Blog post 4 – March 31, 2016 by Karen Balcome
I am currently reading Amy Poehler’s biography Yes Please. In it, the writer, actress, producer and director talks about her early days doing improv in Chicago and New York. In one chapter, she states:
“Improvisation was about not being cool (…) It was about being in the moment and listening and not being afraid.” That passage took on new meaning for me during a recent session of our Art Place project.
As one of the youth told me about her week, the word ‘awkward’ came up almost once a sentence. It seemed to be a lingering fear, potentially lurking around every corner of her teenage life. It reminded me of the scale of the challenge I set when I invite these youth to participate in the drama sessions with me. Our lives do not often reward sitting in the realm of ‘the awkward’ – there is rarely the option to take the time to have a moment, to listen and let go of our fears. But that is exactly what a drama class asks us to do.
After our conversation and as we waited for other participants to gather for the program, I put myself in an improvised scene with the young woman. I instantly remembered how hard this work is – to come up with ideas quickly, to share those ideas with another person, not knowing whether they will ‘get’ your creative impulse, or if it will just be, well, awkward. Throughout my career, I’ve come to crave this challenge – but it’s not for everyone. Many of the youth at the drop-in choose not to participate in the drama programming. This is not surprising – even many of my colleagues who work in other artistic mediums and deal daily in the practice of creative expression would slink quietly away from the potential embarrassment and vulnerability of a drama class. Some of the youth at the drop-in express their discomfort with the process by teasing or interrupting the participants who do get involved. But, week by week, I see the young women who choose to participate in the sessions experience the bravery and freedom of being able to embrace ‘the awkward’. They share their ideas, make mistakes, come up with new ideas, show how they feel and try to listen to each other’s feelings. These are skills and experiences they can apply in their school lives, their jobs, their relationships, and their communities.
Awkwardness, like change, is inevitable. There will always be moments where you don’t know what to expect and face embarrassment. The youth, like all of us, could easily let these moments intimidate them and set them back. Instead, I think it will be their ability to embrace an ‘awkward’ moment, learn something new, and overcome that will clear a path for their success. To paraphrase Poehler, embracing awkwardness ‘is the smartest thing to do.’ Creating even a little bit of space for nurturing that embrace over the course of this project feels like a small-yet-strong act of the social change that Art Place aims to inspire.
Karen is an Ottawa-based theatre creator, community artist and educator. She is co-creator of THUNK!theatre with Geoff McBride, and has worked with Gruppo Rubato, New Theatre of Ottawa, Salamander Theatre, Skeleton Key Theatre, STO Union and, most recently, dancer Kara Nolte. Karen has lead theatre workshops, courses and community projects for the Ottawa Children’s Theatre, the City of Ottawa’s Community Arts and Special Needs programs, and the Ottawa School of Speech & Drama’s Our Stories outreach program. Karen has trained with Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit and London’s Oily Cart Theatre and holds a BA in Collective Creation and Playwriting from York University.