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Striking a balance: process and product

December 12, 2014

My professional world has straddled both the artistic and therapeutic, in the context of community building and development, and in the last few years I’ve positioned myself more firmly in the latter world. However, in the last few weeks I’ve taken on a freelance youth theatre project ‘Home Grown’, with the Kevin Spacey Foundation and the recently formed Middle East Theatre Academy (META), which has brought me back to my roots in the theatre world. Right now, I am sitting with curiosity, fascination and frustration at how differently the artistic, therapeutic and/or community worlds perceive one another. There is often a mistrust on all sides. I’ve experienced therapeutic practitioners’ distrust of artists and actors, with projected superficiality and purely product-oriented goals, particularly with jobbing actors or artists who do community-related projects to supplement their chosen careers, bypassing the rich dialogue, personal and communal growth that can be facilitated in the process of creation. On the other side of the of the coin, the pure creative professionals, the artists and actors I’ve worked with, seem fearful of the slower, overly-verbal tendency of the therapeutic, killing the delicate energy and spontaneity needed to create, and a deep distrust of the term ‘community’, as this implies a lack of artistic merit.

How can an initiative practically balance both a rich process with a creative product, to engage and develop a community?

From the start, in aforementioned project, Home Grown, there was a mixed agenda, which although I found challenging to negotiate, I now believe is helpful and healthy in its mix: wanting to create an opportunity for talented young people to perform, particularly for those who lack the means, and to produce a play worthy of genuine artistic merit. The latter is important, as our producer pointed out, not merely to impress and inspire audience members, but also for the participants involved, to know they are part of a play with artistic integrity, creating something beautiful.

As I write, I wonder if beauty, and differences on what is beautiful, sits at the heart of this difference between process and community, with product and artistic merit.

Conventionally, community art and theatre is about the process not the final product, i.e., it’s not about what you see in the end, but the journey that got you there. So when I attend a play put on by former young offenders, or a village production of Hamlet, I’m not there with my theatre dramaturgical hat, but with my community awareness, engaged citizen, mindset, which reminds me to imagine the process these people underwent and the courage they built to share their work. I am more witness than audience member. Whereas, when I’ve paid a fare amount to see a play by professionals in the field, I expect to be moved emotionally, intellectually and viscerally, simply by the spectacle on display. What is beautiful, to me, seems very different in these two examples, and I personally enjoy moving between the two, having come from a theatre background and moved to the therapeutic and communal. Having said that, I do not discard my theatre and actor’s training altogether, even if I’m facilitating a therapy group (how could I?!), though I am mindful in terms of if and how I choose to share the work of a community group, depending on the aims and objects of a particular project. I am discriminate.

Personally and professionally, I differentiate  between therapeutic and communal projects with a sole focus on dialogue, and those with a clear intention towards creating an art piece/ performance. For the former, the group may be exploring new ground, engaging in intimate dialogue, and so if they choose to share this process, I would facilitate a selection of an informed audience, able to witness an exploration with generosity and compassion, which I would not assume of an average member of the public. It would be my job, as the creative practitioner in charge of a project, to decide how best to serve a project, rather than indiscriminately open up a process to the public sphere. Meanwhile, if part of a project’s aim is positive social change through showing a product, then I would involve those trained in the field to help facilitate the process (whether curators for an exhibition or directors for a play). If it’s process, dialogue and product, then a mix of practitioners is needed, as artists alone are not able to facilitate therapeutic dialogue in a safe space, in as much as a therapist is not necessarily able to direct a group to put on a play. There are exemptions of course.

All this is well and good, though in practise, much boils down to time and money, or the lack thereof. Back to Home Grown, the team agrees that much can be gained from workshops alone, to teach and develop confidence and theatre skills, and yet, the project aims to produce a play worthy of a public audience, who may/ may not be interested in the process. All this process needs to happen in less than two weeks. This is a feat in itself, let alone when participants will be chosen from 17 different countries across the Middle East, and our creative team will be shipped over to the UAE to work for the first time in this region. And because ultimately, Home Grown is a pilot project with a vision to set-up the first theatre academy in the Middle East; so we need to communicate a message through the medium of theatre, to say: the Middle East holds a wealth of talented young people, who are not receiving the opportunity to hone their talent, and to showcase the arts as a powerful instrument to instigate positive social change.

Still in the selection process, the creative team, including myself, have been sifting through Youtube audition videos and application forms for the last week. Heated discussions have involved our attempt to balance opportunity with practicality, namely, we need to chose those who clearly exhibit a level of both talent and skill, in order to meet the intense process we will carry out in January 2015. As this initiative isn’t simply about teaching skills, we cannot risk involving a majority with very limited experience. Yet, the team has thus far chosen a truly diverse range of applicants, in terms of skills experience and regions, and a balance of genders. At its heart, Home Grown, in my opinion, is still a community project, as we are in essence, attempting to develop a theatre community, a platform for those interested in this field, to meet, connect, work together and hopefully, continue to inspire others through the integrity of their artistic projects.

Please note: this blogpost expresses my personal opinion and experience on Home Grown, and is not necessarily representative of KSF or META, nor other individuals involved on the Creative Team.  

From → Artistic

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