Home Is Like a Blanket (NYU Forum 2017)

Home Is Where… is going places! Last month, Guleraana and I presented our project at the Families in Global Transition conference in the Netherlands, and we’ve just returned from New York, where we connected with other verbatim theatre makers at the NYU Forum on Ethnodrama.

I was so excited to meet this community and see how many of us are exploring ways to create innovative, dynamic performances with verbatim material. Johnny Saldaña led us through a workshop on devising ethnodrama, creating a movement sequence with a cast of more than 30, using text from his project Volcano about the eruption of Mount St Helens. In just a couple of hours, we had created a complex, beautiful, expressive performance.

Later in the conference, Thomas Murray and Kristin Rose Kelly led a session on creating performance from personal memories of a mass media event. We created a movement score out of gestures inspired by the facts of the events, and then layered our personal text on top. This technique – which they’ve learned from Celeste Miller in their MFA course at Virginia Tech, Directing and Public Dialogue – generated some really surprising performances, combining text and movement in an unexpected way. At the end, I felt like I had tricked myself into making something out of the ordinary, and I was delighted. I’ll definitely bring this into rehearsals for our next phase of Home Is Where!

In another session, teaching artist Blake McCarty led us through an accelerated version of his process for making verbatim theatre with high school students, starting with the question of what to make work about, and coming to a consensus from 40 different ideas. I left with a useful model for a more concrete and structured process, and an idea for a new project which I can’t shake… stay tuned about that…

And of course, Guleraana and I presented our work, and Home Is Where… was very well received. Our workshop focused on headphone verbatim, a technique which appears to be much less known in the US compared to the UK. We combined some of our audio clips from the Oral History Library with tableaux created by the participants in response to our discussions on home and identity. One of the questions we asked was ‘what does it feel like to belong?’ which generated a beautiful, cozy tableaux titled ‘Home Is Like a Blanket.’

We also discovered another possible application for headphone verbatim – one of the participants told me after the workshop that she had not performed in years because she gets hit by anxiety as soon as she steps on stage. But she was so curious to try the headphone verbatim technique that she bravely volunteered and delivered a beautiful performance. She said that it was completely different to performing any other way, and she was too busy listening to the story to get anxious.

Outside of the conference, I had a few days in town to catch up with friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since I graduated from UC Irvine in 2007! Despite all the technology at our fingertips, there’s no substitute for meeting face to face. For two glorious days I did nothing but eat and talk, two of my favourite things. It was so exciting to hear about what my fearless friends are up to: graduate programmes, 48-hour film challenges, casting and designing for theatre and film, running their own theatre companies, designing alternate reality apps for guerrilla performance… I know some amazing people.

Next year’s NYU Forum is on Performance as Activism. That’s obviously right up my street, so I’ll have to figure out a way to get back to New York in April 2018. For now, though, I’ve got plenty to do here in London (including replenishing my bank account after these two international trips…)

Speaking of which, thank you so much to everyone who has contributed to our crowdfunding campaign! Your support means so much to me, and every donation helps!