Caf Fean shares her experience of spending a week with local artists, actors and writers, exploring and pushing the boundaries of their creativity, under the guidance of David Glass and the wonderful team at Theatre Nation. 

It is a long time since I’ve done anything creative with other people in a physical space. It’s even longer since I used drama to inspire my creativity, though it has always been a passion of mine. I was intrigued by Theatre Nation’s description of a Creative Practice workshop to reconnect you with your creativity post-lockdown and during this continuing pandemic. This workshop marks the beginning of Beckett Pandemic, a new three-year community project. 

Socially distanced circle

Samuel Beckett and his contemporaries created incredible work following the fallout of the second world war. The project sets out to explore the new stories we need to be writing now, in the light of this global pandemic. I signed up and was keen to see if I’d recognise some of the other participants, as most of them live in Hastings and St Leonards. 

So it was that I found myself describing a dream I’d had the night before joining the workshop, to a group of twenty strangers at The Stables Theatre. The synchronicities between my dream and the work the group had done the previous day were described by David, as the group sagely nodded. The dream was of giant false widow spiders, driving my car when I still haven’t got my licence, and getting away with it. David described how a web might represent networks, connections. The spider: fear of death, or change. The car and driver’s licence – journeying and learning, and the ‘getting away with it’ perhaps was a reference to the workshop, rules, structure, the outside world. All I can tell you is that the experience of sharing this dream, and other observations throughout the week and hearing other peoples’ had a profound effect on me, like the feeling that you get when you’ve left an art exhibition and the world looks different – more colourful, perhaps ‘sharper’ than it did before you went in.

The creative process was broken down by David, who has taught many incredible actors and performers, as well as guided corporates and institutions as wide ranging as the United Nations and Google to reconnect with their innate creativity to find strength and fresh perspectives in the work at hand. He told us stories of working with street gangs in New York, groups of villagers in Greece and elsewhere. In one of David’s exercises we were taken through guided meditations to imagine worlds where one of the three key elements to creative practice (yourself, other people or the world) is taken away. The images and sensations experienced by the group were interesting in their parallels and differences. Some imagined an ‘earthless’ world where the people became the buildings, eating one another in some form of renaissance depiction of hell. Others saw friends, family members, and felt great comfort in being close to other people. 

I can only speak for myself, when considering a world that carried on without me. The sensation was utterly galling, and incredibly saddening. And yet, all of these scenarios are imaginable – there will be a time without me in it; our earth is being killed by us; and people are continuing to populate, populate, populate. So, though these thought experiments were just a fiction, what you learn to then take out into the real world makes you feel more awake to the beauty and fragility of this life.

I left that particular session feeling a newfound love for the world, in all its fuckedupness. Despite COVID, despite Trump, despite terrible oppression and all that other awful stuff that plagues our minds daily in the form of news, noise, and extreme information overload.

In this little bubble of twenty people, at a workshop that is only permitted because strict social distancing is in place, we were beginning to set ourselves free of the pressures of the outside world, and at the same time freeing ourselves from our own internal prisons – that inner critic. I didn’t look at my phone for hours at a time – something I don’t think I’ve done since February this year. 

The things that this workshop gave me will continue to emerge, I’m sure, as the weeks and months of ‘these strange times’ roll on. If I could summarise for you, the message of this ‘alchemy’ that David and the team created within the four walls of the theatre would be: stay true to who you are, keep on creating, and remember the importance of telling our stories right now- both for yourself, and for those who aren’t able to. 

If any of this resonates, please get in touch with the folk at Theatre Nation. The workshop was the beginning of something very special: a new project that will involve the community of Hastings and St Leonards. A space in which we can co-create new stories, to tell the tales of our place, its people, and this strange, strange time we find ourselves in.

“Once again, at this extraordinary time of change, artists must lead and speak powerfully to and with the communities they serve. More than ever we need stories and art that transforms the realities of crisis into the moving metaphors of hope and perhaps dark celebration for both young and old. To this end, by celebrating the artists that walked out of the ashes of the Second World War, Beckett Pandemic seeks to inspire and find the new visions of this post-Covid world within the unique literal edginess of Hastings – and the community there.”

Patrick Kealey, Artistic Director (Theatre Nation)
David Glass, Artistic Director (David Glass Ensemble)

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