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2020 Roundup





We’ve just gotten back in from throwing snowballs, sledging and slipping through the muddy Manchester snow.

It was fun and we end 2020 by playing and laughing, exactly how we want to enter 2021, with a

laugh and a game.

And now relaxing in our recently painted front room looking at the book shelves and plants I appreciate the growth that 2020 has offered us.

Now, I’m not a DIY person, never have been and never will be, at least that’s the story I have held for a long time, but this crazy mad year has been one where we have all learned things about ourselves.

It’s amazing what boredom can drive us to.

I don’t know if it was the thunder of pans clanging in the street, the clamour of metal hitting metal must have triggered something primal in us, an Iron Age memory stored deep in our DNA was awoken. We yearned to discover and play with tools. Before long the hammer and nails were out and the first of our new shelves were up. There are new shelves up in every room of the house now and plants too.

Oh yes the plants, before this year the only thing we had grown was the mould on top of that rusty coloured liquid at the back of the fridge but after suggestion from friends we finally started a small fruit and veg bed, some success with the tomatoes and the strawberries were a total flop but all learning.

Learning.

That’s what we do at the Performers’ Playground. We play and learn and laugh and we flop and we discover new things and then in March all that had to stop. The course was half way through. It was like someone had come in and poisoned all our flowers. We didn’t know what to do. The atmosphere in the group had been immense, we were really flying. There as so much laughter in the room. A Bunch of beautiful idiots growing and flourishing. Now what? There was nothing to do. We decided that we would round the course off when we could.

What was this new time we were in? What could we do?

Luckily for us part of the course focusses on bouffon, the art of grotesque parody and satire and this led us to create a mini-series of sketches in response to what was happening during the pandemic and WELCOME TO LOCKTOWN was born releasing a huge creative energy in us.

Alice played her manic weather reporter Covidia Titsmarch for Jeremy Stockwells Lockdown Palladium, an online zoom cabaret, with the international audience all on mute and no interaction, it was an unnerving but freeing 10 mins in our ‘home studio’ with every lamp we own in the front room and pieces of script attached to most surfaces.

Mark made several skits with Raoul and some of the students contributed with sketches from their homes too.

Thanks to an Arts Council emergency funding we were able to purchase equipment to help us do this and create a new website too. Plus we created

Content for the Lowry Theatre. We exercised daily and got fitter.

And then we got a call from East 15 asking us to teach their students clown online.

Online. How are we going to do that?

What’s that saying that necessity is the mother of invention, well thank the almighty that someone invented Zoom because this meant that we were able to try to continue to teach

Imagine the brief.

There are 30+ students who will all be at home and you have to go on this brand new medium that you only heard about 3 days earlier and lead classes that ordinarily demand face to face contact, an actual room and an audience.

Erm…

What?

No.

Come on you can do this… you’ve put up a shelf.

But what if the signal crashes? What if it doesn’t work? What if, what if, what if…… argh!

WHY CAN’T WE BE IN A ROOM?!!

Because you can’t now be like those chilli plants you’ve just planted and get used to this new territory and start growing.

Remember you are going to struggle but you will grow. Now let’s play.

And so began our experiments in the Zoom-sphere. Entering the space to play, to be joyous, to have fun, to be sensitive and curious.

What did we learn, well yes that it is possible to teach clown and comedy online, that rhythm games are almost impossible because of the slight delay on the sound but with the right frame of mind that can be absolutely hilarious.

The students and we did the best we could under the circumstances, dodgy connections, disturbances form mum and dad as their living room was repurposed into a makeshift drama studio, (in one students case the best reception was in their toilet, not easy).

Over a series of weeks we settled in to this new way of working and eventually a series of comic characters and solos were created.

And at the end some of it was good, some not so good and some absolutely bizarre, which is what we would normally expect, except the class of 2020 had also developed new skills as well as performing; lighting, shooting and editing and I’m sure will come in handy for the students

We also directed over ZOOM at Bath Spa Uni, thankfully pretty much all student housing looks the same so although the 2 performers were on different sides of Bath in the edit we were able to make it look like they were in the same space.

Then restrictions eased and we were asked to teach face to face in July. We we were amazed to discover that although the social distancing made our heads hurt in the planning, in practice a lot of our work adapted well and it even threw up new ways to look at old games and exercises. Mr Hit became Mr Clap, We didn’t use balls for John Brittons ball game but did find ways to explore the same lessons in other exercises. This gave us hope for getting back in the room with PP and sure enough when we did it was explosive!

The energy and thirst to play again was electric and we worked intensively for nearly 3 weeks to complete the course in September. We had planned to do an outdoor walking tour show, but this didn’t feel ‘safe’ in the end as the rules of outdoor gatherings changed so frequently, so instead we adapted. Mark had been working on a project with Blain Cousin to create some sketches to be viewed through a virtual reality head set and Blain had a VR camera

so at the last minute we switched things up and filmed the showcase in Virtual Reality. We are really happy with the results, especially when you view it through an Occulus head set. A very interesting medium to continue to play with. And we will. It’s exciting to have discovered this.

Looking into 2021 we are working with London International Mime Festival and the David Glass Ensemble to host a 6 day workshop with the inimitable David Glass and of course the Performers Playground volume 5 starts in Feb so if you want to re-invigorate yourself in this difficult down time, play, learn new skills and grow whilst being tested then come and play. We guarantee fun. Let’s go!

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