Part of the Invisible Diaries series
Week 1 / Day 1
Hello, readers of the Dramaturgs’ Network’s Invisible Diaries!
How are you getting on? Have you noticed how those phrases we commonly exchange as often empty placeholders in our daily communication with each other have now acquired proper meaning: ‘Hello, hope you’re well?’, ‘All the best to you and yours’, ‘Stay well!’. It’s a renaissance of meaning.
And we really do mean it - because we really are all in it together. It’s one silver lining of this situation. There are a few others too - like longer sleep-ins on a daily basis; absence of daily stress routines linked to rush hour, public transport, stress and unhappiness of others; opportunities for quality catch-ups with distant friends and family.
Another silver lining, for me, is the fact that we get to spend more time with our kids - watch them grow, parent them and connect with them on a full-time basis. This is a blessing, but it is a difficult one too. Cabin fever can amplify frustrations. Four- and six-year-olds are eminently unreasonable and full of their own ideas of how the world should be. Some days feel like endless successions of temper tantrums and unexpected delights.
Today is the first day of Week 3 of the lockdown so we have been at home for the full two weeks with the exception of one trip to the supermarket for me alone, and one for my husband alone. I am relieved that husband is working from home; even though he can technically claim keyworker status on the grounds of being a scientist involved in Covid19 research, at the moment he can do this work remotely, and we can all be much safer just staying at home.
This is the beginning of week 5 of my staying at /working from home. This year I’m on a research sabbatical from my normal lecturing job at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and I had block-booked week beginning 9 March to start working on a new book as part of my AHRC-funded project focusing on the Dramaturgies of Speech and Sound. I’m working on the project with a research associate, Flora Pitrolo, a number of partners including Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) and a number of artists selected through an open call with BAC. As it happens, in w/c 9th March I hardly left home other than doing a few school drop-offs and pick-ups. That was the week things started getting serious and anxiety started to seep in. My friend took the executive decision to take her five-year-old son out of his reception class and keep him at home. That weekend we cancelled a couple of social events in our diary. The week commencing 16th March (Week 0 of the lockdown) had more reversals for me than a plate of spaghetti, resulting in another week at home – some of which involved keeping the children at home too as my son had vomited and was therefore banned from school for 48 hours. This was a useful taster for us parents of how difficult it would be to try and work from home with the children in the background.
As a result, come Week 1, we decided to set up a classroom in the spare room with a mini blackboard, a dedicated computer and lots of pens and notebooks. We introduced a strict schedule by which I oversaw 30-minute-long activities in the mornings and husband did afternoons (in a little less strict manner). For some of the time we followed the programme suggested by the school, for the rest of the time – we improvised. Quite literally too!
Here’s how we got a safe few minutes of play in the shared garden with our favourite neighbour and with the help of Halloween masks in the absence of real ones.
We did three days of storytelling indoors - my son totally surprising me with his near-flawless rendition of the plot of Peter and the Wolf nearly a year after we’d attended a concert. Flora pointed out it might have been that he identified with Peter, whose story begins with a ban on going outside. In Week 2, our time-keeping standards and strict scheduling started to go out of the window a bit. You could say there might have been a latent message in my daughter’s choice of styling here on the day she decided we should start school outside for a change:
– only she’s never really heard ‘We don’t need no education’ just yet! (I have been documenting all this on a personal blog in more detail, hence the narrative of continuity in the title.
This morning I was ready to repeat our usual routine with myself running the school in the morning and working in the afternoon, but then husband decided I should have a full day at work and he would take care of the kids all day while doing his work in the background. It was a school holiday after all, and they could have a more relaxed routine. I welcomed this because the last couple of weeks have felt extremely thin in terms of what I could accomplish at my desk.
Forced by the circumstances, Flora and I have taken a change of approach and decided to focus at this stage on interviewing as many relevant artists as we could get on Zoom, Skype and similar platforms. A natural requirement is that both of us are familiar with the artists’ work, but if not, some digital catching up may be necessary where possible. We are keeping an eye out on what’s currently streaming too and trying to incorporate relevant artists that way. This is difficult in itself as there is so much work available to see and comparatively little time (at least within my set up). I also find watching recordings of performances involves quite a high energy barrier (and many necessary distractions along the way). It’s a very different way of paying attention and not nearly as immersive as real theatre is...
Today we were due to interview Gracefool Collective, a dance company from Leeds that BAC and I selected as one of our four funded artists whose rehearsals we were going to document for a week at a time. All of these plans are on ice for the moment but we are doing what we can – chatting from our homes!
Having been given extra time, I was getting ready to watch a recording of one of their performances this morning when my son strode into my bedroom/study demanding that I come back and do the class as usual... We had to work very hard to put the point of it being school holidays across. I still went back to ‘school’ and set it up as usual. Daughter wasn’t that bothered about school. She was using the commotion to watch Peppa Pig on the iPad. But she had built something in the meantime - using some toys and a reading light –- that I very much perceived as a theatre:
With these two reactions from my offspring combined, I guess, in some way, I could take some satisfaction (and leave with a clear conscience) that my job here was done, even though my job at work was flagging.
Still, it was a decently productive afternoon with at least another in-depth conversation about - well, dramaturgy, in the bank.
For the end of today’s post, I leave you with a recording of a show I incidentally discovered today in pursuit of examples that might help me define the term Post-Verbatim theatre, which I have introduced as part of this project. I also found this recording surprisingly easy to watch and strangely appropriate at the moment. It is a piece by the Croatian duo - director Bobo Jelčić and dramaturg Nataša Rajković. And it has been there for years available to see regardless of the lockdown.
Enjoy! And stay well.
Images courtesy of Duška Radosavljević.
Duška Radosavljević is a writer, dramaturg and academic appointed as Reader at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She has worked as a dramaturg in the UK for twenty years and has been a member of the Dramaturgs’ Network from its beginning, joining the Executive Committee in 2009. Duška writes regularly for the Stage Newspaper, Exeunt and the Theatre Times and is the author of the award-winning book Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the Twenty-First Century (2013). She currently holds a Leadership Fellowship funded by the AHRC investigating dramaturgies of speech and sound in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre, Digital Theatre Plus and Victoria and Albert Museum, leading to a new book, a conference and a podcast.