TB Agent Anna Kaszuba reports on Next Stage, Dublin Theatre Festival

TB Agent, Anna Kaszuba shares her experience of Next Stage, part of Dublin Theatre Festival.

Between 27th October and 13th November 2018, I took part in an artist development programme called the ‘Next Stage’ as part of Dublin Theatre Festival, thanks to Theatre Bristol Agents bursary scheme. To take it straight from theatreforum.ie, the Next Stage is:

‘…presented by Theatre Forum in partnership with Dublin Theatre Festival [and] is the artist development strand of Dublin Theatre Festival. Over the 18 days of the festival, participants are immersed in the programme and given access to an array of leading artists in a packed schedule of talks, interviews, group time and workshops.’

It was pretty full on.

There are a number of reasons why I wanted to attend the programme and why I think you might like to apply too, some of which I’ve listed below:

– To meet new artists, especially from different disciplines, and to make new friends and potential colleagues.
– To take part in workshops lead by internationally acclaimed theatre-makers.
– To see So.Much.Theatre (I didn’t quite understand the scale of this one until I was shoving a falafel down my throat whilst power walking to the next theatre venue after having just seen a work-in-progress followed by a site specific performance, with a workshop in-between). Tiring but inspiring.
– To develop my verbal skills in terms of discussing my experience of performance and to gain confidence in voicing my opinions.

What did I do?

I saw LOADS of theatre! Of all kinds: children’s, dance, Shakespeare, works-in-progress, sitespecific, surreal, very real…I also took part in workshops with some of the theatre makers involved in the festival, including Vivi Tellas, Simon Stephens and Veronica Coburn.

Another aspect of the programme was to meet with many of the artistic directors of the theatres. This proved to be a very direct and useful way of understanding an AD’s role in the creative industry, the services each venue can offer artists and the expectations within an artist/venue relationship. We had group chats and discussions, mainly over meals, regarding what we had seen, comparing and contrasting thoughts and experiences.

I also swam in the very cold sea (more of a dip), drank a lot of coffee and took a walk up Killiney hill on my free Sunday.

There are many activities and reflections to draw on from my time over in Ireland. On coming home and digesting it all, I’d like to share some of the significant moments and reoccurring themes that have naturally risen to the surface.

Speak Your Truth

It’s a phrase I hear a lot in our culture, but I often think, ‘What does it actually mean?’

During a workshop, I had an experience that clarified what this expression signifies for me.

It was the second day of a two day workshop. I had gone home the night before largely feeling dissatisfied and frustrated about the day’s unfolding; I felt there had been poor time management, a lack of challenge and insight from the director and an insufficient amount of care to support the process we were undertaking. After having briefly discussed my feelings with some of the others, I realised I wasn’t the only one.

We all sat in front of a projector and were about to watch some of the director’s work. We knew the proceeding task that was set for the day and the director asked if anyone had any objections. I could have let this moment slip by; it would have been much quieter, much easier for the trajectory of the morning’s plan. But I couldn’t ignore the discordance that was forcefully climbing from my gut up into my throat. It was also day two of the entire programme – I knew I risked possibly losing friends before I’d even made them. But there were things that didn’t sit right with me about what we were being asked to do; questions surrounding ethics, manipulation, trust and confusion regarding the tools we were expected to use to complete the task. Before my mind could catch up with my actions, I had put my hand up and voiced my resistance.

I feared the consequences of this, that it might cause feelings of separation, being misunderstood and the main contender – not being liked. In reality, what followed was a deeper level of honest conversation within the group as others’ began to speak their minds too. It became an opening for values to be heard and for greater connection. Days later, people continued to express their agreement towards the discussion taking place and respected me for initially speaking up.

If you’re somebody who speaks their whole truth as standard, you may be wondering why such an event is noteworthy. The revelation for me came through the fact that I felt different afterwards; lighter, more free and undivided. It felt like a new experience. I was taken by surprise, which made me realise that perhaps I don’t fully speak my truth as much as I’d like to. I came away having felt the benefits of courage and the refreshment of complete authenticity.

