- Peter Hussey
TeeNEXTers is an Erasmus+ education project organised by Theatre le Grand Bleu in Lille, France. It runs alongside the international festival called NEXT Arts Festival (http://www.nextfestival.eu/en).
During TeeNEXTers from 20th to 26th November, groups of young people from Ireland, Belgium, France, Scotland and Norway meet and view selected shows from the NEXT Festival. They then make creative and critical responses to the shows, using a variety of media including devising, filming and graphic-novel drawing. The aim of the project is to help young people develop their critical facilities, so that they can edit and coherently express educated views about works of art. They are taught how to do this by professional and expert critics and theatre-makers from Ireland,
Scotland, France, Belgium and Norway.
Audiences are bussed to shows in different towns and cities. The festival attracts avant-garde and experimental works from Europe’s most challenging theatre makers.
Here are three reflections about the project from our young Irish participants.
Learning to Critique – by Doug Morrison (18 years old)
In November of 2017, I and 6 other KYT members took part in Teenexters in Lille, France. For a week we collaborated with youth from across Europe to form critical analysis of four different shows performed as part of the NEXT festival. The countries involved were Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Belgium and France.
Arriving late night on Monday, we only properly met the other participants the following morning when we travelled to Le Grand Bleu (the local theatre) via metro. After a very brief introduction about the project, we were brought to our first show.
Titled ‘Fight Night’ (from Ontroerend Goed, Belgium: http://www.nextfestival.eu/en/event/fight-night ), this show was a completely new experience for me in the way it was performed. When getting to our seats, we were given small remotes with numbers on each. When the show began, a man garbed in a boxing referee style suit explained that we as an audience would decide how the show would play out. By answering a number of questions concerning morals and values, one of five ‘contestants’ on stage would win and become the champion. These characters represented politicians and each had a different stance on how things should be governed. By giving the power to the audience, the actors had to be ready for any outcome and left the stage according to the votes.
After the show we had a post-show discussion, which happened after two of the other shows too. We spoke with the directors and actors, and discussed their reasoning and ideas behind their performances. These post-show discussions were interesting and inspiring as we saw how the basic theme was evolved and developed into what we saw on the stage.
A second show we saw was called ‘The Script’ (from Kassys & Tristero, Netherlands / Belgium. http://www.nextfestival.eu/en/event/the-script ). In this play we saw six actors onstage perform their version of the same monologue. As an audience, we could read the actual stage directions and dialogue as the script was projected onto a screen behind them. This resulted in a hilarious hour of foreseeable repetition and interesting encounters. Each actor wasn’t aware of their counterparts and so the idea of an ‘unidentifiable presence’ was used to provide the show humour as well as a more bleak theme. Indeed ‘The Script’s’ true intention seemed to be to tell the story of boredom and depression, which was evident as the show progressed. The characters spent the majority of their time procrastinating in their sitting-room, waiting for something that didn’t exist to pluck them from their misery, and I think this situation is identifiable for many people. What I found interesting was the fact that the characters never stooped so low as to spend their time absorbed in a mobile phone or some other form of technology. For me, their coping of boredom through the use of physical and real means rather than through phones brought a sense of relief and definitely made the performance a lot more enjoyable to watch. Overall this show was extremely funny as well as providing ideas for me to think about in both my everyday life as well as when I’m creating theatre.
Throughout the week we had critiquing workshops as well as devising workshops. In these we discussed and expressed our opinions on the performances as well as learning how to properly analyse them from professional critics. We explored the line between objectivity and subjectivity and how art is built upon these two ideas. Each leader/artist from each country had something beneficial to contribute to the youth and by the end I felt I had gained adequate insight into what it meant to be a critic as well as how to assess and ideate theatre as an actor, director and also as an audience member.
During the course of the week we attended workshops entitled ‘Design Thinking’. These workshops explored how we can better use social media to exhibit and share thoughts, ideas and art. Unfortunately I found the theme of social media an unnecessary topic for an exchange as usually we try to avoid the use of phones and other devices.
I also found that the group dynamics of Teenexters 2017 different to that of previous exchanges that I have been on. Part of this was to do in the wide range of ages present, with people aged from fifteen to twenty-one. Another reason for this was the lack of sufficient introductory activities. I found that many people were more content with peers from their own country and this led to many countries remaining within their own circle until very late in the week. More icebreakers and preset group workshops that mixed nationalities would have changed this.
