Creating Work Through Play

When you do a Research and Development week for a specific performance, it drives towards one outcome. However, when you do a Research and Development week with a loose theme but without a predetermined result for a final performance, it can result in multiple outcomes. This is how I feel after spending a week observing and participating in a creative play workshop with Catherine Wheels Theatre Company.

When I arrived at Catherine Wheels’ rehearsal room on Monday morning, Gill Robertson, artistic director of Catherine Wheels, had a loose idea of what she wanted to explore — Climate Change. Artists Ian Cameron and Greg Sinclair brought in various books and objects, directly or indirectly related to climate, climate change, the Earth, and anything that they thought may inspire creation.

After a chat over coffee and tea, we had a collective discussion about what the goals were for the week, focusing on following impulses and “not thinking, just doing.” Gill invited us to take twenty minutes to build something to share.

Off we went, to the books, to the objects, to the little pieces of dust on the floor of the room. Each of us developed a piece, and twenty minutes later we presented our ideas. We took another twenty minutes to develop yet another piece based off of the other impulses we just saw, as well as our own. Quickly, we had developed eight completely different ideas that could all act as initiated impulses for a longer performance. After these eight were created, Gill invited us into her more specific idea, which together created the mental landscape for our creation process.

As the week continued, we mashed up improvisations, nature walks, dancing and sustained eye contact with reflections and discussions about how what we experienced — intentionally or unintentionally — related to the environmental crisis. Our own life experiences, views of the world and training molded the week, and it was like a master class in how Ian, Gill and Greg as individuals think and create art.

The week built up one day upon another naturally, and various “motifs” emerged. A clothes rack continuously showed up as a melting glacier. A sea-faring wooden man entered into various improvs, conversations, and character work. And Greta Thunberg, of course. Other moments are still—a few weeks after the workshop—stuck in my mind. Greg and Gill spinning around in a huge paper tornado. A story of seagulls the size of houses killing people, and the little micro-creatures inside us—as we are their universe.

This week of development sparked in me ideas about creating multiple different theatre experiences, emerging from impulses, phrases, and moments of this experience. I am bursting with stories I want to explore and aesthetics I want to further develop.

I have been trained to think about the worth and cost of various projects in relation to output. Research and development for a specific show has room for one, maybe two, seeds to be planted to form into a larger, full idea. However, with a freer exploration workshop, multiple seeds are planted, and even if not all of them grow into full performances or experiences, what was found in play may very well show up in little ways in other projects.

The week at Catherine Wheels reminded me how important it is for artists just to play. It made me wonder what would happen if companies held weekly or monthly “open play” where they open the space up with a loose structure for artists to come and play with ideas they have—or to have a space to “not think, just create.” And if something like this is anywhere near as fruitful as the Catherine Wheels’ workshop, a community will be developed, ideas will create ideas, and it will be very, very effective.

Danica Rosengren
IPAY Recipient of Colleen Porter Artist Development Award

(Image L-R: Enya Wolfe, Ian Cameron, Greg Sinclair, Gill Robertson, Danica Rosengren)