Fighting lockdown through theatre

Eric MacLennan is a freelance artist-connector on Bubble’s Creative Elders Programme.
Here he reflects on the experience of adapting his practice during 2020, developing new traditions and what it means to have fought lockdown through theatre.

“The act of making theatre – essentially sharing stories – is not some take-it-or-leave-it frivolous sideshow, but a deeply rooted fundamental activity which is at the core of what it means to be human.

The lockdown has offered us time to test this thesis and to conclude resoundingly that YES it is true, we really do have a need, deep within, to tell stories, and to listen to stories with our fellows. Time spent making art together is time well spent.

As we start to come out of lockdown in May 2021, I’ve been given the opportunity by London Bubble to reflect on this last extraordinary year. On a personal level, I’m very grateful to London Bubble for its commitment to freelancers, such as myself, that continued to honour an existing contract, and then extend it during a period of uncertainty.  To able to continue to work and practice my craft has been a huge consolation during this difficult, and at times worrying, year.  Being able to continue to work was certainly a good way to fight lockdown. Being able to continue to make theatre in lockdown (albeit in a virtual sense) was joyful, good for the soul and calming.

At its heart most theatre is the product of collaboration. One of the glories of collaborative practice is that the outcome often exceeds and surpasses the sum of its component parts. So embarking on “lockdown theatre” (by phone and later on Zoom) it has been good to see that it is still the case that collaborative creativity continues to produce results exceeding our expectations and plans.

However, we have noticed certain changes in the group during lockdown:

  • We don’t take each other for granted
  • We are genuinely grateful for the connection with others
  • Whilst being passionate about the work, we can now see it in a wider context and so are able to put it in perspective
  • Our connections and friendships have become more profound.

I’ve been amazed by the creative elders group that I work with as an artist connector. Pre-pandemic, we maybe were less likely to appreciate the social and emotional benefits of being part of a collaborative group. A good group, like a family, takes care of its own.

These examples illustrate how the group has changed and sum up where we are now:

One member of the group had to make a visit to Nigeria to support a member of her extended family in Lagos. During the five weeks of that stay, she continues to log-in to our zoom sessions. I am impressed by her commitment to our group work and struck by how thrilled the rest of us are to connect with her whilst she is on the other side of the world! It’s easy to see how lockdown is restrictive, but the use of technology during this time means that we are now able to do new things that we would never have previously considered possible, namely to participate in a local group from anywhere in the world.

Our Wednesday sessions have become more precious, special occasions. By chance we happened on an incidental practice that has become the norm. Whilst exploring the creative possibilities of colour, we agreed to dress in a particular colour each week. Of course, it was enjoyable to meet on zoom all wearing the same shade of blue or green. But what we hadn’t realised was that we had inadvertently turned the workshop into a special occasion. What happens at a special occasion? You plan, you decide what to wear and you look forward to the event. We are now doing this every week. Our current investigations take place in a virtual museum, which is totally real in our hearts, but that’s another story. The point is, we dress as museum curators, so each week we make sure we are honouring the work (and each other) by carefully selecting smart clothes.

I wonder if that tradition will continue post-lockdown. Time will tell!”

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