On being a facilitator

Thursday last week was the culmination of the Thinking about Forever project, which I worked on back in March with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Parramatta String Players and composer Matthew Hindson. My role was as the workshop facilitator, and I directed the process that led to the young musicians composing their own music material with dancers in mind, and in response to the given theme of ‘sustainability’. Six months on and the music we created over that intensive weekend has been worked into an inspired and deft score by Matthew, the music then recorded by the ACO and choreographed by Kay Armstrong and the YouMove dance company. Last Thursday it was presented at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta, to an audience of school students from throughout Western Sydney and a number of invited guests from the Australia Council Executive, and other arts organisations.

The facilitator role is an interesting one. What does it mean to facilitate, and to facilitate well? I think of it as being responsible for establishing the right creative environment for the project initially, and then initiating or provoking a series of responses to a task by the participants. As the group work gets underway, the facilitator role is to guide, scaffold, model and encourage, as necessary. Ultimately, the facilitator’s role includes stepping away and allowing the group to work and present themselves independently. I think about the origins of the word ‘facilitate’ coming from ‘to make easy’. A good facilitator moves participants through a process in a way that makes it easier for them.

It can be quite an invisible role. In some ways, the mark of a good facilitator might be in their capacity to step back at critical point where the group is able to work completely independently, and to have guided them in such a way that when they look back on it, they remember the process as one where they did everything themselves, by themselves. I’m exaggerating slightly – but only slightly!

One of the nice things about this project was that my role in drawing the young musicians’ compositional ideas from them, and guiding them to build these into a larger structure, was very much acknowledged, alongside that of Matthew’s work as the composer who drew those ideas into a fully-realised, through-composed score, and Kay Armstrong the choreographer. It’s an acknowledgment that everyone in a creative team brings something to the project, that if one of the group hadn’t been there, the outcome would have been very different. Thinking about Forever has been a very satisfying project to work on – a great collaboration between a large number of creative minds, from the very young, to the seasoned professionals.

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