Blog post 5 – April 12, 2016 by Karen Balcome
When I first began this Art Place Project, I wanted to explore writing with the youth as a way for them to express their perspectives and to generate material that could shape a creation piece. Our early writing exercises allowed me to gain some insight into the youth’s voices and interests. But overall, I discovered that it was more important for this group to ‘write out loud.’
I find a unique pleasure in taking an individual moment to sit down with my pen and paper and my thoughts, but for many groups that I’ve worked with, the act of writing has presented too many barriers for them to access this kind of experience. For some participants, there is the barrier of language or skill. When working with children or youth, it often feels as though writing is too much like school; writing exercises feel like work as opposed to a fun experience of a drama class. With the youth at Somerset West Community Health Centre, writing through voice and physicality has proved the most fun way to harness their energy and ideas.
Throughout our process, we’ve explored writing out loud in different ways. Sometimes, I documented their scene work as a script that everyone could follow. In another exercise, we did the opposite and turned a story on the page into a live script, fleshed out with physical actions and facial expressions. Improvisation exercises have allowed us to try out our ideas, edit them and put forward a revised draft out loud, on our feet.
This past week, one of the youth shared a few stories she was working on. We got talking about writing and genre and she spoke about the kind of story she would love to write, but didn’t think she could. We asked her about the elements of this genre: what kind of characters were involved, what kinds of storylines? She spoke about how she draws inspiration for her characters from people she knows. Within 5 minutes, she had identified 3 character-types from her school that would be perfect for this story. A few questions later, she had created a compelling plotline. By acting as dramaturgs or editors through conversation, we were able to give her the confidence and feedback to move ahead on her idea in a way we wouldn’t have been able to had she been writing privately on paper on her own.
Most recently, at the Art Place Showcase, I found myself writing the story of our project out loud for the attendees. As people asked me questions about our project and the participants, the narrative of our journey took on new meaning and I gained new insight into what our process could grow to become. One woman told me about her experiences with the ripple effects of this kind of programming; it opened up my imagination to see the youth thinking back to this project and using the tools they’ve developed at some point in their future. Another man spoke to me about youth he knew in other communities who could benefit from this kind of process; I could envision how I could share the learnings I’ve gained as an artist and facilitator through this process to support another community.
As I head towards my final session with the youth and share my experience of the Showcase, I am eager to see what note we end this particular chapter on.
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.