The Path is Made by Walking – graduating from youth theatre

openskyThe idea of a youth theatre ‘ graduating’ may seem to some extraordinary and rather grandiose, but it is an essential marking of something finished and something beginning, of the ending of an experience and the beginning of new ones. It encapsulates a sense of achievement, fear, time passing, letting go of old friendships or at least modifying them, and looking to new worlds and to the future. Galway Youth Theatre with which I was heavily involved for many years for a while had graduation dinners and gave certificates at the end of the two year programme. At the time I wondered about the wisdom of this because the kind of experiential learning in the programme was very different to college and eventually the graduation was dropped for a number of reasons, but it made it even harder for some people to leave and many I felt, overstayed their time there. Youth theatre has after all the identifying factor of youth in the title, and probably needs defining as such in order to maintain its integrity.

I was recently asked by an out-of-town Youth Theatre to lead a workshop of people who were on the cusp of finishing their time there, and I decided to  develop this theme of departures and new beginnings to help facilitate or at least open up this question of saying goodbye and to hopes for the future. The workshop, though defining its remit as a Chekhov Technique workshop ( a powerful technique which involves finding sensations and feelings through the imagination and body) had this other, dare I say it, therapeutic remit in equal measure with the skills focus.

Rather than defining the journey of the workshop with the particular skills which is what i would usually have done, I split the day into three aspects of this kind of developmental change we were seeking to explore . DEPARTURES was workshop one. In this workshop in addition to our on-the feet skills, we looked at the opening of Act 4 from THREE SISTERS. Workshop two, JOURNIES culminated in The Machado poem, ‘Traveller there is no way.’ and NEW WORLDS/ THE FUTURE was workshop three which culminated on a prospective arrival, goal or issue up ahead for each individual, through short devised pieces. It was extraordinary in its variety. What was challenging as a teacher/ facilitator was to unite the two goals of the day, the therapeutic and the drama skills in equal measure.

Besides being an incredible joyous acting technique, Chekhov Technique is also therapeutic. It has many similarities with body therapies and emphasises a unification of voice, body and imagination which can only be a step towards holistic health for the actor. This does not weaken the technique’s power to enable us to create artistically; rather it strengthens it. Ideally all art is therapeutic in the broadest sense of the word. With Chekhov we are invited to experience aspects of our world we are frequently unconscious of – like atmospheres for instance, or radiating and receiving energy. The fact that you can use an exercise like the ‘Ideal Centre’ exercise for your own sense of confidence in everyday life, in addition to it being a springboard for the energy of your character, is enriching.  I would hesitate to call such an ability a ‘transferable skill’ but if you want to see it that way, I suppose that is what it is. There are a whole range of Chekhov skills to be used in Applied Drama in just this way.

One very effective exploration we did in this workshop was an adaptation of the timeline exercise suggested in Lenard Petit’s excellent book. THE MICHAEL CHEKHOV HANDBOOK [published by Routledge}. i made a line on the floor. It was the line of the present moment . You had to imagine what it felt like behind this line, in the past. What was the atmosphere like there? Was it comfortable or not? Was there a pull to stay there? Was there a texture, smell or taste to this past atmosphere ? Did you have to work hard to consider moving on ? Were others pushing you forward? What was your relationship to the line itself and what did it feel like to step over it? you were asked to step into that atmosphere of the past. Then, what was the atmosphere of the future like? Finally you were invited to step forward into the future. In discussion afterwards, the  exercise allowed us to discuss safely the whole question of moving on, how the past or some of it stays with us, feelings of wanting to stay where you were and not move forward until you had no choice. some people rushed towards the future; others were a little tentative.

If the workshop held something for the young participants, in addition to the skills, acting techniques and coping exercises we worked on, I hope it gave them a sense they were on a journey , their own journey; that the day we had just had together was part of a bigger journey they were making, but with its three components of DEPARTURES-JOURNIES-NEW WORLDS the day we had together exploring these things was also an end in itself.


1 thought on “The Path is Made by Walking – graduating from youth theatre

  1. Tony Hegarty

    Yes Max! I think we have often discussed the idea of all art being “therapeutic”, that is healing; “therapeutic” being derived from the Greek “therapeia” meaning healing. But theatre is particularly so as it combines the literary arts of language and the physical emotions in one expression, as in life. Heaney’s “Redress of Poetry” (1995), in which he argues that the poem redresses emotional situations and feelings in which we (or society) have perhaps been traumatised or in some way unbalanced, makes this point for poetry.
    “Throwing us off the breath’s balanced pace” *
    Theatre and poetry are so closely allied, I think we could talk about the Redress of Theatre just as well. The breath we explore in a workshop or in a theatre work can lead us back to some kind of equilibrium, at least a precarious one, awaiting further dialetic as we reconsider the place we are in, or to quote Virginia Woolfe, our “moment of being”. Do we think with the breath? I feel we certainly do! Deprive the brain of oxygen and thought would not get very far. Lose your balance and you don’t think straight and your next footfall could be a disaster!
    Thank you for sharing this very interesting encounter with these young people Max. I add here just the full reference for your Machado quote in case my Spanish friends would be upset or others may want to find it:

    “caminante, no hay camino,
    se hace camino al andar.”
    Antonio Machado (1875-1939), from “Proverbios Y Cantares” XX1X.

    * The other quote of mine above, that slightly masquerades as Heaney, is sadly less famous being from my own poem “On Being Lost”; see my blog if you’re interested.


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