Last house on Holland Island, May 2010
Source: baldeaglebluff, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The last couple of weeks I have been working with students in different parts of the world using a place as a starting point for work. This has been an interesting journey, as we have tried out many things to help us really get inside the place, the ghosts that passed through it one time and the essence of what remains.

This blog will share some ideas for how you can do something called ‘Theatre of Place’. Devising company Talking Birds, based in the UK, identify key elements of this approach to theatre being:

  • Uses conventional and unconventional venues
  • As artist we want to find moments of insight
  • We want the work to connect to the community it is set in
  • As a company we choose locations you may stumble across by accident
  • Choose locations that have history or former use
  • Be aware that locations have many layers of life that may have slipped from memory
  • Places in transition are interesting to explore past, present and future
  • As artists our goal it so give spaces and places new life
  • To create work we weave stories of real and the imagined

To explore how to use space with your students here are a few activities you may want to try out:

Exploring a space you know well

Step 1: Tell the students to close their eyes and think about a place they visit often or know well. In they minds eye ask them to walk themselves through the space and notice the macro details: What colours are the wall? Where does the light fall? What can you hear? What is the piece of furniture dominating the room? etc and micro details: Who is in the photograph? Is there a crack in the wall? What is the texture of the vase? etc.

Step 2: Ask students to open their eyes and then stand up in their place. Walk through it alone and notice the other details. What can they hear? What can they smell? What is the texture of objects? What is close? What is far away? Is it warm/cold? What else do they notice now they are walking in the space? How do they feel?

Step 3: Student take up 3 frozen images in their place where they stand in 3 different places where they have a connection. This could be related to a memory, it could be a place they feel safe, it could be close to an object that they like to hold or look at.

Step 4: In pairs students take their partner on a tour of the place, purely pointing out what can be seen, heard, smelt, heard and felt. Swap the leader once one has led.

Step 5: In pairs students take their partner on a journey as ghosts. They focus on the life that passed through the pace and explain what happened, where, when etc? Swap the leader once one has led.

Responding to place

Step 1: Show students a range of images of places that are in transition – thus they have a past use, in present they are disused but there is potential for future use. Below are some examples:

Abandoned place 1
Source: eflon, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Abandoned place 2

Abandoned place 3
Source: NPS Photo

Step 2: Students write down ideas for the 3 place (or more that you have selected) to do with what happened in the place, what inspires them about it, and anything to do with the senses.

Step 3: In groups students choose one place and gather all their ideas on one piece of paper. They then choose a protagonist in the space and any other people.

Step 4:  Imagine the voices of the past, the events of the past and get students to speak aloud their thoughts – this can be thought-tracking in character or 3rd person narrative.

Developing life in the place and using our imagination

Step 1: Tell students to individually walk around their space and get to know it. Take in the details, the entrances, exits, levels and dimensions.

Step 2: Tell students that as they walk they must find one object that has a story. This object is linked to a person that used to visit or inhabit this space and the object has a story related to that person.

Step 3: Return to their group and share their objects and stories.

Step 4: List the objects, the characters and the meanings of the objects in the space.

Step 5: Look at their objects, stories, characters and the place and weave this together for their own piece of theatre.

N.B. If you use places that are close to where you are working then do visit them and carry out research into the places.

For more information about Theatre of Place visit the Talking Birds website.