Take the Stage Lead Artist Jordana Golbourn reflects on the challenges of taking our Donmar Discover work with schools and colleges online for the first time.
In December 2020 myself, the Donmar Discover team and theatre-makers Thomas Bailey, Amari Harris, Sean Linnen and Toby Peach met to begin planning an exciting return to in-school workshops and rehearsals. By the end of the month, a further lockdown and school closures had been announced and what followed was an incredible display of creativity and resilience as we adapted the project to deliver the work with our schools online.
‘Our creativity had no limits, even behind a screen’
TAKE THE STAGE: BLINDNESS participant
This digital Take the Stage has been one of the most challenging, but also artistically ambitious, we have delivered. Our theatre makers joined the virtual classrooms of six schools and collaborated with the students to creatively respond to Blindness, the Donmar’s socially-distanced sound installation.
Together, we have played games, taken part in movement workshops, had discussions about the impact of the last year, thought about our collective hopes for the future, created short films on our daily walks and made some incredible pieces of creative writing and art: all in our bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens! Everything has been recorded and captured through online classroom submissions, video call recordings or socially distanced behind masks in classrooms with our theatre-makers video calling in to work with the young people.
‘I’ve learnt to not be afraid to share my own ideas’
TAKE THE STAGE: BLINDNESS participant
I am in awe of what our theatre makers and young artists have achieved together. These innovative, poetic and powerful personal responses to Blindness is testament to the power of theatre to embolden voices, harness opinions and develop creativity. Ultimately, Take the Stage offers a platform for these young artists, who may not feel represented elsewhere, to present their experiences and opinions.
Take the Stage offers our young artists the space and time to be bold versions of themselves and to totally own and lead the process and product. Yes, it’s about inspiring the next generation of young artists and theatre audiences, but more than that, it’s about developing confident, socially-conscious global citizens who will be our next agitators, change-makers and leaders. I am sure you will agree with me once you’ve experienced their work, that our future is in very safe hands.
Jordana Golbourn | April 2021
For TAKE THE STAGE: BLINDNESS, we worked with six schools, who have each produced a creative response to BLINDNESS and the experience of living and learning during lockdown.
Ricards Lodge High School for Girls have created a video, which is available to watch here . Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, Haverstock School, La Sainte Union School and Grey Coat Hospital School all produced audio pieces, which are available to listen to here. St Thomas More Catholic School have created a virtual tour which you can experience here.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Created by Sean Linnen and students from Ricards Lodge High School for Girls
Sound Design Tingying Dong
Movement Rachel-Leah Hosker
A WHOLE NEW WORLD is a home video/poetry/dance mash up about the changed world we’re living in and the joy we’re still able to find in it.
We spoke to some of the Ricards Lodge students about their experience of making this piece:
‘We did a number of exercises and talked about the pandemic and how it has affected us and our friends. We all agreed that there had been negative and positive aspects of the experience of lockdown.
We were worried about the online nature of the project as we were only used to doing theatre in person and having that interaction and connection with others, but we were surprised at how well it went and how much we enjoyed it. We made some amazing pieces of theatre and got to work with some amazing people that otherwise we wouldn’t have.
We enjoyed using the breakout rooms and creating our own pieces of improvisation around the themes of Blindness. We would then share these back to the group which we really enjoyed doing. It was great to share your ideas with each other and it was inspiring and confidence boosting to hear everyone’s thoughts and ideas.
We learnt loads of skills and learnt how to produce a piece of theatre and take the lead when directing some of the smaller performances that we created. It helped to build our confidence as we had to work with people that we didn’t know, who weren’t in our classes.
We loved doing the movement workshops. When you’re behind a screen you don’t think about how movement is perceived, but in the workshops we were able to think of ways to change our movement and we used our camera to move around and show different angles and ideas.
We want other teenagers to watch our piece. We’ve all gone through a historical key event together and It’s hard being a teenager at the moment. Others can watch it and feel our enjoyment that we got from doing it. We also want people in the future to see what we’ve been through in 2020.
Audiences should watch it after they’ve been outside, so they can remember what they saw on their walk or in their garden.
Overall Take the Stage has been a really enjoyable experience. It has opened our eyes to what you can do with acting and has given us confidence and tips for the future.
Thank you to the Donmar team and Sean for this experience. We’re all very grateful.’
Click here to watch A WHOLE NEW WORLD.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD is captioned and you can also download a full transcript here.
Created by Jordana Golbourn and students from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School
Sound Designer Tingying Dong
BREATHE is an audio experience. It is a gift of thanks to teachers for their support during the last year and a new type of guided meditation sending everyone the message of the importance of self-care and self-love.
The experience is inspired by the themes of recovery in Blindness and how the experience of a pandemic spoke to the lasting impact of the events of the last year.
We spoke to some of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson students about their experience of making this piece:
‘In our sessions we discussed the importance of mental health and how we could create a roadmap to recovery with empathy for people going through a hard time. It is something we sometimes turn a blind eye to and self-care and wellbeing is really important.
I was surprised by how quickly we learnt to communicate and create together online. We got to share our ideas without worrying about right and wrong answers. Even though we were online, which can seem gloomy and frightening, we created a safe environment to share our thoughts and ideas. Our creativity had no limits, even behind a screen.
It was exciting seeing how Jordana pieced our separate writing together into one bit of text, everyone’s pieces fitted together almost like a puzzle being solved. Everyone showed a lot from their poetic side and the script turned out honestly beautiful.
I have learned how to be confident with who I am and how important it is to be yourself. I also learnt that we aren’t alone. It’s been a hard time for everyone and talking about it is good. Writing can help you relax in these stressful times.
