Research Notes

As you can read in Sam Butler’s post from last week, there’s a long process of research and development that goes on before we bring a show out on tour. As a part of that process, it’s important to get an idea of how an audience will react to the work, especially when it’s for children. When we were putting The Forest together, we brought a version of the performance to an audience of children at Sadler’s Wells, to see what they thought. The experience was interesting: it clarified some things, and raised questions about others. So that you can see what kind of reactions we got, and what kind of lessons can be learned by watching and listening to your audience, here are some notes we made at that session, which informed how we developed the production.

The introduction felt important today: after I’d announced us all, it felt like the children knew who they were watching, and that made it easier to watch abstract material. (Is this true? Does it make it easier? Did they feel like they knew us?). Do we need to think about an introduction of sorts in the performance?

There were giggles of embarrassment at the start: they weren’t sure how to react to the abstract. But, the embarrassment gave way to interest when there was contact between the audience and the performers: when they were invited in to the movement.

The pleasure of unison: a real reaction to the moment where everyone came together to do an impressive move (the roll with the cane).

These are children at the age of cartwheels and handstands and big competitive rollings-around in the playground.

There’s pleasure in the puzzle: pleasure in watching the performers working something out.

Danger - something that is not understood, something that is strange, is potentially frightening: the rhythms of approach, proximity, speed between the performers and audience. But there is also potential for a great excitement in the games that come with this. The danger and pleasure of the canes being dropped close to the audience, of big moves close by. Danger: the audience’s pleasure in big moves and impressive things.

Pleasure in material things, in stuff: the canes, the elastic, the balls - a real attention to detail in how these things are handled.

There’s a great desire to touch the elastic - do we allow this?

There’s a great desire to enter the space - do we allow this?

A real interest in complex patterns, and complications (entanglement).

The traverse was good. There was no sense of the other half of the audience being a distraction. The focus was entirely on the performers.

The moments of silence bring us back to the here and now. The natural sounds were noticed and commented on.

A comment “I didn’t understand it” at the end. it’s good to take children to a place where the relationship to the work is not necessarily about understanding, but is more about a physical, sensory, visual experience. But how do we let an audience of this age know that not understanding is OK?

Research and Development

When making our pieces for children, as with all our work, we take a long time….

We take a long time talking, playing, observing and listening to children. We work in schools, and in nurseries and we have a number of schools who regularly help us in our endeavour to make the best work we can. For ‘The Forest’ we asked some schools “would you mind if we took some of your young people to play in a forest?”. Those open-minded schools which agreed to our unusual request provided us with some of our most useful material which informed the piece as you see it today. We ran some workshops with the children first, inside. We wanted to find out what the word ‘forest’ conjured up in their minds, we wanted to see what they imagined and brought to life for themselves with minimal input from us. Its here we discovered the huge range of understanding and experiences of forests; it is clear plenty of children had never been to a forest in the UK; for some it meant lions and monkeys and tigers…for others logs and streams and trees and leaves…for others who were born outside the UK they saw snakes and spiders and exotic birds. What was pleasing though, was that for all of them it meant movement: running, jumping, spinning, climbing, leaping and so from the start we knew that is was right to be making a piece about forests that was a piece of dance.

Then we all got into their minibus and went to a forest and when we arrived this is what happened:

Running off, staying together, walking slowly, worrying about dirt, loving dirt, touching bark, looking up, jumping over muddy puddles, worrying about getting wet, trying to get wet, making leaf piles, jumping into leaf piles, throwing leaves, catching leaves, pointing out strange twisty trees, climbing on fallen dead trees, pretending to be trees swaying, pretending to be trees falling down, lying on the ground looking at the sky, picking things up, collecting pine cones, collecting sticks, collecting twigs, collecting leaves, collecting beetles, making paths, standing still, lying on leaves, poking insects, running away from spiders, chasing people with insects, following insects, watching insects crawl over the ground, over their hands, pointing at spider threads hanging in the sunlight, building fires, looking for bears, looking for werewolves, looking for owls, looking for chipmunks, calling out, chirping, tweeting, howling, hooting, growling…

and if you look carefully you can see most of this in ‘The forest’.

Samantha Butler, Director