Innocence (and Experience)

‘The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.’ (Holy Thursday)

This quote from the collection of poems by William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience, reminds me of the warm feelings I had when immersed in some of the children’s theatre performances. There were not just boys and girls but women and men, wrapped in wonder for that one hour together.

The clearest encounters I had with innocence was during the productions of Grass by Second Hand Dance and Night Light by Andy Manley and Teater Refleksion. I am not a regular viewer of children’s theatre and I have never played a role in one as a performer. So I was delighted to witness the lightness and awe that effortlessly bubbled up in me when projected flowers began to bloom on the back wall or whilst the ‘ants’ completed a dance-off in Grass. Or the magic of sound and light in Night Light, where tiny borrower-like footsteps could be heard running around the set and Lilliputian lights illuminated as if all on their own. Alongside this, hearing the unfiltered comments and giggles of small people was enough to make my heart swell. I realised in the presence of children, I can be nowhere else but in the present. This pure, open feeling, familiar when it arrives and like a best friend I haven’t seen in a while, was a gift I was grateful to receive.

The essence of innocence was physically reawakened for me during a few workshops, one in particular lead by Veronica Coburn, artistic director of Home Theatre*. We played games such as trying to keep a beach ball in the air with the aim of reaching twenty-five hits between us, followed by ‘pussy four corners’ (even the names are enough to spark sniggering) whereby each person chooses a place to stand around the edges of the room, one person is ‘on’ and the others have to discreetly get each others’ attention in order to run and switch places before the ‘on’ person gets there first. Well, a crowd of 25-40 year olds soon became a playground of giddy infants full of blue smarties. After some time playing, Veronica asked us to stop and notice what we were feeling. ‘Experience that feeling’, she said, ‘And let’s call that feeling, Innocence’.

How simple it is to access a joy that is our birthright and fundamental to our nature, which we can sometimes overlook as adults.

What constitutes as Performance?

per- : from ‘par-’, “completely”
-form: from ‘-fornir’, “to provide” (‘parfornir’ – old french)
‘performo’, “to form thoroughly” (latin)**

The range of performance styles I was exposed to during the festival had me reflecting on the following questions:
– What constitutes as a performance?
– Who is it for?
– What makes a performance acceptable or not for a theatre festival?
– What is it for?

Through conversation, I became aware of the differing reactions in the group as a result of not just what people had seen but how it was delivered. For example, Rathmine’s Road by Anu Productions, was a site specific piece set on the streets of Dublin consisting of mainly one-to-one performances. Some of the audience members I spoke to, one might even say ‘participants’, became so interwoven with the narrative and environment that it became real life, whereas some felt overly vulnerable and confused by the lack of boundaries. Another piece took the form of a presentation with a projector and screen, simply relaying documentation of an ongoing creative project. In another work, the performer didn’t appear until two thirds in, having given previously undivulged directions in a script to a willing actor, and finished by speaking to his mom live on Skype. Unlike The Fever by 600 Highwaymen, where performers facilitated a feeling of togetherness by asking individuals to nominate themselves for certain actions, to the point where almost the entire audience engaged in a choreographic chorus.

So much diversity! Could it all be categorised as theatre?

For me, witnessing such a variety of devices back-to-back loosened up my prescribed parameters for what theatre is allowed to be. If performance is ‘to provide’ form through which to experience an idea, a feeling, a sense, an image – the unborn – then who’s to place restrictions on the way it’s implemented when form itself can be limitless?

As an artist yet to make my own work, observing unusual methods of theatre has shaken off some fear about how to create and what will be accepted by others. It’s given me confidence to believe that when the time comes, stepping into the studio with only the invisible to guide me may lead to a truthful and innocent performance.

* Home Theatre paired 30 Dublin residents, ‘hosts’, with 30 leading theatre makers. After spending time together in the hosts’ homes, each theatre maker wrote a piece of theatre to be performed in the home for friends and family, as well as a selection to be performed in a theatre.

** https://www.etymonline.com/word/perform?ref=etymonline_crossreference

If you’d like to get in touch for further information, to discuss the above or to hear more about my experience, please email me at [email protected]

Published January 2019.