Monday, 2 March 2009

Hello Mr. Blog, my name is Hannah... Remember me?

Okay okay, so I know I gave it the Charlie Big Spuds in my last blog about 1000 years ago about how I was going to keep up and start regularly writing on here, and I haven't. And to be honest, I don't completely know why. One reason would be the same as before, once you don't write it for one week, you put it off for ages. But I think another reason is I've been making my project more solid and my blog more substantial before I told everyone about what I have done. I know this can be as airy fairy as you want to be, but I think I would rather see it as a write up of what I have been doing rather than a sketchbook of ideas.

So, moving on, this is what I have been up to.

I have decided to work within The Mulberry Centre, a cancer support centre at West Mid Hospital, that offers complimentary support and therapies to people affected by cancer. I originally came across the centre when looking for voluntary work over a year ago, and started doing 'meeting and greeting' there once a week. From there, I then started doing Fundraising (I didn't feel I was doing a lot, and felt I could do a lot more to help out) and still do this now. I had said in a previous blog entry that I needed to talk to the trustees first to see if it would be a possibility to work with them in my community theatre piece. Since then I spoken to a bunch of staff and volunteers, including Rodney, the chair Trustee; Joan, the fundraising facilitator; and Sally, one of the senior Counsellors.

Rodney was one of the first people I approached, being one of the most influential members of staff. He has seen Cancer Tales and has been to a medical conference at St. Mary's in which this was shown too. He loved the idea of doing something with this play within the centre, and perhaps saw the play being performed. At first, I was thinking that we could make our own version of Cancer Tales, using stories from the centre. This was an idea short lived, it took Nell Dunn years to compile her work and time was simply not on my side. Furthermore, the possibility of getting stories from people at the centre was at a slim chance anyway. From here, I went to see Trevor Walker about the using this play and performing it either at the centre or somewhere wide scale. But he instantly told me that Nell wouldn't want amateur actors performing the play, and even if we found professionals to perform it, the cost of the rights wouldn't be justified for my project. However, he did mention that it would probably be okay just to use the text just as a stimulus for any work that we did do.

Going back to the storyboard, keeping what Trevor said in mind, I decided to focus on using Cancer Tales as more of a stimuli rather than a performance. I wasn't really keen on doing wide-scale performance anyway, from what I have seen and been apart of at the Centre, the small and relaxed events are always a success. I saw my project as a simple idea with a big impact, rather than trying to wow people as a one-man band. This then brought me to the idea of holding workshops instead. People are much more likely to get involved with something that doesn't expect too much off them, and I think asking people to perform in a big show would deter people from getting involved.

I arranged a meeting with Sally to discuss working in the centre and get some advice for the work that I was thinking of doing and how to communicate better with this community. I started by telling her what my plans were and what I was thinking of holding; a 6-week workshop looking at Cancer Tales, eventually leading up to an evening which draws everything to a close with a chance for people to show some of the work we had made. She thought this was a good idea, but as we were talking about making rules and keeping a 'safe' environment, it was becoming apparent that perhaps using Cancer Tales within the workshops was not such a good idea. 
I was asking a lot of questions about handling a situation if someone got upset or something hit home, and it seemed by using this play, it would be very difficult to avoid. I then asked if perhaps she would like to get involved, both as a member of the group and a means of support if anything were to happen. She was happy to do so but then realised it would create complications if people wanted to be counseled by her at the Centre. 

It then became clear what I had to do. Change the play. However good it would have been to use this play and have people handle it, the reality was it would be very hard for people who are very possibly in one of the situations within the play to study or indeed perform it. I love the idea of using Stanislavski's 'Emotion Memory', and to ask people to do this would have been wrong.

We then moved on to talk about who I would invite to join in these workshops. I was really for the idea of mixing volunteers, staff and users, however Sally explained the difficulty of post-workshop relationships that might occur. So, we eventually decided that only volunteers who didn't have direct contact with the users of the Centre would be asked to participate.

