Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Odd Lot Theatre & Film

A few weeks ago I was sat in the Bristol Loaf having a coffee with my friend Andreea.  We felt our “Ideas Exchange / Meet-Up” group would benefit from a Facebook Page so we set about brain storming possible titles.  Given that we were a pretty diverse group in terms of age, background and particularities “Odd Lot” seemed to fit the bill.  Andreea, bless her, had the Apple Mac expertise to find a good image.  I liked it because it smacked of the kind of vintage cinema graphics ( Pearl and Dean) I’d grown up with. 
We are currently a small group given that some members don’t do Facebook. Its purpose is to be a forum for ideas particularly during the Lockdown.

But it was some days later that the title “Odd Lot”  had additional relevance to me  This goes back to my days as a drama teacher at South Hackney School.

I had a group of Year 10 / 11 boys and girls preparing for what was then C.S.E. Drama.  And they were an unusual bunch.  Only about 10 regulars, given the tendency, by that stage of their education, for some pupils to get excluded or just not attend school anyway.  A multicultural mix typical of the school: White, Turkish, African-Caribbean and Nigerian origin.   But what distinguished them from other groups was their fascination with theatre.  They were a little band of individuals, certainly not a gang who, most Fridays evenings, would accompany myself and often my fellow drama teacher, Martin up West.  We benefitted then from the Inner London Education Authority’s Drama Centre’s benevolence in securing free tickets for a range of plays.  Occasionally we stopped off, if there were time, and the theatre was nearby,  at Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street for tea and cakes. We saw a wide range of work: from Shakespeare at the Young Vic to  the Black Theatre Co-operative’s performance of “Welcome Home Jacko” by Mustapha Matura & Charlie Hanson. When it came to ballet at Sadlers Wells they were all up for it.

But for me, my characterisation of this particular group as an “odd lot” comes from a particular drama session.  They were developing short scenes for assessment.  A mix of boys had been focussing on a dispute over some stolen goods stored in a lock-up garage.  They had recorded their improvisation and scripted it.  I was pleased because they were deeply engrossed in it.  Three pupils had decided to take a completely different trajectory.  They were two savvy girls, little Elaine and a slightly taller Serpil.  Making up this trio was Bod a very large, like 6ft plus, Nigerian boy.  School was challenging for him, as I think life was generally. He had care of younger brothers and sisters while his dad was out at work.  He was accepted by others but not included.  Except in drama lessons. 

We had at that time a huge expanse of theatrical gauze which had been donated to us and was  rolled up in the corner of the studio.  Acres of it and very unwieldy.  Elaine, Serpil and Bod set up about unfurling it.  Then Bod stood completely still while the girls started to slowly and carefully wrap or rather cocoon him in the gauze until he was completely concealed.  I was getting a bit concerned by now, and told the girls there must be a gap through which Bod could breathe.  But they were totally confident and knew what they were doing.  They then proceeded to use the last, few metres of gauze to wrap themselves into what now looked like a colossal piece of off-white sculpture.  Only Elaine’s and Serpil’s arms were raised and visible.  Then just as slowly they began to unwrap themselves and finally  Bod.  By this time all three seemed to have absorbed the fluid and malleable nature of the gauze into the way they moved. The groups shared their work before the end of the session.  The boys from the lock-up garage scene were clearly spellbound by what Elaine, Serpil and Bod had done. Automatic respect.  

Many years later and well after physical theatre practice became rooted  in exam courses could I really identify its true origins, thanks to those three.  Some sense of autonomy over their bodily selves, their circumstances, their environment and their interrelatedness.  

I’m mindful of this as I try to develop a comparable dynamic for the opening scene of “Age Queer” – or “The Queering of Age” as I might end up calling  it.  When of course the Bristol / UK Lockdown is over.