We spoke to Michael Spencer, Course Leader on BA Performance Design and Practice about a recent workshop held in Ancona, Italy alongside Associate Lecturer Geraldine Pilgrim and MA PDP first year students.
Can you tell us a bit about the workshop and how it came about?
The workshop is a regular event in the 1st year MA Performance Design and Practice curriculum. It is placed after the submission of the first two units and before the final unit begins. Its aim is to bond students by asking them to collaborate on a number of public facing performance fragments. Using the facilities at Polverigi (run by an organisation called ‘Inteatro’ who have profiled European experimental theatre for over 30 years) allows the students to live and work together for an intensive five day period – in the beautiful setting of a Villa in a small village in Eastern Italy – near the port of Ancona. The flight and accommodation costs are paid by the course.
The students were working with Gerry Pilgrim, what did she bring to the workshop?
Gerry is one of the reasons we have a link with Ancona since she has presented her own work there for decades. Gerry is one of the foremost European practitioners in the field of what has become ‘site specific theatre/performance’ – she was a pioneer of the genre. She brings her vast experience and methodologies for creating such work, which is student-lead, but very much guided by Gerry.
What were been the main challenges in creating this material?
The challenges are several: first the collaborative challenge of working as equals in small teams. Then there is the challenge of creating meaningful images connecting to complex narratives for an audience. Finally there is the challenge of working in the public sphere – in this case the streets of a small Italian village – activating everyday environments.
How was working in Ancona?
Ancona is visited once in the week for a performance exercise – and to see an extraordinary city/visit its theatre etc. Gerry works in something called the ‘Pasetto’ – an incredible architectural promenade constructed by the sea by Mussollini in the 1930s. The rest is in the tiny village of Polverigi – with its one restaurant, pizza shop, bus stop, supermarket etc. It is a slow paced place – ideal for the focus of the work and an antidote to London’s frantic pace.
How was the piece documented? What do you hope people witnessing the performances took away from them?
Myself and students took photos (and the odd video clip) but the process is as important as the product in this workshop. We spend time on the work rather than filming each other – also, Gerry is insistent that the eye sees so much more than any camera, and that the performance is a sensual experience, not just a visual one – she is right in this. Audiences were ‘accidental’ meaning they viewed the work in the street unannounced. Some watched from open windows – others slowed their pace as they passed, walking or in cars. The students watching and commenting on each others work is vital. Audience reaction will range from confusion to fascination, depending on how much they are willing to invest in what is in effect, an intervention into their world.
What do you hope the students took from the experience?
The students experienced the joys (and horrors) of collaborative practice; of working with a renowned artist; of working outside of a theatre in a public forum, and of an intensity that went beyond the scheduled sessions which have to be time-tabled in advance when working at Kings Cross. There’s nothing wrong with that model, but there are other models for learning, and this more ‘feral’ context is one of them.
View some of Michael’s images in the gallery below: