Presence, uncertainty and dolphins – an evening with the Young Company
Tuesday evening, I’m in a room just a few feet from the impressive lunar-like steel module of the Royal Exchange Theatre. While drama in the round plays out in the module, in the room, 25 young people sit in a circle and describe how they’re feeling. Energised, excited, positive are just some of the adjectives I hear. And my own: serene.
That’s because I’ve just had the privilege of sitting in on the 2017-18 Royal Exchange Young Performer’s first skills session led by Matt Hassall – the first of five I’ll be observing to help my development as a facilitator and teacher. And the value of this experience to me as an actor – and a human being – has quickly become apparent too.
It is theatre’s job to reflect life, after all, so I shouldn’t be surprised that one learning I took away from the evening resonated with me on a life level, as well as a theatrical one. “Don’t be afraid of that moment of uncertainty,” Matt urged, as he instructed the company to walk around the room, lock eyes with another, stop and find the moment between them to jump together, perfectly in sync. “That’s the moment we’re interested in. In good drama, the audience shouldn’t know what’s going to happen next.”
So I ended the session serenely embracing uncertainty, in all its forms. But there was one thing I was certain of – this was a room full of remarkable 18 – 21 year olds. I was impressed with their focus, their energy and how at ease they were coming together for the first time as an ensemble. “That’s because we’ve given them the space and opportunity to do just that,” said Matt. “They may be young but they’re talented performers, theatre makers, equals. They’re here as the Royal Exchange’s collaborators and have a valuable contribution to the make to this theatre.”
Matt’s workshops with the Young Company are designed to develop their skills and explore what it means to be a performer. Session one was the first taste of the smorgasbord of exercises and techniques he’ll be serving up over the coming months for them to experience and potentially use for their own practice. Tonight was the beginning of their exploration into awareness of self and the ensemble. Being present in the body. Being present in the moment. And being present in the room. Pushing past fear. Being bold. Challenging and supporting each other. And building reflection into practice. I witnessed the start of an exciting journey that made me want to be a teenager again.
Much of the evening was spent breaking the ice and finding out about each other. “They’re a really eclectic bunch of people and I’m looking forward to discovering more about each of them as individuals – and what their individuality brings to the group,” said Matt. “For me, this notion in theatre we have of ‘being neutral’ actually means being yourself. I think it’s each performer’s own ‘self’ that makes them interesting – and this is what I want to draw out. We don’t want to remove their quirks or traits. I want all our Young Company members to be comfortable just being themselves.”
And what engaging, witty and erudite selves they are. I got to take part in the ice breaker exercises and came away learning not just about life and theatre – but about Dolphins too. Did you know they get high on the toxins of certain puffer fish? Neither did I. But I do now, thanks to one of the Young Company. And when instructed to trade the titles we’d give our autobiographies, another revealed his would be Quirky Qwerty. “Because I feel a bit different from other people and I’m really into my computers,” he explained. A brilliant title for the tale of a young man I feel will soon discover what makes him feel the same as the others in that room, while celebrating his own wonderful, unique difference. And what a fascinating chapter that is going to be.
The Young Company is our award-winning resident company for anyone aged 14 - 25