Consciousness, Collaboration and Conviviality

Jan 24 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Devoted and Disgruntled 13 / official tea cup

Devoted and Disgruntled (D&D)13 happened last weekend in the massive 3 storey high, glass-domed spaceship-like New Diorama Space in London town. Somewhere around 250 theatre makers at all stages of their careers came together for 2 and a half days to discuss what needed to be discussed about theatre and the performing arts, using Open Space Technology

‘Open Space’ is a style of conferencing, whereby the people in the space set their own agenda. In the opening circle each day, anyone who has a burning issue can propose a 45 minute session, choosing a time and a place for that session to happen. The attendees are then invited to follow their impulses moment to moment, joining in with the discussions that attract them and moving on whenever their attention takes them elsewhere, using “The Law of Mobility.” Each session initiator then has the opportunity to file a report to feed back into the conference and to the wider world.

Improbable Theatre Company have been running these annual conferences all around the UK for the last 13 years and orchards of theatrical fruit have grown as a result. Last year, I attended D&D12 and came out with a rough draft of the first of my 3 solo shows, on the theme of Stage Fright. This year I went for the second day only, with an agenda that emerged on the train journey there; 1.) consciousness (to stay present to myself and my surroundings), 2.) collaboration (to seek out connection on an equal basis with other artists) and 3.) conviviality (to find the fun).

In the opening circle, I found myself sat next to someone who evidently has the impulse to clap as much as I do. Whenever anyone said anything brave, bold or celebratory, his hands, like mine were primed and ready, but other people weren’t clapping, so we quashed our impulses. It’s rare to meet someone who wants to clap as much as I do (which is most of the time), so after acknowledging we both had the same impulses, we agreed to clap whenever the impulse took us. Hooray! Consciousness, collaboration and conviviality! Clapping!

After the opening circle, I wandered through the enormous space, bamboozled by the intense talking circles, each with their own clashing musical soundtracks. This year, in a sterling effort to increase access to the event (check out this link for the extraordinary lengths they went to to make their event accessible to all), amongst other things, to help blind and partially sighted people find the meeting spaces, Improbable had provided speakers playing music on wheely chairs, each with a flag displaying the name of the group meeting space (names of musical instruments, e.g cello, organ, bass guitar; the music playing through the speaker was from that instrument). As a session leader, you could wheel your musical chair to wherever you wanted your session to take place and people could find you, not just by reading the name of the meeting space, but also by the sound coming from the speaker. Genius.

As a sound-sensitive and often-overwhelmed-in-a-crowd sort of person, I was finding it difficult to find my place with so many options and so much clashing sound. What was I here for? Where was my energy best placed? What might inspire me? In my blurry state, I drifted towards the soothing sound of the cello and found a small group discussing ‘Dreams.’ They were mid-flow, deep into the collective unconscious and “Who’s dreaming who”? As I sat down, the discussion moved onto how to access the dream state in the rehearsal room. Aha! This is interesting and this is something I can contribute to! Suddenly all the sound and the other people dropped away, I had found my place. 

I brought in the theme of emptiness, which is something I’m currently exploring with meditation teacher, Suvaco. He is teaching ‘On Emptiness, Self, Not Self and Personality,’ a course designed to help us dissolve our attachment to ‘Self’ being any particular way. Something I’m experiencing through the course is; through accessing emptiness, everything becomes possible. Someone in the dream group asked how to access the state of emptiness, not knowing where to start, I breathed out loudly. “Oh, like that?!” they said. Well yes, now you come to mention it, just like that! Try it now if you like!

Someone spoke of a rehearsal technique they’ve used, walking in a figure of 8. As I remember them describing it, you walk around the first loop, emptying yourself. When you arrive in the middle, you connect with the audience and speak or do whatever impulse takes you and then you walk around the second loop, back to the middle to connect again. The aim of the game is to act from emptiness and use the journeys around the 8 to empty yourself of ideas and affectations. 

As we chatted, someone looked towards the window and said, “Oh look, it’s snowing!” We briefly glanced up, before immediately returning to our ‘important’ conversation. Dropping into the atmosphere of the group (consciousness), I noticed the energy had gone from the discussion and feeling the need to bring us all back to the theme, I asked, “If this was a dream, what would happen next?” The whole group answered in unison; “We would go out into the snow!” (collaboration)

We hastily threw on our coats and wheeled our wheely chair playing Bach’s Cello Suites into the lift and floated down and out into the angular granite London landscape where huge, wet snowflakes thumped down on us. Just outside the door, there was a turning circle, the shape of one half of a figure of 8. We collectively decided to follow the arrows around it, slowly processing with our musical wheely chair (conviviality).

By following our impulses, we made a piece of living art that only existed for that time in that space. Pure theatre!

This was just the morning! There’s a whole stack of stories I could tell about the afternoon (discussing trigger warnings in autobiographical theatre, mulling over whether love is enough, co-dreaming a future where everybody learns improvisation skills and the impact that might have on the world, eating cold soup and finally finding myself getting coached by three generous strangers who facilitated me through clarifying my vision of setting up my own school, before making me “pitch” for six million pounds (I got it! Pity they didn’t actually have six million pounds to give me, but something’s cooking!)) but for now, here’s my advice for anyone who’s wading out into the unfamiliar:

  • If you’re anxious about going into unfamiliar environments, give yourself a game. Mine was to seek out consciousness, collaboration and conviviality. Yours could be; find the comfiest chair, or make eye contact with 5 people, or simply notice your breath, it doesn’t really matter what your game is, just having a game will anchor you and help you get settled in.
  • Clap whenever you feel like clapping, other people may want to clap, but aren’t bold enough to start the clapping. Clapping is great. It releases tension, changes the atmosphere in a room and serves to heighten a sense of celebration which will both embolden the speaker and invite the individuals in the room to join in. If you’re the only one clapping then bravo, you’ve found something that only you are bold enough to celebrate, which makes you brave and bold in your own right and deserves a round of applause.
  • When discombobulated, take a moment to tune into your needs (for instance, by tuning in, I noticed I needed soothing music and expansive conversation), from there, move towards that which grounds, energises, inspires and nourishes you. 
  • Follow your impulses. When called to act, act! As with improvisation, so with life; you don’t need to know how it will end up. Trust the impulse to galvanise the next impulse, stay curious and follow, follow, follow, this way you might find yourself parading with a bunch of “strangers” through the snow to a soundtrack of Yo Yo Ma.

No doubt aspects of these experiences will make it into the Mindful Play Sessions, coming up in February, come along for a play!

Holly Stoppit menu