Notice your role

What does the room need? This is a common rehearsal hall question. In the Zoom room, or in other online spaces, we need to be even more intentional, work even harder to notice dynamics and our part in them. Sometimes we need to step in or out of our most familiar roles.

Things to try on: tools, activities and resources

  • Get up, get back

You probably know this one. If you’re someone who tends to not speak a lot, consider trying to speak more. If you tend to verbally contribute a lot, consider stretching yourself by doing more listening. Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA) has called this Move up, Move up. Move up to speaking, move up to listening. Also consider what your experiences make you able to contribute, and how your identity and experiences might encourage you to Move up, Move up.

  • No one knows everything. Together we know a lot. AORTA has other really good suggestions for community agreements. Here is one we like a lot:

In any conversation, especially ones about systemic power (race, class, gender, etc), we know that each person is coming to the conversation with different levels of lived experience and embodied expertise. We also believe that each person has something to contribute to the conversation. This agreement asks that we all practice being humble, and look for what we have to learn from each person in the room. It asks us to share what we know, as well as our questions, so that others may learn from us.

  • Come prepared. Ask for what you need. Given who you are, what do you know, what might you miss?

I might know the Metis experience quite well. But in the South Asian community, the Black Community, in differently abled communities… I feel like I’m putting my foot in my mouth. I have tried to inform myself, but still there’s things I say, and I’m like, ahhhhh, shit. And I don’t think it’s a unique experience to anyone. I think it’s what we all go through in terms of just being able to open up conversations about other people’s culture. The new thing, that I’m trying, because there’s something new to learn all the time, is: you tell me. When I’m directing or facilitating I say: you have to guide me. You tell me. Let’s have this conversation. I just feel like I’m forever searching for guidance from the group. — Jani Lauzon

What might you be good at, that you didn’t know you were good at? What can you contribute to solving the problem?

What can you contribute that’s different from your IRL roles? The digitally mediated r(z)oom needs new things. When you leave an online rehearsal or gathering and think: “oh, it would have been so much better if…”, try offering a solution to that problem, or kindly bringing that problem to the facilitator or groups attention. Maybe you’re an actor who can manage a technical problem, maybe you’re a designer who can be on-book….

In the performing arts, what is not said is often where some of the biggest discoveries and connections are made. In a room together, there are innumerable ways that every person can affect what’s happening though small gestures. It’s those unspoken, undemonstrated moments of deep caring or inspiration, or complicity or affirmation or whatever it is that propels the group, signalling that we’re on the right track, that everyone’s attended to, and present and we’re moving in a direction and flowing — all of those cues and feedbacks motivate and inspire me, when I’m in a creative process with a group of people. It’s hard to determine through tiny thumb nails, when you’re seeing just part of a person. Disembodied. Online it’s much more difficult to “jump in.” When you’re in a room together, someone can just go and plug in a stage light and entirely alter the moment. Something that we could work towards, is a greater ability to affect things.

— Andrea Nann

Case Study: LEAD Ensemble, Veda Hille

LEAD is an ongoing, paid, performance ensemble working creatively across perceptions of cognitive ability. Now in its third season, LEAD continues to deepen the experience of the original cohort while expanding to include new participants through an introductory group. — Neworld Theatre

I have been a part of the LEAD Ensemble at Neworld since its inception. We began these workshops in person at PL1422 in Vancouver. When the pandemic started we moved onto Zoom. In some ways it’s been harder to make our non-hierarchical room live properly online;  the differences in pace become more apparent, and the neurotypical people sometimes have an advantage with their different experiences in working with technology. But the LEAD Ensemble meetings continue to beat any other online meetings I have in terms of joy, surprise, and deeply present improvisation. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in this group:

  • It’s never too long to wait. If you want a group to be together, you cannot preset the pace. If you want a real response to a question, you have to be prepared to wait as long as it takes for someone to form that response. Or to talk as long as they need in order to complete their response. As well, if you’re working on group choreography the tempo needs to be set for the slowest individual. Togetherness beats speed.
  • Audio control versus audio chaos. If one person is performing or speaking and other people have a noisy environment or vocal tics, it’s alright for the host to judiciously use the mute button as long as people are reminded frequently that it is not a judgement and that it serves the group. On the chaos side, go ahead and sing together! The lag makes perfection impossible, but who the heck wants perfection anyway? That leads me to:
  • Forget about getting it right. Or, let go of thinking you know what’s right. Just get in there.

A few exercises from the LEAD ensemble:

  • Teach us a song. Who knows a song? Usually everyone. Ask someone to teach the group a song by singing line by line and having the group repeat it. Just a verse and a chorus is enough, one line at a time. The group has to try to sing the line as they heard it. This is also a great way to improvise a new song, which sometimes just happens naturally anyway.
  • Conductor. An improv game. The conductor uses their hands to conduct the group in vocal sounds. The vocalists can make any sound the conductor’s hands suggest to them. Switch up the conductor frequently! It’s a thrilling power, easily transferred.
  • Puppets!  Those little boxes were made for puppet shows.