The morning began with a physical warm-up to loosen limbs and raise attention levels before segueing into the ball game played the day before. Instead of a circle formation, participants moved freely through the space and were asked to pass the ball to someone and to call out that person’s name with clarity and volume. This variation of the name game was an effective way of harnessing group focus and committing names to memory.
Leaving the ball aside, workshop co-leader, Adwoa Dickson (hereafter AD), gave participants a simple clapping code to follow. One clap signalled stop and freeze, another clap signalled go and two claps meant walk backwards. The commands were then vocalised and additional actions were added such as the ability to jump or squat. Later still, AD began to reverse the meaning of commands so that go meant stop and stop meant go. The final element in this exercise was the introduction of expressive poses on the stop and freeze command. This got the group working with spontaneity and sensitized their listening. The expressive poses formed a bridge to the next activity: Image Theatre.
IMAGE THEATRE – PAIR WORK
The next series of exercises followed on from the previous day’s group image work. This time, participants were asked to form pairs and were put to work on creating still images. One person would take up a distinctive pose, paying attention to the expressive range of the body and its potential to translate a specific emotional state, and the second person would observe this image and locate a point of contact through which s/he could carry the image forwards. The observer would then enter the picture, take up a new pose and the image bearer would step out of the frame and become the observer – and so on and so forth.
The rhythm of these physical morphologies was staccato to begin with, and a degree of trust and awareness between partners was required before participants could approach the exercise with any degree of detail. In a similar vein to the group tableaux from the day before, the opening images tended towards safety and convention; relying a great deal on the use of hands and isolated facial expressions. Little thought was given to the connections between one image and another, resulting in a series of disjointed scenes.
However, once the structure of the exercise had been grasped and trust between partners had been established, the boundaries of the body’s potential as a medium of expression began to shift and a choreographic ‘freehand’ emerged. As such, transitions between images became more fluid, compositions began to operate on multiple levels, and a sense of continuity took hold. In some cases it was possible to observe short narratives at work over a series of three or four images. I watched one series develop between two women in the group:
It began with one of the women curled up on the ground in a state of anguish; the observer stepped into the frame alongside her partner, reproduced the physical expression of her partner’s anguish, but brought the body to a sitting position, arms wrapped tightly around legs. In the next image the observer remained standing, but extended a supportive hand to her partner on the ground and in the final image before time was called, the observer stepped in and faced her partner, extended both hands in a sign of acquiescence and finished with an appreciative smile.
JM pushed the observational element of this exercise further. In the next cycle of work, he asked selected pairs to perform their image sequences in front of the group. At certain points the pairs were told to freeze and both were asked what they felt at that particular moment. The distancing effect of these observational pauses was crucial in opening up the relationship between form and emotion. Refining this relationship became crucial later on once participants began to incorporate sound and movement to their scenes.
Readings of selected image sequences were then extended to the larger group. Once a pair had finished performing their image cycle participants commented openly on what they thought the relationship and possible ‘story’ between partners was. JM mediated the discussion and drew out the ideas that had the most potential to evolve the story in a different direction. The pair would then be asked to take this new information onboard and develop their images into a 10-second scene allowing movement to enter the frame. In this exchange between the image ‘readers’ and the image ‘bearers’, there were multiple layers of empathetic transfer at work. Reading an image is an act of self-projection and to see oneself embodied in another is to gain insight into one’s perception of a power relationship. Likewise, embodying the reading of an observer enables a new empathetic understanding of one’s actions within that relationship.
The three main stages in this exercise, from a static image that conveys an inner emotion, to constructing a series of images with a partner that convey a basic narrative, and finally to a scene with movement, form the basis of scene construction in Image Theatre. The logical progression of this work is to use the montage-like structure to create fully-fledged scenes with voice and movement. Isolating the images in this way is a practical means of developing actor/participant awareness to the complex signifying processes involved in staging a play. It serves as a reminder of the dangers of image manipulation in mediatised societies and the subsequent negation of individual agency.
IMAGE THEATRE – QUINTETS
Through this process of image construction, participants had now acquired a basic methodology that they could put to use in a larger scenario. JM asked participants to form groups of 5. The task was for each member in the group to create his or her own tableau by ‘sculpting’ the other members; and then to run the five images as a sequence with moving transitions. Sculpting an image with five ‘characters’ required participants to home in on detail if their overall compositions were to achieve the projection they had in mind. The ‘truth’ of an image soon became clear when juxtaposed with the four other images and prompted numerous adjustments.
Of further importance in this exercise was the experience of being sculpted by one’s peers. Each member had to fulfil the demands of the sculptor and intuit the overall vision of the composition. In the group I joined, there were moments when certain images seemed to be logically incoherent: why is this person angry towards that person? Could these two really be sisters? Doesn’t it make more sense for them to be friends? If he has beaten his wife, shouldn’t he be shown in opposition to the family? Thinking through these relational premises was a key part of the exercise.
Each quintet presented its ‘album’ of images to the rest of the group and before breaking for lunch a feedback session was convened to reflect on the morning’s work. The following is a summary of participant observations:
One participant pointed out that working with another person’s image allowed for a degree of affective transfer; that to an extent it was possible to become part of that person’s conflict story. Another participant felt that the work was an opportunity to empathise with roles or characters that one would not otherwise have the opportunity to encounter. A third participant was of the opinion that the use of images and physicality allowed for greater freedom of expression than spoken language, and that this was particularly useful in contexts where freedom of expression is compromised. A further comment was made on self-censorship; the participant shared his experience of constructing an image in which he had (unwittingly) given the women stereotypical subservient roles. After experiencing the other images in the group, his instinct was to shift the balance of power.
EMMANUEL JAL – ON LEADERSHIP
EJ used his afternoon slot to discuss the notion of leadership. He began his talk by saying that each person in the group was a potential ‘cultural leader’ for his/her own home community. He went on to ask the group what they thought were the qualities that made a strong leader, recording the group’s answers on a flip chart. Among them were communication skills, confidence and courage. EJ picked up on each answer and gave examples of situations in which these qualities might come into use.
Keeping these initial responses in the foreground, EJ then moved on to discuss his own understanding of leadership. For EJ strong moral leadership implied taking calculated risks to achieve desired outcomes; it also meant a degree of self-sacrifice to attain one’s goals. He gave the example of his ‘Lose to Win’ campaign that was still on going at the time. As mentioned above, EJ was fasting to raise money for a new school in the town of Leer in Southern Sudan.
He also discussed the importance of good resource and management skills, or what he called the ability to ‘rally troops’ to fight for a cause. He emphasised the role of diplomacy in overcoming obstacles encountered in a campaign. Further points raised included altruism and the ability to put one’s own beliefs on hold in order to communicate more effectively in communities with differing – sometimes opposing – belief systems. He added that ‘what you hold to be true should be ready to be re-negotiated’.