Overwhelmed, bombarded and slightly hopeful.
Those three words sum up how we at The Drama Workshop and HaBYT have been feeling since the announcement of the NZ lockdown response to beating Covid19 in our country. I liken our own reaction to the household washing in its many stages. So many projects folded and put away in the draw, some popped in the dryer for a fast turnaround and others left hanging on the line in a state of flux, sometimes drenched by the welcome rain and purposefully ignored by all who walk by because quite simply, we can’t face dealing with that right now.
Of the sorted and folded kind, the finishing touches were just about to be put on the billboard design work for the Billy Lids – creative festival for kids. (Billy Lids is slang for kids). The artists were booked, the program sorted, everything was up on Eventfinda. We were ready to go. Keirunga Gardens – April 24 – was to be a day of circus, storytelling, visual art classes, drama and dance classes, magical mesmerising musical sound sessions, dress-ups, crafts in the courtyard, food and good coffee at the ready. Folded and put away, ready for another time. Or perhaps through another medium. Suggestions anyone?
The quickly needed dryer approach had to be applied to the rest of the term owed to students due to the closure of their weekly classes. I must admit here that this pile of wet, clean washing sat in the basket for days, in danger of becoming smelly and in need of re-washing. The dirty washing was piling up too as we spent the first few days paralysed, watching colleagues from around the world mobilise and seize these opportunities for business as usual under new ways of teaching and learning. We had to get our own house in order which meant fetching the university students and surrendering to our new normal, of flatting with our own kids. We started to sift through the mud of what seemed like good ideas and what looked like desperate attempts to stay afloat. We sat, while the washing got smellier and smellier until we could stand it no more. We set up for Zooming to our students the lessons we owed for the term to make sure they received their weekly dose of drama, remembering that for some kids, this was a vital connection. Our now returned Uni students spent a considerable time bemused and confused by the sounds coming from behind the closed doors – “Mark, I can’t quite see the top of your head”. “Jane, (who had fallen off the couch), is your head bleeding? Go and get Mummy” “Cameron, how about you finish your breakfast, get out of your pj’s and we’ll see you back here at 11.30?”, “Lisa, maybe stop spinning around on the chair” “Is someone breaking up concrete outside?”. Over the last two weeks (has it actually only been two weeks?) we’ve read plays, hot seated characters, sent the kids off on treasure hunts, sang songs, made characters from household objects, re-enacted Monty Python scenes, played weird made-up drama games, told collective stories and even invaded each other’s Zooms as characters from plays. Suffice to say, the washing has been re-washed, dried in the dryer and now sits ready to be put away for a couple of weeks as we contemplate next steps. What is viable? What is sustainable? What, most importantly, is meaningful?
As for the washing that is still on the line – that’s HaBYT. The Hawkes Bay Youth Theatre. We were working towards a performance of Carol Ann Duffy’s Everyman for the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival in October. Intense, physical theatre with 15 young people and two directors, Champa Maciel and Peter Cottrell. After two sessions held over Zoom and a whole lot of tasks set on text and physical work, that washing remains literally hanging, waiting for the weather to change and someone to bring it in. We have no doubt that it will need to be re-washed but so much depends on decisions made by others, out of our control. Or is it? Are we beholden to the funding decisions of others? Can we make it happen another way?
Other projects such as the Drama NZ drama and literacy teacher mentoring project and the global digital youth theatre project have been stopped in their tracks and perhaps form the basket of dry washing in the corner, that won’t ever get put away but will be constantly rummaged through and the good bits picked out.
We don’t know what’s going to happen but we have some idea of where to put our energy, This starts with ourselves, our own children – both of whom are university students studying creative media production and wondering why they are doing it. Perhaps they’ll turn their minds to supermarket management.
One thing is clear – I wish I had put into action my plan for forming Youth Theatre NZ. In November last year I visited the good people of Youth Theatre Ireland and saw the advocacy work being done in that space to support all groups across the country who were working with young people in theatre. Now, more than ever, we should be working together to create a national body that looks after the dedicated group of teacher/artists and their students. If we had such a body, by now we would have been streaming work of past productions, offering support and ideas for each other in the same situation, creating opportunities for young people to gather virtually across NZ, sharing resources and working towards common goals. Instead I fear we have a discombobulated group of like-minded people all trying to re-invent the wheel and wondering if it’s even possible to access funding to keep going. I suspect we are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to the funding, but perhaps we could look at using the opportunity to form this new body. So CNZ, how about it?
So as the washing dries, is folded and put away or sits neatly in the corner, we have created opportunities for families to be creative together with our fortnightly film challenge, simply about helping families to stay connected, creative and a little bit crazy. I’ve picked up some writing work and we’ve restructured the business after having to close down over half the classes, for now. The winds of change are just outside the door but one things for certain we will #KeepMakingArt. (And jam and bread and quince paste and feijoa chutney . . . )
Happy washing everyone, whether it be sitting festering in the corner, nicely folded, dried and put away or hanging in the breeze.
DipT; B.Ed; M.Applied Theatre and Drama Education.