The workshops took place at Claremont centre in Islington, and initially involved both students and the older generation getting to grips with Improbable’s improvisation techniques. As the weeks progressed, the student’s contributions became focused on the scenographic – lighting, sound and prop elements became “offers” for improvisation. Irene Ros, an MA Performance Design and Practice student who took part in the project, says this exchange was about “trying to respect the process and the participants. We worked on the quality of our presence on stage, and the performativity of our ‘offers’. Our task was to be, in a way, invisible on stage – to let the older participants perform and facilitate them.”
Tasked with bringing in objects with both clear and multifunctional uses, the student’s contributions influenced and responded to the improvised scenes as they occurred. The development within the workshops led to the conception of an adaptable ‘set’ for the final performances in the Platform Theatre. Objects were hung on a blackboard-wall at the back of the stage – organised into a theatrical inventory of possibility. At intervals, students approached the wall, selecting and introducing objects into the scenes for the older participants: a tyre became a hula hoop, swathes of blue fabric became water, a paper tube became a vase and a clothing rail became a mirror into the future. Their challenge was to design in conjunction with the scenes as they unfolded. By its nature, design is planned and considered. How do you design for improvisation, for something which is spontaneously constructed? In addition, how do you design for “actors” who are not professionals, who have not necessarily interacted with scenographic elements before?
At the beginning of the project, students and participants alike were new to improvisation techniques. Across generations, starting from the same position, they came to understand the importance of facilitation and presenting opportunities for others. As BA student Fié Neo comments, “we were involved in the same way the seniors were. In most cases, younger people in care centres, specifically for over 50s, tend to be volunteers. When you are a volunteer and you go in trying to help or assist the power dynamics are different – it’s more of a superior position. For us, this wasn’t the case when we went to Claremont for the workshops and activities.” For Neo, it is vital that “social engagement is based on equal power dynamics.” Bringing together different generations, the project allowed for interaction between groups that often remain socially distinct, uncovering a new-found commonality.