Bare Essentials: In the Steps of the Masters - The Odin Experience

Feature in Issue 8-1 | Spring 1996

Last year Bare Essentials Youth Theatre, from Coventry, visited Odin Theatre in Denmark. Carran Waterfield, recounts how the visit proved to be a formidable landmark in the young company's development.

Bare Essential's partnership with Odin Teatret began in 1994 when Odin headlined the Coventry Arts Alive Festival. During the festival members of the Odin company saw Bare Essentials' production Dreamweavers. There was a peculiar recognition felt by both companies that they were members of the same blood group. Seeing each other's work was almost like looking into a mirror. So much so, that Odin invited Bare Essentials along with my company, Triangle, to conduct a week-long residency sharing performances, work demonstrations and working methods at Odin's theatre base in Holstebro, Denmark.

The programme, coordinated by Odin actress Isabel Ubeda, included performances of Bare Essentials' Olim and Dreamweavers and the premiere of Triangle's Godiva, together with the young people's work demonstration which illustrated how they work alone as a group, and the methods they adopt when I work with them.

Bare Essentials worked extensively with Isabel Ubeda on skills that led to a street performance. Isabel was careful to build on my working methods with the group and to encourage independence of creativity which is a feature of the company's work. Six older members of the company stayed an extra week to take part in the Odin Open Week, where they worked with Roberta Carreri and Torgeir Wethal as well as taking on substantial organisational responsibilities for the Odin Theatre during their stay.

The older members recall their frustrations during the second week when they saw Odin exposed to rigorous questioning and indeed criticism of their methods and practice, as is usual for a company 'playing at the edge'. They related to this process; it was valuable for them to witness the battle in the professional lion's den. Similarly, the young performers have had their own share of struggling for understanding and recognition in England, albeit under the safe protection and guise of Youth Theatre. Bare Essentials create a theatre of the child's ritual – a theatre of intuition and independence: a far cry from the usual adaptation of musicals or replayings of parental conflict and school-bullying stories that are so often a feature of Youth Theatre.

One of the important features of the visit was to seed a new production, Vagrants, which will be premiered at the 1996 Coventry Arts Alive Festival. Material collected included traditional Danish songs, stories and dances at the Folkmusic House in Hogager, street work and the learning of a stick game with students of the Holstebro Pedagogseminarium.

Other important experiences remembered by the young people include the regular daily chores which are a part of the life of the theatre at Holstebro; the intensive question and answer sessions they conducted for Danish trainee teachers; the pleasure of playing their work to audiences experienced in reading a visual form of theatre; and the culmination of the week in a visit to the coast for some training and a picnic.

The members of Odin Theatre remarked on the vitality and freshness the young people brought. The actors were uncharacteristically complimentary about their work commenting on the balance of discipline and intuitive creativity which is a feature of the work.

The visit has inspired plans for a similar week to be held in Coventry in 1996. Also, several connections have been made with young people's theatre groups in Denmark. Most recently we have received a request from students of the Pedagogseminarium for permission to study the work of Triangle and Bare Essentials as part of their cultural studies abroad.

The relationship between Bare Essentials and Odin was like looking into a magic mirror. It showed likeness as well as difference. The visit was truly a barter with sorcerer and apprentice – equal. It was a very special time – a returning for me and a rite of passage for the young people.

This article in the magazine

Issue 8-1
p. 12