Telling Tales – Day 1

Date: Saturday 11th May 10am – 3.45pm

Venue: Port of Entry

Workshop director: Sarah Bedi

Actors: Tash Broomfield, Leila Crerar, Kath Newman, Claire Timmins, Sam Swan, Mark Weinman, Catherine Bailey

This was the first session BAZ had held since our run of Prophesy in March. We are still deciding which project to do next, and so this was a weekend of exploration. We were thrilled to be working at Port of Entry, an artistic hub for creative people from all disciplines, right in the centre of Hoxton. Port of Entry’s tag line is that it is a Petri dish for creativity, and so BAZ were true to this metaphor, allowing ideas and thoughts to germinate in this very supportive environment.

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BAZ lands at Port of Entry

Bedi explained that we would be exploring story telling this weekend, maybe with some discussion of dreams thrown in. We didn’t use any text during the weekend, but plenty of BAZ-style playing and performance thrived in the many improvisations the actors leapt into over the two days. We began the whole thing with a mind warm-up…

1. Mindfulness

Tash led the group in a 20-minute session of meditation. Before we started she mentioned that it is practising meditating that we will be doing, not meditating itself… (brain explodes). Tash explained how to do it:

You sit upright, not slouched or resting against the back of the chair. Your knees should be directly over your ankles at right angles. Engage lightly with your core muscles, and with your hands relaxed on your legs, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. The idea then is to breathe in, and breathe out, and in your head count ‘1’. Then breathe in, breathe out, and count ‘2’. Then breathe in and breathe out, and count ‘3’… all the way up to ‘10’. Repeat this until the chime goes, which will indicate five minutes has gone by.

Then you do the second stage, which is to wait for the breath to come naturally, and just before it does, count ‘1’ in your head. Then wait for the next breath, and just before breathing in count ‘2’… all the way up to 10. Repeat until the chime goes, which means another five minutes has elapsed.

The third stage is just to breathe in and breathe out, without counting. That’s all.

Then after five minutes, breathe in and breathe out, but with a focus on where the air enters your body, so around the nose or mouth. Then when the chime goes, that will be the end of the final five minutes, meaning you have practised meditating for 20 minutes.

A couple of us had done this before, and one or two still did it regularly. Personally I found it a relaxing experience ultimately, but during the exercise I was struck by how difficult it was to just focus on the breathing and gaps between the breaths. My mind wanted to wander and thoughts buzzed in and out, sometimes without me noticing I had lost focus on the breath. Tash had suggested that it might be helpful to imagine the thoughts as bubbles that you can lightly brush away or gently pop. This was really useful in getting me back to thinking about the breath. Sudden lapses in resistance were really noticeable, as I felt relaxed and yet alert. Mark said he finds practising mindfulness a great starting point – especially when there is a show to do.

2. Balancing the Space exercise

We put the chairs to the side of the room and walked around the space, balancing it so that if someone took a snapshot at any one time, we were evenly spread out and not all bunched in one corner.

3. Naming Objects, getting acquainted with the room

As we continued to walk around the space, we were asked to notice everything in it. We were lucky to be in a room full of interesting things, and the next stage was to point and name the thing you are looking at; ie “Chair” “Lightbulb” “metally pipe thing” etc.

4. Telling a story

Then as we walked in the space, one person was given an object and until they passed it on to someone else, they had to tell a story without stopping. The stories were pretty wild as the speaker had to concentrate on balancing the space with the group at the same time. The task was then intensified as another person was charged with telling a story at the same time. Moving in the space and listening to two stories in case it suddenly became your turn to speak was pretty much impossible but the struggle was joyous and the attempts to keep it all going as a group were useful, and hilarious.

5. Little Red Riding Hood

We sat in a circle on the floor and were asked to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood, as a group. There were no rules, other than the storyteller had to hold the “talking stick” (in this case a bottle of water) whenever they were speaking. When they felt they had reached the end of their chapter, they simply passed it to the next person. There was some anxiety at the fact that not everyone could remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and what variations we might encounter, but we soon realised that making it up if you didn’t know it was a good option. In fact, the joy of storytelling was so exacerbated by the outrageous liberties we found we could take with the story, i.e. moving it into a contemporary setting with i-phones etc, having the wolf represented by “Wolf” from the ITV programme “Gladiators”. There was some acute listening as the story grew and speakers reincorporated previous offers from fellow storytellers, no matter how off-piste they may have gone. Even though each teller had their own style, the story moved forward, with eye contact and “not-thinking-before-you-speak” activity making the whole experience very alive. Bedi pointed out that we had spoken in the present tense for a lot of it, so “She’s running down a path” and “The wolf is looking at her” made it all very present indeed.

Then we were asked to describe the bit of the story we had told, but in a sentence of 10 words. For example: “She arrives at Granny’s house, something is not Right Hmm.” Then we had to distil it down to 5 words: “At Granny’s something is wrong.” Then one word – which could be inspired by anything, including any feelings, emotions or associations, i.e: “Hospital”. Then we had to describe it as a colour, and then as a smell – some people spoke of freshly cut grass, or stale breath.

Then we were asked to tell our episode of the story to the “audience”, tagging in and out as it became our turn to tell it. Being out of the circle and in a traditional “proscenium arch” configuration made the storytelling less intimate, but it seemed like we had to work harder to connect with our audience.

Lunch break

Bedi got us to sit in a sort of square fortress of chairs and sofas in the corner of the room. We kept to our episodes and were asked to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood again but this time we could interrupt the teller by asking specific questions about what they were saying. Claire was the first speaker, and so set the scene of Little Red Riding Hood’s life, and prompted by a barrage of questions from the group, Claire embroidered the story with more and more detail, including the time of day she set off for Granma’s house, the exact venue of Little Red’s house in Kent, her real name (Elizabeth, she thinks), her mum’s job as a school teacher in the village etc… Claire took each question and reacted with a “yes and” attitude, and in the same vein the story moved from storyteller to storyteller, via a chemical spill which took Red off her usual path through the forest, a wolf that spoke to a rapt Red without moving its lips, and a grandma with dementia and a penchant for German composers. During the story telling, Bedi noted that each speaker said “I” instead of “her” or “him” at least once. Also, as earlier, the story often happened in the present tense.

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Claire explains that Little Red’s homemade cookies she had baked for her Gran’s 97th birthday were too big to fit into Tupperware, so she had to use her mum’s sewing kit tin instead.Image

Claire is asked exactly where in Kent Little Red lives

An hour and 10 minutes since the sprawling group-made story had begun, after Red had met the wolf and secretly dialled an emergency number on her iphone and then left it on the side whilst loudly saying “gosh grandma, what big teeth you have” in the hope that the emergency services will pick up her position via GPS, the story concluded with the revelation that the shy woodcutter was actually a hero, and that despite being eaten and having her skull crushed, Little Red was fine, and the wolf was in fact Grandma’s dog, called Dementia. There was something very Ken Campbell about all this…

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A captive audience

Bedi observed that there were lovely moments when the speaker was surprised by her own story. She also appreciated the changing styles of telling – some were like comic strips, some were like a David Lynch film etc… but this didn’t get in the way of the narrative, and there was some charm in the way all these genres stitched together.

Shattered, enervated and all-laughed out, we decided to call it a day!

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