When reviewing these six productions, one has to ask about the role of the creator/director. The director is the one who brings the artistic team together, who invites the team into the “unknown”, who takes risks while trying things out without knowing if they will work, and who is many times lost during the creative process. Despite these challenges, the director should always be aware of their responsibility for the members of the team, who are artists as well as untrained performers. The director must always be aware that the whole process is completely new to them.
I will try to summarize here the other principles I always keep in mind before and during the working process.
i. Joint activity
When creating social-specific theatre, being on the same level with your collaborators is extremely important. To create such a non-hierarchical environment and an atmosphere of trust, it is useful to be engaged in any kind of daily activities together with your team: in cooking a soup, in building a construction, in carrying stuff, in playing football, in sawing, in exchanging recipes, etc.
ii. Artistic activity
Artistic activities that we can learn from each other in the group help us to overcome the language barriers and create a condition of mutual trust and creativity. Any kind of artistic activity serves this purpose: singing, playing musical instruments together, a particular form of dance that you can teach each other, creating specific elements of a scene, etc.
iii. Creating an atmosphere of trust, enjoyment and curiosity
The cornerstones of creative work are joint activities, regardless of their nature, which all members enjoy and feel connected to. Therefore, it is extremely important to encourage all the participants to share anything they would like to share. In terms of building an authentic environment, it is crucial to be honest and clear about the nature of the work and roles at the beginning: Is it simply a workshop or is it expected to evolve into a performance? What is your role in this process, are you a teacher or a director? Will your role change during the creative process? What is the role of the participants? Are they members of a workshop or will they end up on the stage? Under what conditions? All or just some of them? All these issues must be communicated clearly and in a timely manner.
iv. Starting from “point zero” & extreme listening
By these terms, I mean the exclusive attention given to the context of your work. Creators must carefully listen to the area in which they are working. It is crucial to respect the reality of the space without forcing something disparate from outside. It is always useful to use the tools which exist in the area. Some examples from the performances described above could be those big pots from the army kitchen in the refugee camp or a wheelbarrow borrowed from a lady in the township. The specifics of the context matter a lot. We had to pay attention to the size and location of the square in which we built our tent in the Czech town, or to the shape of the barracks in the refugee camp. It is also important to note that the same principles are at work even when rehearsing in a black box theatre. I believe that one should examine a theatre stage in the same way as a specific site before starting a creative work. Curious exploration of a given space and respecting its conditions boost our creativity, as we set ourselves free from stereotypical approaches to stage work.
Here are some useful questions to keep in mind when examining the space:
Can we see that back door? What is behind it? Do you have any “normal” lighting source, like a lamp or torch? When and where does the sun set? Are there any restrictions we should respect?
v. Embracing the obstacle
During your work with untrained performers, you will come across many things that seem like obstacles. I deeply believe that if you choose to embrace these “obstacles” rather than trying to eliminate them, it will bring a different level of authenticity to your work. Furthermore, I suggest that you create obstacles during the work so that what is authentic can spontaneously emerge while performers are busy dealing with those obstacles.
vi. Ethics of the work
It is important to keep in mind that our material in social-specific work is very personal. This is a valuable but also a fragile tool. You and the members of the group should search for these stories with a shared motivation, and you should respect its fragility at every step of the creative work. As a creator you should never push the boundaries of human dignity. Never force anyone to say things they do not want to talk about. Working with “real people” also requires real relationships that do not end after the last performance.
I believe that sensitivity to those issues can be achieved via the above-mentioned principles: Creating an atmosphere of trust via mutual activities, starting from point zero, embracing the obstacles, and extreme listening.