Despite these minor flaws the week was extremely enjoyable and invaluable and I would recommend any other youth member of Kildare Youth Theatre to apply. If I was to give advice for people heading to Lille in the future for Teenexters it would be to get to know other participants as soon as possible and use the time to develop interpersonal skills you don’t normally get to use. As many of the discussions are of quite advanced and challenging concepts, Teenexters is certainly not exclusively for teens and as an eighteen year old
I wouldn’t hesitate to go again if the opportunity arose. Overall the week was powerful, insightful, and memorable and I will be eternally grateful that I was able to be a part of it.
Forming and Voicing Opinions – by Joe Brown (17 years old)
For me, the trip to France for the teeNEXTers exchange was very eye opening. I went over not really knowing what to expect, but boy was I impressed. Each play that we went to see was unique and experimental in its own way. Sure, there were some of the plays that I didn’t enjoy, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth watching, because every single one of them brought a creative idea to the table. And even when the plays weren’t too great for me, that was good, because opinions were divided amongst the group, allowing for great discussions to take place.
The first play, for example, was called Fight Night (from Ontroerend Goed, Belgium: http://www.nextfestival.eu/en/event/fight-night). It was about five politicians that were on stage, and each round we, the audience, voted for one of them to be eliminated, until there was only one candidate left. Things happened, however, that even voting couldn’t change. And I really enjoyed this play. Throughout the entire play I was being manipulated, and I didn’t even realise until the end. Honestly it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I left the auditorium that night thinking about how blind I’d been, thinking that I need to be more aware of myself.
The next day then we had a critiquing workshop. We started off talking about Fight Night but then the conversation took a different path and we ended up talking about power, and what is power. It was really interesting to hear what other people’s take on power was, and as they spoke my opinion of what it is began to change and be shaped into something I could never have predicted walking into that workshop two hours earlier. So although I didn’t do too much critiquing that day, it was still really valuable because I learned how to form my own opinion and voice it.
Another play that I went to see was called The Scrip (from Kassys & Tristero, Netherlands / Belgium. http://www.nextfestival.eu/en/event/the-script ). I didn’t really enjoy it that much, although I respect that it was quite experimental. It was 5 actors on stage, all following the same orders that appeared on a screen behind them, yet acting as if they were in a solo play. The orders that they followed were very mundane and I just found it boring to watch. However this was not the opinion of most the group. Most of the people on the exchange loved it. In the workshop the following day, we had a discussion about it. I didn’t really have much to say because I thought the play was a bit unintelligent, but it was interesting to hear people views and interpretations of the play, and by the end of it I did feel that I had gotten some value from the play.
One of the most valuable things that I’ll take away from this exchange is the knowledge of what to look for when critiquing. The Scottish critic, Gareth Vile, held a workshop that explained what to look for in a play when looking at it critically. He talked about form and content, which were ideas that I’d never come across before, they were completely new to me. So I came away from that workshop with something that I’d definitely put to use in the future, and for that I am truly grateful.
And of course I have to mention the fellow participants in the exchange. It just wouldn’t have been the same without them. I learned a lot from the whole experience, but I think I learned the most from the people. All of us there came from completely different walks of life and it was so interesting just to talk to them, to hear about what they have to say on different matters and how they live. I found that truly inspiring and I definitely feel my mind has benefitted from it.
So overall I really enjoyed the exchange. There were great parts, and there were less so great parts, but I really enjoyed it as an experience, and if I got the chance, I would go back in a heartbeat.
A Social Experience – Charlie Hughes-Farrell (18 years old)
For me, partaking in a theatre exchange is an honour I never fail to savour. TeeNEXTers 2017 was no exception. A lot was learned from this exchange, as it is more orientated towards critiquing rather than acting. Throughout the week, we watch truly thought-provoking plays, ranging from 20th century Russia to 6 actors ignoring each other on stage. The varied nature of these plays made the following critiquing workshop some of my favourite to ever have abroad, with some workshops expressing emotions through devised pieces and others consisting of heated debates. Needless to say, TeeNEXTers is more than just a critiquing workshop, it’s a social experience. As I sit here typing this, I’m listening to one of the songs that became a running joke amongst the multicultural teenagers who built such strong friendships in little more than 6 days. This was not my first time to visit Le Grand Bleu but it gives me a heavy heart to say it might be my last as I will be in college next year and not around so much.