Our piece is a gift for people who are having a hard time during the pandemic. A gift to our parents for making sure we’re okay whilst we’re struggling to keep up with every class. A gift to our teachers for hanging onto us, not giving up, even when most students didn’t answer and most people didn’t put their cameras on.
So when you need your spirits lifted, grab a cup of tea, your favourite snack and your headphones, find a quiet place, get comfortable and BREATHE’
THE TIME WHEN TIME STOPPED
Created by Thomas Bailey and students from Haverstock School
Composer and Sound Designer Alice Boyd
THE TIME WHEN TIME STOPPED is an audio piece from a group of artists in Year 10, that aims to capture their thoughts, feelings, fears and aspirations, having survived the unexampled upheavals of 2020–2021. Devised over 8 weeks via instant messaging, then recorded in class once schools reopened, we hope it will serve as an aural time capsule, and stand as a testament to the resilience and artistry of generation lockdown.
We spoke to some of the Haverstock students about their experience of making this piece:
‘We discussed the themes of Covid and how it had affected us over the last year. It opened my eyes to how much covid had actually affected people as we could really think about it and how others were affected.
We did various writing exercises over 7 online sessions during lockdown and then, school was reopened, which gave us the opportunity to come together with the script and record it for the last 2 sessions. I was surprised at how we could actually manage to take all these pieces of writing into one piece when we weren’t even with anyone; it somehow worked.
It would be nice to think that in 20 years, when our kids will be learning about the pandemic in history, we will be able to show this piece to them for a real perspective of it in a form that young people enjoy.’
TURNING A BLIND EYE
Created by Amari Harris and students from La Sainte Union School
Sound Designer Kieran Lucas
Turning a Blind Eye is a collection of monologues about issues that as a society, we should take more notice of.
Click here to watch a short video about the making of Turning a Blind Eye.
Intro — embed video from Amari
‘We Must Find a Way’
Global poverty and child poverty is an issue which this group of young people feel extremely passionate about. We discussed how we take certain things in our life for granted. We have clean water, a roof over our head and food on the table. This group wanted to make a piece about individual and collective responsibility when it comes to poverty.
‘I Will Help You’
This piece explores an abstract inner voice that aids us through troubling times. There are so many things in the world vying for our attention and distracting us. Sometimes we need to focus and take a moment and listen to our inner voice.
This piece explores identity and culture. What makes up you? Is it a passport, heritage, culture, family or, at the end of the day: does it come down to a choice?
‘Stories About People’
There are stories all around us, everyone has a story. We sprint through life going from one thing to the next. This piece explores imagination and empathy. What happens when we sit and watch?
Click here to download a full transcript of TURNING A BLIND EYE.
PLANET OF THE UNKNOWN
Created by Thomas Bailey and students from Grey Coat Hospital School
Composer and Sound Designer Alice Boyd
PLANET OF THE UNKNOWN is a science fiction audio piece that asks the question: if we had to leave Earth behind and go somewhere new, what would we miss, and what would we leave behind? We wanted to address the big issues raised by the pandemic, but approach them from an unfamiliar angle. For anyone who’s started looking differently at life, the universe, and everything.
We spoke to some of the Grey Coat Hospital students about their experience of making this piece:
‘We started by discussing life during and after the pandemic, and big changes that have happened because of it. We discussed the impact that it has had on us as individuals and made us reminisce on the times that we considered normal.We talked a lot about what is most important to us in the world we live in, and how it would feel if suddenly it was all gone. We focused on memories, and how they can be expressed and presented. This then brought up what we missed and we put it in the context of starting over completely on a new planet.
We were surprised by how much we enjoyed taking part since online learning in other lessons could be rather draining. However, there was a good mix of practical work and discussions that made it much more refreshing and interactive. Being in a room alone meant that we were able to act without feeling that embarrassed. One of our favourite creative exercises was definitely creating a narrative from a short video that a classmate shot because we were putting ourselves in the perspective of someone that was looking back on their days on Earth. It also meant that we could be very creative with it as we had no other instructions.
We’ve learnt to not be afraid to say our ideas. We’ve also learnt to take ourselves and our acting more seriously, and to not doubt what we create and perform.
Our piece is a piece for anyone. It presents the wants of people stuck in an intergalactic purgatory of sorts, thinking back on past memories, and hoping for a brighter and better future ahead. We want an audience to think of what they would miss the most, and what they would want to bring with them.
Our piece should be experienced in a quiet room, where you can focus and let your mind freely imagine without any outside distractions. Or on a quiet and sunny day, while sitting on a park bench.’
Created by Toby Peach and students from St Thomas More Catholic School
Creative Technologist Barra Collins
Sound Designer Kieran Lucas
ALONE is a digital tour of St.Thomas More School featuring stories from students from Year 10. Inside the piece we dive into what life beyond school has been like locked behind their own doors, and how recovery looks for the students as they return.
Click here to find out how the students at St Thomas More made this exciting piece in a short audio introduction.
When you click on the link you will be given the choice on how you want to enter — choose ENTER ROOM — and then wait for the audio to start.
You can navigate in the space using W for forward, S for back, A for left and D for right, or your own arrows.
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TAKE THE STAGE: BLINDNESS has been delivered as part of our Donmar Discover Local Programme, supported by John Lyon’s Charity.
With generous thanks to the following supporters of our Discover programme who have enabled our work with young people and the local community despite our closure:
Adam and Victoria Freudenheim
Chapman Charitable Trust
Clore Duffield Foundation
John Lyon’s Charity
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust
The Emmanuel Kaye Foundation
The Thompson Family Charitable Trust
Universal Consolidated Group