An energetic warm up game of Stuck in the Mud got us running around the space as if it were a school playground; one person was ‘it’ and when they tagged someone their body became frozen in motion. To be released, another person had to mimic their posture. We were instantly in our bodies and darting around each other like Primary School children. A new person was chosen to be ‘it’ and when they caught us our facial expressions froze. Grimaces and shrieks solidified on our faces until another person mirrored them and released us to run around again. A final instruction was to freeze and emulate an emotion through our internal intention as well as body language and facial expression. This was more complex and subtle to understand in another and copy and, as well as the addition of another person being ‘it’, the room was soon filled with statues. The game had come to an end but it left us more tuned into the space and each other, ready for the session.
We began the session by each individually drawing a layout of our classroom from either primary or secondary school. This task was surprisingly challenging; despite some only having been at school less than ten or so years ago and some of the younger members of group still at school, it was amusing to note how little we could actually remember!
The drawings ranged from ‘typical’ classroom layout, desks and a blackboard for example, to classrooms with play areas and different sections for contrasting activities! We spoke about our memories of these class rooms and then extended the exercise further by trying to remember where we sat in that classroom and who sat around us (for example a best friend, a group of friends, the position of teacher etc.)
Working from this, we split into three groups and using eight chairs we had to each re-create our classrooms. We each took it in turns in our groups; all of the classrooms differed greatly, with some chairs being placed away from the main area of focus to show exclusion/someone being left out. I used the chairs to resemble a carpet as this is where I can remember sitting in primary school!
From this we began to work with the transitions; our group had to do the activity but in silence. We’d each create our classroom and then we’d place the rest of the group, one by one in their designated spot in the classroom drawn from our memories. It was very effective because the silence really highlighted the action and thus we could see when someone was being bullied or when someone had no friends or when someone was being ignored. For example, one member put four chairs at the front in a line, two at the back and two in the middle, she then preceded to sit us down in the chairs and she sat, excluded, in the middle because her recollection of this particular time of her schooling was that she had no friends. It was a very poignant moment. We extended the exercise further by all only standing when the person whose recreated classroom it was stood up to leave and by keeping the action limited to only the people who were interacting, everyone else froze.
It was interesting to watch how each of the three groups worked differently. Group one for example carried out the same exercise as our group but they had a running commentary throughout. For example the person whose classroom it was would explain where they were, their age, the names of the people surrounding them and a bit of a background story about their time in this classroom. The other group also spoke during their improvisation but what was most interesting was that this group in particular were all of around the same age and in school or had just left school. This, I felt, emphasised what we were seeing; it was perhaps a lot more truthful an account and with their ages, it was a lot more realistic. However there’s also something intriguing about watching adults re-create their school days, humorous at times yet sad too when, again, we draw on memories that we thought we’d forgotten and sometimes they aren’t necessarily fond memories of our school days.
We ended the session by going back to what we did at the end of the last session and working on this in more detail whereby each group was given a typical school-day structure written down from the perspective of a current school student! We kept the same member as last time reading out the structure and we made the improvisation very energetic!