On the last day we had our normal workshop in the morning to prepare for the afternoon’s sharing with the parents. For some reason the children were more than usually energized and difficult to manage, perhaps because of the pressure of the coming performance. We responded by pushing them harder, emphasizing that we had to get the show ready and polished for the parents. The reality was that we felt the pressure more than them, and it was perhaps unproductive to convey this pressure to the children because it had the opposite of the desired effect. By the end of the session we were tired and the group in disarray. We learned an important lesson here: the function of the final sharing of work with parents is many things, but it is not to present some polished piece of work to impress them and to make the facilitators feel good about what they have trained the children to do. We still had time to turn things around. In the lunch break the three of us regrouped as a team. The most important outcome, we agreed, was for the children to feel good about what they did. And this depended much on our attitude, which needed to be positive, encouraging, and relaxed. If we were tense and stressed, so would the children be. If we enjoyed ourselves and felt good about what we were doing, so would they.
We had half an hour with the children before the showing, while Daisy had a meeting with the parents. We played the games they knew well, and ran the first few scenes of the performance. They were in better spirits and when the parents arrived they switched gears. A transformation occurred in this moment. Suddenly, where in the morning the children had been reluctant to rehearse even their own scenes, now they all wanted to be in every scene. Children, who in rehearsal had been the strongest, became nervous and more restrained, while others who had been difficult and mischievous emerged and grew in stature, enjoying being in front of an audience. The journey of this day was arduous yet we arrived at a better place, and learned something that will certainly be significant for future projects. The act of sharing work at the end of a process is valuable, but we need to be seeking ways in which to frame this sharing more as a witnessing and a meeting than as a performance. Sure it has some qualities of a performance. An important shift takes place in behavior, in the atmosphere in the room, and in the dynamic of the group. Perhaps this could be described as a kind of condensation or intensification of feelings that have been undefined or vague up until now. Under the eye of observing public, the actions and stories that have been repeated and rehearsed many times take on a sharper aspect. They suddenly matter more than they had before. But more powerful than the specific contents of the performance, are the dynamics of the group and their behavior. In one memorable moment one of the grandparent narrator’s picks up the microphone and begins her story but exaggerating and caricaturing the voice of an “old person,” much more than she had in rehearsal. The whole audience laughs and applauds, and the children join in. The next two minutes or so are lost in a rolling, clownish sequence of attempts to restart the story, but each time breaking down in giggles, both of the girl herself and the audience. It is not a moment of failure but a moment of shared enjoyment and fun that produces pleasure for everyone present.
This is perhaps enough to give a flavor of the final event. We felt that we succeeded, together, in providing the children with an experience that they felt good about. The parents were also engaged. In the final section, in which the children each spoke of their dreams, each one was applauded loudly. At the end of the performance, the microphone was passed around while complimentary comments were exchanged and thanks expressed for the project. One father approached me and told me he had once been involved in a theatre company, but long ago, and now as a farmer he had lost touch with this dream and was even too busy to spend much time with his children or to accompany them in school events like this one. But he told me that his daughter had been coming home every night talking about the project, with much excitement, and that she had convinced him to come along and see it. He described how he himself was very introverted and found it difficult to express himself. He was very happy that he had come, and deeply gratified to see his daughter acting with such confidence on the stage. It echoed strangely with the story of the grandparent who had wanted to be a clown, reaffirming that this space of sharing and meeting between the children and their parents was an important space, providing threads of communication and connectivity that would not otherwise exist. Just as the drawing of the grandparent as a clown in some senses allowed the grandparent to live his dream, the shared witnessing of this performance provided the father with some catharsis for his own frustrated desires as well as bringing him closer to his daughter.