Report Back... This is Not a Drill

Katherine Jackson reports back from the week long creative intensive for Troop members with Nigel Barrett & Louise Mari as part of the inaugural Troopfest in July 2016.

For me the timing was perfect. In the bigger picture and the smaller picture. Getting the email from Cath (Artist Development Producer at Cambridge Junction) to say that there would be an opportunity for Troop members to spend a week making a piece of theatre with Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari was like a serendipitous gift.

It’s not unusual for us creative types to find ourselves at a crossroads is it? What I was looking for from this opportunity was some food for thought. Excited at the prospect of collaborating with some other adults (more often than not I work with children) and in need of a renewed sense of direction – I arranged to have the time off work. A controversial decision but one of the best of my life!

All through June and July I had no idea what to expect and desperately tried to resist the urge to bombard Cath with emails, “How many other people are doing it?”, “Who are they?”, “What will the process be like?”… good things come to those who wait.

1st day: I’m early. I’ve baked brownies, I always was a try hard. Enter, Nigel and Louise, gorgeously tanned, fresh from Latitude with a suitcase full of wet clothes. Gradually, the others arrived and Nigel and Louise played a game of “guess who” from our biogs which had been forwarded on to them.

The first morning was spent telling each other about ourselves, a simple exercise which fills so many with the dread of what to say, what to leave out, how will I come across, how hard it is as a performer to be myself and not perform. As I sat and listened, I began to fill up … not with tears. I mean right from that very first day I was able to switch off the “running on empty” light that was flashing on my creative fuel tank; I knew I had come to the right place. Jack, Anna, Hugh, Genevieve, Ian, Daniel and me. A more diverse collection of artists you would struggle to find if you put out an open call for a manufactured band of randoms. However, there was definitely a connecting thread. I liked them all from the start (this had been one of my concerns… would this be a room full of competing egos?) they were open, warm, humble, inquisitive and searching. Searching for… you know that thing people do when they’re trying to describe a texture and they rub their thumb against the first two fingers of the same hand? That.

So, what did we do during the process? We trusted Nigel and Louise. So, here I must tell you about these two wonderful people. They are prolific and highly skilled theatre makers. They are warm, personable, attuned human beings able to adapt to their surroundings and collaborators. They are a class double act.

From our leaders we took guidance and ultimately they gave our piece its structure. One thing which will stay with me from them is to just be. Be present in the space, the magic will not be magical if it is forced. From my company members I learned so many things and was so inspired by their diverse skills and passions. Poetry and spoken word, writing, politics, vocals, languages, imagery, subtlety, sass, the desire to keep moving forwards and enjoy the journey. If you saw one of the three performances of This is Not a Drill during Troopfest then I hope that these things will have permeated.

I never have time to spend on “the process”. Having time to spend on “the process” was the best thing and the hardest thing about the piece for me. Relearning to play, discard, shelve, bank, explore more deeply, to not be constantly aiming for the final product was tough, frustrating, enlightening, tortuous and frightening. It made me feel even more alive than possibly I have ever felt before. Deep right? Yes, this was a deep experience. We went through something together in that week. Something that we will never experience in quite the same way again. We all offered ideas, material, art, text, movement but more than that, we shared a bit of ourselves. I’ll always be grateful to the others for doing that especially because it made me question how much of myself I want to bring to future work that I make. It’s a question that I’m still pondering two weeks on. One thing I do know is that This is Not a Drill was one of the most creatively valuable experiences of my life so far and I would recommend that if an opportunity of this type is offered to Troop members again you seriously consider making it happen, even if it is logistically difficult, because what you stand to gain is worth it. A retreat, a treat. You deserve it and your fuel tank will thank you.