Monday, 10 May 2010

Tiffin Boys

Bryony and I had decided to meet up in the dolce vita an hour before we were due in Kingston to discuss what we were going to do when we visited Tiffin Boys School. It’s a grammar school, and we were to be leading a two hour workshop, three times over three weeks, with ten to fifteen boys, aged eleven to thirteen.

We agreed on the standard warm up games, university favourite zip-zap boing, park bench and other icebreakers, and then met Kim outside of Tina’s cabin. With a box full of crate paper and bottles, we clambered into the motorised skip Bryony likes to call her car (Sorry Bryony, unnecessary...but true.) and realise that all the bottles we needed to fill with pasta could be found inside this car. And then as we drove to Kingston and ate a McDonalds, I remembered Jim...

I thought of how I felt, at the difficult age of thirteen, and realised that taking arts and crafts to a drama group, who had given up their free time, was actually quite insulting. At thirteen, I was a right little terror, and if i had bothered to go to classes, I would have laughed in the face of anybody who told me to make things out of pasta. So, feeling ambitious, we ditched the whole thing and thought we would just go for it, see what these kids were made of.

On meeting the children, all my fears were put at complete ease. I said hello to everybody, and they looked at me, attentively. This was strange, I’m used to kids throwing chairs at me, threatening to ‘blade’ me and asking me if i can rip my mum a new hole, the general willingness to learn amazed me, and the creative capabilities of the children that were exposed through the course of the workshop continued to amaze us both. Within ten minutes of the warm up, Bryony and I knew we were right to ditch the pasta.

In the warm up, the game of Zip Zap Boing was fiercely contested, and Bryony and myself, seasoned veterans of the game thanks to first year drama, we’re easily outplayed by the boys.

We left the room, and asked the boys to make themselves into an instrument. The brief was extremely simple and when we came back, they had made themselves into a 2d saxophone, lying down on the floor. Thankfully Bryony guessed this, as I didn’t have a clue. One lad refused to be a part of it, he said he didn’t agree with it, and this is when I thought of Jim.

Jim was right in not coming back the next week. It’s unfortunate, and I feel for the boy, but in his situation I would have done the same thing. If these kids are going to enjoy themselves on the 23rd, then they need to do something that they are proud of. They need to achieve something, and helped by their general willingness to learn, I believe that these kids could steal the show with their soundscapes.

When we moved onto sound workshopping, they lads took it in turns to make noises with their bodies. Obviously, there were a few cupped farts, some stomped feet and an attempt at beatboxing, but they began to learn about the complexities of sound when I asked them to create stories to the sounds they had just heard. The most successful sound was extremely delicate, one lad shuffling his feet softly against the floor. The sound, it was unanimously agreed, was that of somebody slowly approaching a door. We didn’t know why, or who, or even how, but we knew that it was an imaginary scene of great tension.

After a short break, we asked the boys to get an object and make a noise with it. First we heard them individually, and stand out noises included the chain from somebody’s wallet, the crinkling of paper, and the pingu theme tune rattling from one lads phone. Individually, they sounded extremely ambiguous. They lined up together, and I asked them to start making their noise, one by one, after three seconds of the previous noise. That was the only brief. Building from the rat-a-tat-a-rattling of fingers on a ladder step, the boys instinctively created a rhythm into which everything but pingu fitted magnificently. They were proud, but not as proud as I was, they had grasped the importance of sound very quickly, they had learnt, without having to sit through a semiotics hour of torture, that sound is a sign, and as one boy put it. “Even footsteps will be heard by the audience, and they’ll read it as part of a character, even if they’re not.”

They went home, their homework assignment was to watch BEARDYMAN COOKING on youtube, and if you’re reading this, do the same. The man can do magnificent things with his voice, even if he doesn’t have a beard. They are going to come next week with a commonplace object that can be a varied musical instrument, and we are going to create an evil and fantasticly loud and brash sound that will dominate the parade. I’m excited, I feel that I have achieved something with these kids, and I’m hoping that in two weeks time, they’ll be proud of what they have created and it will show as they stalk the parade, the soundtrack to the evil eagle.

Primary fear

I had never worked with Primary school children before, and if I’m being honest I hate them. Irrational I know, but my experience since being in primary school is listening to them squawking at the mums in tesco. So I wasn’t really to optimistic about our visit to a school, but fortunately, the kids were wonderful.

We didn’t do an awful lot with them, but made great progress in breaking the ice. The simple game of ‘my name is and if i was an animal...” worked its usual charms and let us know the more willing members of the group, and the shy ones. The kids had a good basic grasp of emotion and seemed willing to participate, all except one, Jim.

Jim was eleven, a good few years older than anybody else there, and found it understandably difficult to join in. He was shy, and hated being put on the spot, and we all struggled to help him. The games were designed for much younger participants than him and it was a shame that he was so visibly unenthused. Next week, if he comes back, the group need to discuss what role we could give him to justify his commitment. I’ve been thinking of it, and it presents more difficulties than ideas. He is too shy to lead the group, and wouldn’t enjoy that position. He is at a difficult stage in his life where everything is confusing and unlike the other children, he is beginning to grow self-conscious. I am hoping he will come back next week and we can give him a large designing role as when he did speak he was surprisingly creative.

Jim captured the hearts of all the girls who workshopped that day, solitary Jim at the bus stop waiting to go home, we would have given him a lift if the state of today’s society didn’t deem that action utterly wrong. But Jim, regardless of his future commitment has inspired me and made me realise that the festivities will only be fun if everybody involved is having fun. A lesson I took with me to my next workshop.