Other things that Sally advised me were keeping confidentiality within the workshops, and suggesting that members of the group 'always allow your inner wisdom to override anything I ask from you'. This way, people may feel more free to express themselves without a full force of dictation. However, one difficulty with keeping this confidentiality is writing these blogs. Obviously I would like to write everything what happens in the workshops, including people's work and feedback, but this isn't possible if I'm going to maintain that confidentiality. This is something I will have to talk to Mark about!

Since these meetings, I have been busy both researching and marketing my workshops. Caroline, the Macmillan Information Officer, lent me several books from the Centre's extensive library including 'Talking to Cancer Patients and their Relatives' and 'Communicating in Cancer Care', along with a few Macmillan Support Handbooks, 'How to talk to someone with Cancer' and 'The Cancer Guide'. I don't believe it is crucial to do heaps of research of this kind but it was good to get an idea into what they are going through and how my workshops could benefit them. One chapter of one of the guides was 'How to be a good listener'. This was mainly about how to encourage someone to talk to you about their illness, which isn't exactly what I would want, but there were some good points that could be used in general, especially within a drama workshop. These included 'Getting the setting right', which explained the importance of being comfortable and relaxed, signaling that you are there to spend some time with them and are eager to hear what they are about to say, 'Encourage the person to talk', 'Use silence and non-verbal communication', 'Don't change the subject' and 'Don't give advice too early'. If these points can encourage someone to talk about something as difficult as cancer, they must be helpful to keep in mind when listening within a theatrical space.

Along with these books, I have also invested in 'The Applied Theatre Reader', to help me in the drama and planning side of the project. I have some experience with teaching children within Theatre for Young People and Theatre in Education, however I have little experience with working with adults. The only thing close I have done is held a Makeover stand at a Pamper Evening at The Mulberry a few months ago, showing women how to apply makeup and giving little personal tips I had that might help them. I am hoping the reader has things like this within it, and if not I'm sure there is something in the library that can give me a hand.

Meanwhile, I have successfully created a poster that has been put up in the centre in various places, as well as a handy A5 sized one for people to take home. As well as this, I have sent out nearly 200 letters (yes, 200! it was going to be 700!!) to the users of the centre explaining what I am doing and asking if they would like to get involved. You can see the poster here! I am holding an initial meeting next friday to explain a little about the workshops and what people can expect out of the following 6 weeks. I will then make sure the time slot I have booked for the workshops is okay with everyone (1-3 every Tuesday) and get people signed up. I have also emailed all the non-direct volunteers to see if they would also like to get involved and attached the handout to them too.

So, within the next few weeks, I have a lot of work to do! I want to keep the workshops very basic, so anyone who has never done drama before can get involved, and the more confident everyone gets, the more I would like to encourage learning monologues to perform at the evening toward the end of the project. The main areas I would like to concentrate on would be Dialogue, Spatial and Audience Awareness, and so I think I will be looking for text that are solely or heavily monologues.. Any suggestions would be awesome!

Wow, I have gone on for some time!! Thats what I've been up to anyway, lots achieved but lots more to do.. My biggest hope is that people are interested. The staff seem to think it will be popular so I've just got to keep my fingers crossed and plan some damn good workshops!

Thanks for reading this if you took the time! Any thoughts and feelings on what I'm doing or suggestions of what i can do would be much appreciated, its great working on your own but any advice would be awesome!


Anonymous said...

wow...i never you had been doing volunteer work at the mulberry centre for a year!
it all sounds really good... i particularly like the mixing of volunteers and could help form relationships and build a strong community that isn't as direct as doctor/patient etc...

good luck with the workshops!

kirsty strangwood said...

this sounds like an amazing project, so beneficial and rewarding for you and your community.

good luck

Hannah Breheny said...

thanks so much guys, i appreciate your comments.. hope your projects are going good too!!xx