Artist Sian Ni Mhuiri reflects on the ‘Drama for Joy’ workshop, a one off ‘playdate’ with children from the local Baleskin Reception.
The ‘Drama for Joy’ workshop at Axis:Ballymun was a great success, with some really lovely creative outcomes. The workshop began with a tour of the Axis theatre and recording studios for the visiting young people (with a few impromptu songs from our very outgoing participants!). After moving to the theatre and showing our guests the lighting equipment, the wings and the backstage area, we began a relaxed drama workshop, following a workshop plan on the topic of object theatre and play, but also incorporating ideas and game suggestions from the young people too.
The focus of the workshop was getting the young participants to consider how simple, cheap everyday objects, all of which could be found in a Direct Provision or Reception Centre (cutlery, toilet paper rolls, a suitcase or box, a football, or a J-cloth) could be used creatively in storytelling and play. We began with a fun theatrical warm-up, and some ice-breaker and improvisation games, taking turns miming, acting and playing with the props provided.
I then did a demonstration of how theatre-makers use objects to create settings for drama, and simple puppets. Using a suitcase, a loo-roll, a toy monkey, and an anchor made out of duct-tape, string and cardboard, we created a pirate ship that we all took turns playing with and animating as if it was sailing the high seas. Then, using an orange, a scarf and an elastic band, I demonstrated how to make inanimate objects into puppets using simple manipulation, the illusion of breath, voice, and movement.
We then used nothing more than two white Styrofoam balls, with black dots for eyes, and animated them with our hands and feet to create puppets incorporating the human body. The participants needed little direction in creating their own stories at each stage – the highlight of the morning session being the story of a school child who got detention and suspension and expulsion from school all in one day, and had to tell his furious mother after coming home.
Axis Ballymun generously provided lunch for the participants, which was a chance to share food and hear more about their interests, and to get an idea of their sense of humour before diving back into the second half of the workshop. Being very interested in sport, the participants decided to make football the focus of their story in the second half of the workshop. Working as a group, the boys created the set, props and staging for their story of two best friends who must compete in a football match before the Queen, in order to determine who is the best in the land.
Complete with sports commentary, scene changes, a dramatic trip to the doctors, a queen hidden in the theatre audience, and a picnic with their football coach, the story was entirely devised and performed by the young people, inspired by creative use of the basic props on offer.
All the young people expressed an interest in coming back to axis, something that I’d love to facilitate in the future if possible.
The day was a success in a number of ways, above and beyond the desired outcome of expressing ourselves through imaginative storytelling and object theatre. It introduced a group of young people in the Direct Provision system to a seminal local arts centre, and not only allowed them to feel relaxed there, but to feel hosted and included. They repeatedly asked if they could come back, and very forcefully tried to commit us to a date (could they come back on Saturday? How about Sunday after church? Monday after school?)
As I’m sure the Axis staff will agree, it would be a shame for us to not be able to facilitate further contact with these amazing, energetic, highly intelligent and imaginative young people. But, no doubt, we will find a way. The great achievement of Press Play is that it created a space of such open, welcoming and truly creative exchange between artists and a group of hilarious and playful young people – unfortunately this experience of inclusion is rare for our participants.
I believe it is a fundamental right for every child in the world, regardless of residency status, to have access to the arts, to play, to creative participation and an active role in civic life, as enshrined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
With support, partnerships and relationships with willing and dynamic organisations such as Axis:Ballymun and initiatives like Dublin’s Culture Connects, we can start fulfilling these basic human rights of the children in our Direct Provision system on a more regular, sustainable and nurturing basis.
This workshop was part of The National Neighbourhood : Press Play, and managed and programmed by axis Ballymun.0