Creating Theatre

Recently, my sister and I received valuable advice from a young man who is currently struggling to find a career path in life. It is probably something that someone has told you at some point in your life, however, it never hurts to hear it again. As you may know, some of the best lessons in life can be learned through someone else’s experiences. He said to us, if you ever find an opportunity at your doorstep, don’t let it pass. This sounds simple enough, though if you think back, how many opportunities have you let pass? Things you didn’t do because you were too afraid or too shy. Maybe you couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort, or the very act of simply showing up seemed burdensome. While the exact reasons will vary from person to person, how we respond is often the same – we say no. We say no and just like that, we find we’ve missed out on something that may have been great. Something that had the potential to change us in ways we could never even expect.

Last week, we received an email from Kim, our Destination Theatre professor, regarding a chance to participate in a theatre creation workshop led by Mina Samuels and Jacqueline Dugal. The details of the workshop were vague and, at the time, neither of us had any idea as to how theatre was actually “created”. We didn’t know what the workshop would entail, nor what we’d be expected to do. What we did know at the time, however, was that simply not knowing wasn’t going to be a good enough excuse for passing on such a unique opportunity. We signed up.

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Theatre Creation Workshop led by Mina Samuels and Jacqueline Dugal

The room assigned for the workshop was brightly lit with natural sunlight that shone through enormous windows. Through the glass we could see a group of young women standing in a circle. Most of them had removed their shoes, and one by one, each woman walked through the empty space in the center to reach a different position in the circle. Not wanting to interrupt this unusual ritual that unfolded before us, we stood awkwardly by the entrance, watching from afar. Soon, one of the women noticed our presence and asked if we would like to join them. The woman introduced herself as Jacqui. As we took our places in the circle, Jacqui explained that the purpose of this exercise was to prepare ourselves for performing the same movement, except with our eyes closed. She then asked each person in the room to make one pass through the circle with their eyes open to provide everyone with the chance to get accustomed to the movement. As expected, the exercise was simple enough and everyone made their pass with ease. Jacqui then explained that each person would now shift their position three times to random places in the circle, however this time our eyes were to be kept closed the entire time. To lead the blind individual to a new position in the circle would be the responsibility of those within the circle. Much to our surprise, this round was much more unnerving and this sentiment was echoed throughout the room by others. Walking blindly, expecting complete strangers to guide you home, felt unusually frightening! This exercise had, however, taught us to trust our peers and had granted us the ability to shed our fears of the unknown by stepping outside our comfort zones.

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International & Graduate Affairs Building UWO, where the workshop took place.

Next, Jacqui and Mina led us through another, rather peculiar exercise. This time, Jacqui read a single sentence from Mina’s play titled “Because I am Your Queen”. She then told us she was going to break the sentence down into individual words, and instructed us to feel the words as she slowly uttered them, and find a unique pose to encapsulate the emotion behind each word. She advised us to delve beyond obvious positions and reach for what she referred to as our “fifth instinct”. When we began, we quickly realized that this exercise would be quite difficult for us, as we have little experience with theatre and the study of movement and improvisation. As those around us artfully flowed from one elegant position to the next, the two of us struggled to find even a single pose. The movements felt awkward and stiff, as we were too timid to break free and move our bodies as openly as everyone else. The feelings of embarrassment we felt can easily be described by the word “affect”, as defined by Erin Hurley in her book “Theatre & Feeling”. In this book, Hurley proffers the scholarly definition of affect: an immediate, uncontrollable, skin-level registration of a change to our environment (i.e., these are the responses we cannot consciously control) (p. 13). Interestingly, she goes on to describe how affect exceeds us in a way that may be conveyed through the display of emotion (p. 18). Our feelings of discomfort were easily sensed by Jacqui through our restrained motions, as well as our mild expressions of unease. As we stood there feeling rather flustered, Jacqui asked everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands if anyone was judging themselves in any way for their movements. As we raised our hands, we knew instinctively that the people she was most likely addressing were the two of us. She then asked everyone to open their eyes and this time, to let go of any judgement we might feel for ourselves or anyone else.

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Mina Samuels
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Jacqueline Dugal

As the workshop progressed, we slowly began to feel more comfortable and even started to enjoy ourselves. To be able to move in front of others without fearing judgement was a strangely liberating experience. Change is a gradual process and it is only when we allow ourselves to be exposed to situations that make us feel ill at ease that we can truly expect to grow. Neither of us had expected the workshop to impact our lives the way it had, and we are both very grateful to have been a part of this wonderful experience. We sincerely hope that in our futures we will continue to accumulate similar little experiences that will slowly, but surely, allow us change for the better.

Maha & Maham Ahmed are fourth year students  specializing in Microbiology and Immunology and minoring in Classical studies at Western University.

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Welcoming Change

Last semester I took a course about the Emperors of Imperial Rome. We discussed several Emperors including Marcus Aurelius, a man who is often regarded as the best Emperor of the Roman Empire. During his reign, Marcus Aurelius wrote a series of personal writings, known today as the Meditations. While I was reading the assigned paragraphs from this remarkable piece of work, the following quote in particular resonated with me.

 “Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too”

 

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Statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

 

Before enrolling in this course, I had always avoided taking courses offered by the Theatre Studies program. It wasn’t a lack of interest that held me back but rather, a sort of fear. The courses always seemed so foreign, so unfamiliar, so difficult. I did, however, enroll in an introductory Classical Studies course during my first year. I loved every bit of it and by my second year I decided to complete a minor in Classical Studies alongside my Specialization in Microbiology and Immunology. It was also during this time that my twin sister and I registered for a course in Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology. The entire course was fascinating and I particularly enjoyed the last section that was devoted to studying ancient Greek theatre. We learned all about the ancient theatre, how the actors were mostly male and generally from lower-class backgrounds, the backdrops that they used, and the way the very architecture of the theatre was designed to amplify sound. We read several enchanting plays such as Oedipus Rex, The Bacchae, Medea, and the Oresteia. I found myself in a new world – the world of performance. This year when I received an email about a course dedicated to watching theatrical performances, it was this Mythology course that convinced me and my sister to apply.

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Unlike today, actors in ancient Greece wore masks during theatrical performances.

My sister and I were both accepted in the course in November. We were both ecstatic! How exciting it would be to study abroad! There were so many things that attracted me to this course. Having the opportunity to visit another university, being able to see eight grand plays, and meeting amazing new people are just a few things I can name off the top of my head.

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Queen Mary University of London, where we will be staying during Destination Theatre 2017

Going into this course, I do bring several fears with me: fears about not having any experience in theatre studies, the fact that most of the students in the course seem far more experienced in theatre – if not in the classroom, then in the actual theatre. Fears about not doing well in the course, about being too shy to purse something as bold as theatre. As a science student, I’m more accustomed to getting my grades through exams rather than written assignments.  I knew all of this before starting the course, and by enrolling in it I hope to overcome the fears that held me back from pursing theatre earlier.  Even if I find it difficult, it does not mean it is impossible.

Maha Ahmed is a fourth year student at Western University specializing in Microbiology and Immunology and minoring in Classical studies.