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Zoo Co Young Company - Thoughts on our Creative Process by Maria Laumark

An audio version of this blog read by Maria is available, please click here.

Hey - Maria here - co-facilitator of Zoo Co’s Young Company. Flo has asked me to write a little blog reflecting on this first term back with the Young Company.

Applying Zoo Co’s processes & connection to Night Shift

This term has felt really exciting working with the Young Company. We have more consciously named Zoo Co’s process and use it in the room in the same way we do in our other rehearsal rooms. We are using Open Space, check-in asking ‘what’s alive in you’, working with ‘the cloud’ and of course the famous pieces of paper game. It feels much more embedded now and to me it makes the Young Company feel more connected to the rest of Zoo Co’s projects and processes - which as a facilitator is really exciting. The young people went to observe the Night Shift rehearsal and came to see the show as well. One of the young people afterward commented that they had tried to look for the similarities between Night Shift and the Young Company’s shows and if they could recognise anything about the process or vibe that connected them even if they were seemingly really different shows. They said they couldn’t exactly name what it was, but sitting watching Night Shift they felt there was something about it that felt similar to the Young Company shows and they could feel it was all part of the same company. And they felt proud of that. (And of course they were excited about meeting Alex from Sex Education too). Another young person commented that it was ‘really cool to work with a theatre company that had been on telly’ and that they had been telling all their friends. It feels like this term has really strengthened the connection between YoCo and the rest of Zoo Co’s projects and continued the development of the Young Company culture.

Check-in, the cloud and the pieces of paper game

We started ‘the cloud’ back when we had our pizza debrief after the last show and we have allowed it to grow over this term with all our dreams and ideas for what we want to explore next. We are allowing the check-ins with ‘what’s alive in us’ to take up space and put anything on the cloud from it, that feels like something we want to creatively explore. One session where this felt really important was early on in the term when a young person shared that they were tired of being politicised for their identity and felt that it meant they had to make political theatre about it. Flo and I ended up completely changing the plan for that session to allow the discussion to take the space it needed and for the others to share their stories of feeling politicised too. This led to talking about wanting to tell stories of joy and make a show that wasn’t political at all (although arguably that would be political too..). After the discussion, we spent the rest of the session devising lots of beautiful scenes - including a scene with crisp packages being puppeteered into chickens.

The following session Flo brought in this poem by Palestinian poet Marwan Makhoul:

In order for me to write poetry that isn’t political,

I must listen to the birds,

and in order to hear the birds,

the war planes must be silent.

We have spoken a lot about folk tales from our different cultures and traditions/rituals across generations. The play currently seems to be set in a small farming town on the edge of the world centered around a group of friends or misfits coming together to discover their grandparent's secrets. We are exploring supernatural elements as metaphors for the bigger things in us - Stranger Things often being referenced.

This has all been discovered through lots of different devising and impro exercises - but especially Zoo Co’s famous ‘the game with all the pieces of paper’ that has started almost all of Zoo Co’s shows and now also the young company show. We have a whole folder full of small drawings of all the scenes we’ve devised and lots of writing about the world of the shows (thanks to Liv and their brilliant writing exercises!).

Open Space reminder

A good example - and a good reminder for me and Flo - about the Open Space principle was at a recent session where only one participant showed up. They were part of the show last year but so far hadn’t been at a session. We chatted, shared goss and talked a bit about where we were up to in the process with the show. Then, Flo and I started to pack up, assuming they didn’t want to stay when they were the only one there. But then they said ‘I don’t actually feel ready to leave yet’. Flo and I clocked each other and realised- if it’s not over, it’s not over. So we sat back down and continued our chat. And if by magic a couple of minutes later, a YoCo alumni walked through the door as they just wanted to ‘pop in’ now they were back from Uni. We spend the rest of the session chatting with both young people about life, theatre - and some more goss. Whoever is there is the right people. If it’s not over, it’s not over. 

Developing the YoCo culture

It has felt really rich to work with writer Liv Ello again, who wrote the last company show ‘Risky Business’ in co-creation with the young people. I feel it has benefitted the process that we have all worked together before, so we can grow and develop from last year's journey and we have refined some of the process of it to make sure we have more lab and contact time with Liv in the room. I feel there is trust in the room that we will make a good show and that it makes the devising process more brave and exciting as they don’t worry as much about how “good” it is. They trust that it’s about developing ideas and that Liv (and us) will help shape it into a show. There also seems to be a reflection about how the process is - especially between the young people who have been there for all three years the young company has existed. Usually, we devise from characters, but so far we haven’t looked at characters but are more focused on world-building, themes and concepts. It’s also great to see how we now have a group of alumnus too and that they still want to pop into sessions and stay in touch with the company. It feels like the YoCo culture is really developing and growing stronger roots in its own process. A really exciting first term - I can’t wait for the next one.

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