Carnival Caravan

Feature in Issue 9-2 | Summer 1997

Bodily Functions, the Brighton-based forum for mime, physical and visual theatre practitioners, recently ran the Carnival Caravan Street Theatre Project. Dorothy Max Prior describes the benefits for street arts performers.

The Project was initiated to provide skills training for outdoor performance and to create an opportunity for practitioners to exchange ideas, skill-share and explore new possibilities for performance. Mary Robson, formerly with Welfare State International, led a weekend workshop at the Same Sky studios. Practical work included costume-making with newspaper and sculptural hat-making, with time and space allowed for the exchange of ideas and a talk on the use of materials for outdoor work.

Daniela Essart and Soren Nielsen of Scarabeus Theatre led a thorough physical skills weekend including acrobalance and stilt-walking. By the end of the second day everyone was confident enough to take part in a short choreographed piece on stilts. Daniela was impressed with the level of support and closeness the group developed – particularly as it ranged from those with no previous training through to experienced performers.

A focus on the audience/performer relationship was provided by Jonathan Kay of Attic Theatre. His weekend included work on the nature of 'performance space' and 'audience space'. His theoretical and practical work on how to define and carry that performance space – whether as 'narrator', 'player' or 'archetype’ – was of particular value. Practitioners of outdoor theatre often don't work with physically defined limits and consequently they need to be secure in their awareness of whether they are in the space as 'audience' or 'performer'. If the latter, they need to discern with what degree of interaction or detachment they exist in the space.

A fourth weekend with Franki Anderson explored the role of The Fool, using voice, movement and improvised ensemble work. The emphasis was on personal development and general performance skills.

On Sunday afternoons Lindsay Butcher of Gandini Juggling Project taught trapeze skills. Part of the funding for the project, which was supported by both SE Arts and Hove Borough Council, was used to install a permanent rig for trapeze and aerial work at the All Saints Centre in Lewes where, in collaboration with Circus Pipsqueak, we intend to create an aerial skills training space.

Meanwhile, weekly ‘Open Door’ sessions were held with an emphasis on material relevant to outdoor performance – including clowning, storytelling and carnival dance. There were two evenings with visiting artists. From Murcia in Spain, Anton Valen taught a class on movement from everyday life. Tim Batt, veteran street theatre performer, gave a talk on the important know-how strategies for outdoor performance – including choosing your site, creating an audience, dealing with awkward situations and holding the audience's attention.

Now that the project has concluded, we are pleased to have achieved our objectives of providing quality skills training, a forum for exchange, and a starting point for new working relationships. Future plans include the creation of new performance work, both by promoting a Touring Caravan of small-scale work and collaborating with companies such as Scarabeus Theatre on larger scale projects. We will also run a summer training programme for young people with another winter season for practitioners, whilst of course remaining committed to our original function as a network for support and skill-sharing.

This article in the magazine

Issue 9-2
p. 5