I have recently returned from a week in Poland with Feral. The whole company was out with the performance over the weekend, it was received fantastically and resulted in a vibrant and in-depth post-show discussion, with a lot of debate about Poland and the world in current times.
As well as the performances Ross, Matt and I undertook a week of workshops for local schools; twelve workshops for three groups aged 12 to 14. It was the first time any of us had lead workshops in a different country, it was both very exciting and also a bit of a learning curve. The major lesson was in communication, with different groups speaking very different levels of English and none of us knowing a word of Polish, meaning quite a lot of our work was done with a translator. We have only worked with someone in this way before on performance dialogue translation, which is a tricky process in of itself. But this was slightly different, we were working with live translation in a language none of us had a basis in. It resulted in a whole new perspective on how we portray ourselves and how we work as a group. The revelations were:
No. 1: Although we are a visual theatre company we actually convey a lot through language when in a workshop and through developing material. We use language a lot to share ideas, build stories and give feedback.
No 2: I am so FIFE! I talk quickly, very quickly and a lot. This, although not actually a revelation, did lead to a quick need to develop a much slower pace of talking which was also more condensed.
No. 3: The translator is the key. The special one. They are essential, not only because both you and the other person are at their whim. They might miss a slight emphasis and convey by accident (or on purpose) a completely different meaning. You may try to comfort someone with kind words which are represented differently and come across as harsh. This resulted in a much closer look at how we read people and how to convey intention through actions. Ross, Matt and I focused on how we could show through our bodies and actions the feeling behind our words so the translator was only filling in a few blanks.
No. 4: It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language. Once you relax and get comfortable it is surprising how much of a conversation you can have with someone when neither of you understands the language. You can actually break through some barriers more easily and in some cases form a quicker, and more meaningful, shared understanding.
At the beginning of our week we were feeling a bit daunted by the prospect of leading workshops for so many people without a shared spoken language, but in the end it has actually helped to develop our practice and style of teaching. We ended up having a good laugh with groups, they even ended up sharing some impromptu Scottish dancing to Silesian music. Polish schools are both exactly the same and also completely different, it’s a real treat for us to be able to sink so much into someone else’s culture and the whole experience was brilliantly refreshing.