Jennifer Banks - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the second session of rehearsals for Young Company, led by Matt Hassall


My second session observing the Young Company and once again what I learn spills over into life. A couple of days later, I find myself penning copy for a client (copywriting is one of my other strings) about being ‘playful on purpose’. A phrase I have absolutely no doubt was floating around at the surface of my consciousness thanks to all the purposeful play I’d seen in the Front Room of the Royal Exchange Theatre earlier in the week.

“Bringing playfulness is so important, especially when devising,” Matt Hassall tells the group, as he leads them through a series of games and exercises to get them into that alert, receptive state. “Don’t become super serious, you’re still yourself. Be open and playful”, he urges.

Releasing fear so playfulness can flourish

Matt purposely takes one of the warm up games to the point of chaos – it’s a joy to watch – people darting around a circle presenting each other with random objects rapidly increasing in number, size and absurdity. “Enjoy the moment of exchange,” he advises. “It doesn’t matter if it goes wrong as long as the commitment is there. It’s okay to be wrong but strong.” Wrong but strong. A wonderful mantra to keep the playfulness alive. And it’s about focus too. “People often wrongly think that if we’re focused we can’t be playful but we can be both at the same time,” Matt points out. That could well be where the phrase ‘playful on purpose’ conjured itself up from in my mind.

Young Company Rehearsal Image

I’ve tried performance workshops and training of all kinds – improv, bouffon, Meisner, method and Laban to name a few. But never before had I seen this - the Young Company spent a good part of the evening walking around with bamboo sticks on their heads. “The bamboo will fall off – accept it and don’t beat yourself up. Just pick it up and put it back on,” instructed Matt.

Yes, it was an odd spectacle. And, yes, a brief vision flickered through my mind of Matt as a Mr Han/Miyagi (depending on your age) figure repeating, “Bamboo on, bamboo off,” in hit performing arts movie The Acting Kid. But whimsical musings aside, the value and brilliance of the lesson was inescapable. “Every time it goes wrong, just accept it and move on,” said Matt. “Relinquish the fear. Let go of the tension – and of the fear that it’s going to fall off and go wrong.”

There was so much of what went on in that room that left me thinking, "This stuff is valuable for everyone, not just actors."


Now, fear is the greatest killer of invention in acting – and all things in life, if you think about it. And as both a performer and facilitator, I regularly see and feel this fear of ‘getting it wrong.’ So it’s got me on a quest. As an improv teacher, I’m always looking to find new ways to take the fear out of improvising, stepping into the unknown and relinquishing control. So I’m delighted to be observing these sessions with the Young Company, because I can already see how they’re gradually building to train these performers to be bold and unafraid so the playfulness can flourish. And I can’t wait to get back in the room to see what’s coming next. 

The Young Company is our award-winning resident company for anyone aged 14 - 25

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