Leeds School of Arts | Blog

European Unions: Chapter Three

Performance academics at Leeds Beckett University are collaborating with arts organisations across Europe to develop new, non-verbal methods of adult theatre education and increase participation in theatre.

European Unions Chapter Three

The third leg of the shared training programme, ATIPIA  (Applied Theatre in Practising Integrated Approaches), took place in Reichenow e. V. Germany between 18 – 25 May 2019. The  5-day training was co-delivered by Walli Hoffinger and Christaine Hommelsheim, two performance artists and accredited Roy Hart Theatre voice teachers. The training was attended by representatives from each of the partner institutions in this EU funded project, namely - the International Roy Hart Centre for Vocal Research in France, Shoshin Theatre, Romania, Kava Theatre in Education, Hungary & Leeds Beckett University, UK. Performance academics and practitioners Attending from our School of Film Music and Performing Arts  comprised Senior Lecturer Gillian Dyson, Lecturers Dan Craddock and Hannah Butterfield and myself, Principal Lecturer and ATIPIA UK lead, Teresa Brayshaw. Hasan Abdulla a professional filmmaker and graduate from our MA Documentary Filmmaking 2018 completed the Leeds Beckett delegation.

The association "Colaborative Reichenow e.V." is a non - profit organization situated in the old Gutshof Reichenow, an old manor house, located about 50 km north-east of Berlin. The 28 individual rooms which vary in size and format and are intended for use as workshops, and studios. The rooms are permanently rented to a total of 44 people working in different cultural fields: Graphic designers, architects, filmmakers, theatre and performance artists, sculptors, artists, object designers, doctors, innkeepers, draughtsmen, non-medical practitioners, therapists and artistically motivated craftsmen.

In addition to hosting artistic projects the Colaborative e.V., is also an educational institution, a place which hosts seminars for political and artistic education with specially invited pedagogues. Part of the educational work includes hosting seminars for local youth groups and international encounters and workshops with young refugees. As invited visitors to the estate, the ATIPIA participants all lived together at the guest house, ate together at the on-site restaurant and trained together in a beautiful large ‘event hall’. This communal experience provided a retreat like environment which in turn created a heightened awareness of the relationship between art and everyday life. Leeds Beckett participant Gillian Dyson, whose artistic practice addresses issues of site and place describes Reichenow as "at once a seeming oasis, and a precious and protected space, where artist’s studios, homes and communal eating places are surrounded by tended or overgrown gardens, functional and recreational yards that might be tidy or cluttered with bicycles, children’s toys, work tools and evidence of past creative projects."

People engaging in outdoor workshop
The 5-day training was designed and led by Walli Höfinger and Christiane Hommelsheim, both performance artists, voice performers and voice teachers working with solo practices and in collaboration with artists in other fields on interdisciplinary projects. They are both approved Roy Hart Voice Teacher (Malérargues, France) and regularly teach voice-workshops in Germany and all around Europe.

It is no overstatement to suggest that the 5-day training was universally appreciated by each of the participants as both a unique and rare opportunity in space and time to pay attention to one’s own professional and personal development and a chance to (re)learn how to listen. As Gillian Dyson, Senior Lecturer in Performance, says, “The most profound learning experiences, consisted of small peer group ‘classes’ that focused on the development of one individual. Each participant was guided through a process of personal discovery that was absolutely bespoke to their needs and experiences. It was surprising to me to hear my own voice, to truly hear.’’ 

In fact, hearing and listening were as much part of the training as producing sounds and song. 

Dan Craddock, Associate Lecturer in Theatre and Performance reflected, “A consistent thread in the teaching, was to allow yourself to follow the cracks, the imperfections, the surprising elements of your voice and see where they take you. The room to listen, aurally and physically, is something that will really resonate with me as I take this learning experience back with me to my own artistic and teaching practice.”

Of all the Leeds Beckett participants, Hannah Butterfield, Associate Lecturer, voice teacher and member of Stand and Be Counted (SBC) Theatre, had by far the most previous experience in vocal work and choral singing having  been a member of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and leader of various choirs for young people and community groups. She reflects upon how the approach to finding and using one’s voice in this training, has enhanced and impacted upon her understanding and experience.
 
Several people gently touching each other as part of a workshop in the studio
 “I might describe my experience of the morning workshop content as 'meditative', in that I was required to pay attention to the 'felt' experience of using my voice, rather than improvising or 'creating'. For this reason, the training felt particularly rigorous. It took a great deal of investment in the set task in order to make discoveries. Each time I found myself 'pretending' or 'inventing' vocal sound, I learned to acknowledge this happening, and then to re-focus my attention on exploring. There is no question that there is 'technique' to this work, but the common association between vocal 'technique' and accuracy (in that 'quality' in singing can be measured by pitch accuracy for example) is not the focus here. It isn't about teaching skill or developing specific vocal qualities, but rather in allowing the participant to make discoveries about the potential for the voice and the potential for communication. It's highly personal, and highly reflective work. The ways in which we communicate ideas, sounds and perspectives is incredibly subjective and intrinsically linked to other factors of our identity. For this reason, my learning journey felt very personal and transformative. I was able to explore what is actually happening – the decision-making process -  in the space between the questions: 'How do I sound to you?' and 'How do I want to sound to you?” 

The opportunity to live, eat and work together over a 5-day period with international colleagues, each from one of our four partner organisations, gave us all an experience of collectivity and shared encounter. During our time together, we were able to learn about each other’s work and life contexts, current and previous. Conversations were sometimes private and sometimes public. Space to tune into our felt experience of the training was regularly given and taken.  Stories were plentiful, especially over dinner, and the presence of multiple languages including Hungarian, Romanian, French and German enabled us to develop our listening skills as we connected and sometimes lost ourselves in translation and the incessant sound of birdsong which provided a never ending and constant aural backdrop to our experience.

The international and intergenerational group consisted of individual participants who variously describe themselves as actors, dancers, singers, visual artists and scenographers, puppeteers, theatre directors, performance makers, performance researchers and scholars.
 
People stood on yoga mats in a circle in studio
What we learn in our multiple roles as students, pedagogues, professional practitioners and researchers in these shared spaces of encounter, about ourselves, each other and the communities of practice that we will take this learning back into, is rich and profound and confirms the value of working outside of our habitual environments. Personal and professional development in this ‘voice training’ context emerges over time, and focuses on our felt experience, not only through doing the daily emersion in the training and practice but also through observing how each participant tackles the opportunities to discover new ways to use the voice in performance, in conversation and in writing. The focus of exploration, in this leg of the training, upon how we might find our voices clearly  implicates us in considering how we will then consider using our voices when we begin to apply this new knowledge in our respective cultural contexts.

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Teresa Brayshaw

Teresa is a theatre practitioner, a writer, a teacher, a researcher, and a qualified Feldenkrais Practitioner. Her ethos is to create environments in which people can learn through movement and awareness, to develop their innate potential and become happier and healthier as a result.

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