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Lizzie’s first Bologna post

March 9, 2009

Have just returned from a very exciting and exhausting festival experience in Bologna.
Thank you so much to everyone who made this enriching visit possible – and to my fellow travellers, Emma and Rachel.
And it was lovely to have the opportunity to meet with Helga and Myrto from Toihaus and I look forward to further communication.
Owing to the very full schedule and the absence of functioning wifi in our apartments blogging is having to be done now that I’m home. So am now wading through my extensive notes and trying to make sense of it all. This is maybe not the place for detailed reviews of shows or a critique of the festival as a whole so I am going to try and remain focussed on impressions and questions that relate to my area of enquiry – in particular looking at the type of material and inspirations that companies are using as their source for this work.

So day 1
Saw a production which was inspired by a story from the  writer Eugène Ionesco and I thought this was an interesting choice of stimulus as Ionesco is well known as a writer of theatre of the absurd – and this is an intriguing area to explore with children. At what age in their development do they recognise and appreciate the absurdity of a given situation? The piece was aimed at 3 to 6s and I saw it with an audience of 4/5 year olds who, by their laughter, were evidently relishing the absurdity. It was an intensely verbal show and my Italian (non existent) isn’t up to understanding the nuances of the linguistic aspect of the piece but the warm aura exuded by the performer and the clear physical delineation of the production meant that I could comprehend the gist of the plot. A stool was vested with character – as if the stool was talking to the actor – and the children relished the one sided conversations with the stool – completely accepting that the stool must be talking back to the woman even though they would have to imagine the stool’s side of the conversation. Children from quite a young age do seem to understand that you can talk to an object and then enter a conversation with it – a little like hearing one side of a phone conversation. We have used this technique ourselves and it would be interesting to do some experiments to see at what age children can begin to comprehend vesting an inanimate object with this type of conversational personality.
Anyway I have just looked on the internet for more information about Ionesco’s writing for children – apparently stories that he told his daughter when she was less than 3. I will try to get hold of them.
I think, Natasha, that you mentioned being interested in how the space is organised and how the children are dispersed in the space. With this production the children were led in a few at a time and sat down by the performer. Maybe 30 children – sitting on 3 sides. The woman then crouched down in front of each child, told them her name and the children said their name back. She was physical and touched the hands of each of the children. This was a lengthy process and would have been very difficult with more children (I spoke to her afterwards and she said that sometimes she had more children and then would have to rush the process a bit which was unsatisfactory.) The direct physical and eye contact with each child raises again the question that we struggle with in this country. Child protection issues are leading to a paranoia where even a simple thing like this – an actor greeting a child with touch – can make a problem for the performer – and if the performer is a man there is even more anxiety or criticism expressed by those working with the children. Of course, this is ridiculous as this contact is happening in a full and open way in a safe environment where other adults are present. I have had conversations about this with some European colleagues who have all expressed amazement that this is an issue here in Britain. In trying to protect our children we are in danger of excluding them from natural physical contact with adults.
We saw a very contrasting piece in the evening (without children present). The festival gives opportunities for performers to offer a work in progress or an experimental idea. The performer of this ‘studio’ introduced the piece by telling us that he wanted to explore the theme of ‘wild’ and he did this by adopting a very overpowering and intense performance style, again highly verbal (so I cannot help much with the detail) – but wolves and tearing at meat (red wool) and blood was the order of the day, plus a white mountain of rock salt. I saw this performer twice in the festival and have a feeling that he wants to push at the boundaries by giving larger than life performances that are anarchic and indeed a little wild and are generated from his own personality. I think there is an interesting question that he was exploring here. Most work for young children is calm and playful and maybe pretty.  He seems to want to find the atavistic, the raw, the uncharted territory. But remember this was an experiment and made, I think, to raise some questions. He spoke afterwards and I couldn’t follow everything but I think he had taken it in to one school to try it out (and I imagine the children would have been at least 5) but I am sure that he was aware that this piece might be psychologically liberating for one child and highly disturbing for another. So, in its current form, I cannot see it working. Will he develop it further? And in what direction? We will see but this is why we need festivals – to allow people to experiment and to open up new territories for debate.

More to follow…..

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