Planning takes up a lot of time: schedules, spaces, venues, partners, auditions, press releases. It’s all necessary to make theatre happen, but a lot of it means sitting at my desk. I am happy to do it – but I’m at my best when hopping around the rehearsal room with other people, working in a way that requires us all to come out of our heads a little more than usual and remember – as we so often don’t – that we have knees!
I want be ‘in the room’ more – if not always as a director, then definitely as a facilitator. That is why I’m delighted that out of nowhere my old museum connections came good and I was handed the opportunity to work with the front of house volunteers at Wisbech museum.
It strikes me that the principles of street theatre can be clearly applied, if somewhat toned down and adapted, to help front of house staff in museum settings to find new confidence in engaging visitors. Taking our cue from those in front of us; finding and using the point of engagement; employing our interest and passion to bring objects alive and many of the basic tenets of developing performer confidence all make theatre skills relevant and valuable to those in public facing roles – especially ones where there are stories to tell.
It was good day in Wisbech, though not perhaps quite what the mostly older and retired volunteers were expecting. The museum world can be a little cautious, but once people are up and on their feet, there is a liveliness that just cannot be achieved through the usual ‘petrol pump’ model of training – or those endless small groups having ‘scenario discussions’ that I have always found irritating and unsatisfactory. I want to say “let’s move this – how does it look in reality?”
So in Wisbech they thankfully worked hard, got on their feet and jumped in. The morning full of games and an afternoon that ended in some fascinating and truly ‘engaging’ walks around the gallery by people whose passion for the collections was more than ready to come to the fore.
This week I am off to use the approach again at the Britten Pears Foundation in Suffolk – and then later at The John Bunyan Museum in Bedford. I suspect I will again be working in a room of older volunteers, and with gentle coaxing, some shared laughter and a few well-chosen exercises they too will find a new take on their visitors – and, I hope, start enjoying the fun that can be had with them. As a lovely friend once declared as her life motto: “Only Connect!”.
In my book there’s nothing like a bit of knee-work to help you get there…
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