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teenagers, performance and creativity. and working really hard.

May 15, 2011

Last Saturday I spent the day with a group of GCSE students helping them to devise material for their practical exams later that week. Saturday, four days before the exam, was late in the da to still be generating new material, but all of the groups seemed to be in a bit of a hole.

The group I spent most of the day with had nine minutes worth of material. They needed 16-17 minutes. We spent half an hour on a couple of devising techniques to get them into a frame of mind to develop material quickly, and at this stage not to think or worry too much about context, just make stuff.

These students had become tired by a long devising process. They had become stuck and even though they had ample experience and the tools they needed to complete the process, they were struggling. Whereas once they had enjoyed the freedom the devising process had given them, they were now hamstrung by infinite possibilities.  

They hated the place they were at and hated the process.

Self consciousness and a need for any material to be instantly polished and ready to present had had the effect that all of their new work was never good enough. Of course it wasnt – they had not allowed themselves time to develop a concept, or an idea, or a thread of performance that had emerged. They had over intellectualised and sought an answer or conclusion before they had framed any potential questions – and being disappointed with this they had rejected it all. A continuous down ward spiral of despair had developed.

But teenagers are strong in situations that would leave adults throwing in the towel. The ability to suspend judgement and sensibilities makes the teenager closer to the child than the adult. In this inbetween time teenagers find it much easier to let go and return to instinct and a base creativity that we as adults too easily dismiss as, literally, “being childish”. This fear is not borne from the possibility of failure, it is more complex. It is the more fundamental fear to embrace and revel in play.  

Once we (Craig Pullen, Drama teacher at Colston’s) had got them going and reminded them that they knew how to create, they started to enjoy the process and invest in the outcomes.

We worked them really hard. Aside from a five-minute break to catch breath, they worked solidly for five hours. Exhausted we dragged them through the process again and again, working and then reworking, and then working over again.

They made their 19 minutes. Given a chance to refocus and then pushed through, even though they were dead on their feet – they rediscovered their love of performance.

And their final performance was fab.

I salute you.

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