‘Tis the season for… performances

I’ve just today come to the end of a six-week period of “creative project” performance outcomes, which was a pretty intense experience, but one that got me thinking about performances, projects and children – why we perform, who it is for, and what this tells us about the project.

Firstly, this was the period in which the year-long City Beats percussion composition projects drew to a close. A team of myself plus two musicians travelled to each of the schools, and the children performed the music they’d composed with us to an audience made up of their fellow students, their teachers, and on some occasions, their parents.

The performance outcomes for City Beats were an addition to the original program, and it changed the project focus. It meant that the children’s fourth and final visit to ArtPlay was spent revisiting all the music they’d composed – relearning and re-memorising it, essentially. For one group, made up of children from grades 3-6, their workshop was on a hot Thursday afternoon. They arrived at ArtPlay already quite hot and tired (some had already been swimming in the morning), and while they were all geared up to play some music, the last thing some of them felt like doing was applying themselves to the task of relearning and memorising music that was over and done with, in their minds.

“Is this the right thing to be doing?” I wondered to myself as I determinedly kept us on task, working our way through the music, and repeating sections until they were understood. “What they really want to be doing today is just hanging out and jamming.”

This group is already very free creatively – perhaps for them, jamming and making things up as they go along is already a strength and a preferred way of learning and working. Perhaps the discipline of working on one piece until it is “performance ready” is one that they resist. Repeating things feels counter-intuitive… the capacity to ‘delay gratification’ is one that doesn’t come easily.

Were there other reasons for the City Beats performances, other than celebrating the children’s achievements over the year and sharing them with their own school community? For the children from the bushfire-affected community, there were additional important benefits that the teachers shared with us over a post-performance cup of tea.

“For our children, the fires are their most recent big memory. They don’t remember much of their lives from before the day of the fires – it’s painful to do so. One of the things we are very focused on doing for the children at our school is helping them create new, good memories. This project, and this performance in particular, is one of these. They will remember the music, they’ll remember working with you and all the musicians, and they’ll remember this day when you came to their school and performed their music with them.”

Another project that took place recently was AccessFest, a festival of music performed by people with disabilities and professional musicians, held in Armidale New South Wales. AccessFest was a series of creative music workshops that culminated in a performance. Again, I felt concerned at times that the performance outcome could put undue pressure on the participants, and worked hard to ensure a playful and spontaneous approach in the workshops, allowing for unexpected things to take place within the workshop flow. This carried over into the performance as well.

The AccessFest performance was a chance for the participants to be in the limelight, to be applauded and have their work appreciated. But it was also a chance for their carers and families – whose lives are often very stressful, dealing with the challenges that disabilities can bring – to observe their loved one in a new environment, where different strengths would shine through, or aspects of their personalities or quirks or obsessions become integral parts of the performance. All the performers dressed up in their smartest, most colourful clothes for the performance. There was jewellery, make-up, and flash outfits – this was an event! There would have been many special memories for people to savour at the end of this performance.

Every project needs an outcome of some kind, a way to put a line under the work and declare that point in the process complete. It needn’t be a performance outcome (recorded outcomes in projects or informal ‘sharings’ are also effective). It’s a way of bringing all the creative energy together, channelling and focusing it into one ‘event’ that allows you to draw the project to a close.

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