnerable young people connected to projects. Obviously this becomes more challenging as winter approaches.
However, there are others who have blossomed within the online environment. One particular participant has really made substantial breakthroughs. It is very hard to predict just how individuals will respond to the changes and challenges that Covid19 has brought, which is why artists and small arts companies need the support to create the space and experiment to find the very best ways to maintain the quality of their work and keep participants and audiences engaged.
Was it easy to organise socially distanced workshops?
Obviously because of restrictions these have been weather dependent, which has made it difficult, but it has been an important part of our delivery to date, because for those who don’t respond well to the online work we had to find ways of connecting with them and keeping the personal development process going. KIC feels a commitment to our participants and fortunately the guardians of our core participants understand and trust that, and have worked hard alongside us to provide as much support as safely possible.
Since the return to school in September I have noticed a lot of young people dealing with what appears to me to be anxiety. There is a lot of mental health issues arising from the pandemic.
There is a lot of confusion, and lot of concern, so I feel that our projects are allowing participants to articulate, to explore, to interrogate the situation as they experience it. I have heard young people liken the experience of returning to school to being in a prison. They are aware of the need for the restrictions, but that does not preclude students feeling ‘policed’. We are giving young people scope to voice their concerns about the difficulty of focussing on learning in a strictly restricted environment.
Artists who are experienced in the participatory sphere are perhaps best placed to enable the expression of these kinds of anxieties. Young people need a space to be able to articulate how they are feeling and to ‘earth’ themselves in this very challenging time.
Young people have responded to the pandemic in multiple ways, but we have certainly noticed an increase in anxiety, loneliness, worry and fear. It is vital that we provide avenues for young people to express and earth these feelings, and being creative is a very impactful way to do that. The arts are an important tool that can support young people to navigate the current challenges, while also preparing them for the new normal.
Part four of this interview is here