Sunday, December 9, 2007

Each of us have a mentor assigned to us from the list of tutors on the Leadership programme. Mine is Nathan Thomson who is a fantastic jazz bass player and was our first tutor for the improvisation module. When we were talking last I told him that I was interested in having more experience with different types of workshops. So far the only ones I have been involved with have been in secondary schools and have ended with the creation of a piece of music and the creation process has always involved riffs and breakout groups and blah blah. Its fine, but it is only one way and I know that there are limitless ways of doing workshops- so I was/am hoping to see a number of other ways of doing things.

Nathan is in a super cool band called the Antonio Forcione Quartet, they're on MySpace, you should check them out. Anyhow- they were involved in a workshop this weekend at Conway hall in Holborn. The workshop was organized by a group called "Create" who do all sorts of projects involving various art forms and all sorts of disenfranchised groups. There were two concerts this Saturday that the Antonio Forcione Quartet did for Create that were for developmentally disabled children and their families- so kids on the autism spectrum, kids with downs syndrome, etc. Nathan invited me to come and observe, but Nicky- the founder of "Create" wanted me to help out instead of just observing and I'm really glad that I was asked to because it was amazing and wonderful.

The room was a largish hall with a stage at one end. In the main body of the hall there were sixteen paper covered tables set up with chairs all around and art supplies for making animal masks on the tables. At the front, near the stage- there was an open area for dancing and tumbling around. The quartet is just extraordinary, and it was so cool to have a fabulous concert with really good and quality music where these families and their children were not only tolerated, but welcomed and catered to in anyway that we could manage.

At the beginning of the first concert there were two children, both about 5 years old who were screaming their heads off. One family would finally get their child calmed down when the other kid would start screaming again and set the first one off again. Through it all Derek Paravicini ( started playing and eventually everyone quieted down.

There were a bunch of different elements to the concert: some of it was interactive so everyone waved their arms in the air to be trees in a jungle, clapping to make the sound of rain, conga lines, and just plain dancing around. At one point everyone was given a small percussion instrument that was either a wooden sound, a metal sound, or a shaker sound and then they were made into a percussion orchestra, repeating patterns that the band were doing in various configurations of instrumentation. There was a welcoming song called "Ka le le" that involved singing along and shouting "hey!" a bunch with your hand in the air. And then some of the concert was just for listening as well.

During the first concert I felt very self conscious. The only person I knew in the room was Nathan and he was up on stage. Also, I really haven't been around that many disabled people so I was shy and not sure how to act-pretty much I just smiled at everyone and manned my spot by the stairway leading up to the stage while gently pushing away the kids who kept trying to climb it. While I wasn't participating overly much, I was observing a lot. The families at the concert were just extraordinary. It was a very diverse crowd with just about every ethnic group you can think of represented; and they were all not only looking out for their own kids who were running around the room, but also keeping an eye on everyone else's kids as well. There was so much good interaction between the families and their kids- so much patience and love clearly written on their faces. I was blown away.

We quickly cleaned up between the concerts and ate lunch before opening the doors for concert number two. The second concert I vowed to be more active than I was during the first. I was the front door greeter and then manned the back door towards the toilets. One family came in late and sat on the benches at the back, they had five children. The eldest boy came into the room with his eyes screwed shut and both hands firmly shoved in each of his ears, he curled up into a ball and sat there for a while before starting to circle the room. The second eldest boy was clearly full of energy and dying to participate, so I bopped around with him and at one point when he ran over to his father heard him say excitedly "she's copying me!" (I had been imitating whatever dance move he had come up with.)

The second crowd was much more of a dancing crowd and most of the audience was crowded into the front of the hall on the dance floor. Conga lines went through multiple songs and people had to be careful not to step on the various children sprawled out on the floor. By the end of the show everyone was grooving along and I danced with a young boy who was in a wheel chair. With his mother's permission I picked him up and twirled around while he clutched at my neck and vocalized along with the music. It was pretty extraordinary. His face was glowing.

The eldest boy from the family of 5, by the end of the concert was down to only one finger in one ear and he too was smiling.

I'm hoping to work with Create some more over the course of the year. I'm excited about the sheer breadth of workshops that they do and also the people are all lovely. For some sort of funding reason they need volunteers between the ages of 18-25, and I'm totally down for helping them out with that.

Post Script:
Saturday evening there was a composition concert in the basement. One of the pieces involved both a string quartet and a quartet of actors. Since we never see the actors outside of their wing of the building I went and talked to two of them after their performance. I was still bursting from earlier in the day and ended up telling them all about create and concerts that day. They were totally interested and really wanted to get involved with outreach projects since I guess that isn't something that really happens within the acting department- so I have contact information for the two of them now and how totally cool would that be? Collaboration and outreach at the same time? I'm game.

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