To be or not to be…summer 2012

To be or not to be

The beginning…

The initial goal for this project was to have the participants put Hamlet’s famous soliloquy into their own words. We planned for it, we structured the workshops in that direction. And it was a good goal. Our community (the participants) needed something different.

The workshops started out simple enough. A cursory reading and performance of the soliloquy, followed up by a Q&A with Shomee Chakrabartty (our Hamlet pro). From there though what we discovered is that, with this crew anyway, too much talking (cerebral work) just doesn’t jive. And with that, we also learned that space can have a huge impact on attendance and participation.

Our second workshop kept in line with what we had planned in terms of activities. However, we didn’t use the same space. The participants asked us to do the workshop on their turf: the red door alleyway. So, we did. Shomee was very flexible and transitioned well with the different requests from the participants. There was a bit of alcohol involved with this workshop, but not of the amount where we felt that we were losing them at all. The activity planned for this session went well even in that location.

The next week one of our participants was in the hospital and so Shomee and I showed up at the usual place and only one of the other 3 were there. We decided to walk back to Sanctuary with him and work on the activity for that day in the Sanctuary auditorium. It went well. Actually, it went REALLY well. Rammstein* was very much engaged in the activity and well exceeded the 60 minute time frame; he was energetic and focused. Shomee and I then started to walk to the hospital where Proximus* was and hold a shortened session with him there. Part way there I phoned the hospital just to make sure he was still there. No such luck. They were transporting him to another hospital for tests. And The Prez*, our third participant, just didn’t show up that day.

I was not at all prepared for just how much energy the guys had for our fourth session. Rammstein didn’t make it, but Proximus and The Prez were there and we worked in a very focused way for the better part of 70 minutes. The guys were very much engaged the activity for that day and stayed on course well. It was around this point that both Shomee and myself recognized that we weren’t going to get what we thought we were. So, instead we guided them and used imagery and collage making to see how the soliloquy informed their own stories; how could they use the structure of “to be or not to be…” to tell their own story. It was very fascinating and led to some amazing work.

I work with some incredibly colourful people 🙂

What happened on our fifth week was something I expected, but not at this point. The guys were drunk. Completely and utterly drunk. I felt that it was a negative, pointless session, however Shomee and Barbara (who I invited to video tape our final sessions) both had positive things to say even though one of the guys was completely intoxicated and not really focusing well on the activity.

During the time in between our fifth and sixth sessions I made it known to the guys that we were going to be doing our last session at another location, Simon’s house, because that’s where The Prez was staying while he was getting some medical work done. They agreed to meet there. However, The Prez was the only one there. Him being the only participant there though was amazing. He finished the last activity and then, on camera, shared his story.

The end…

Apart from the drunkenness at the 5th session and the lack of attendance for the 6th session, I really feel that these workshops were productive. Rammstein was given some good, healthy attention and is a great storyteller; probably also has our favorite quote of the whole time,

“To be or not to be, ‘dat is the question…no, that is the answer that killed the question.”.

The Prez was fascinating to watch throughout this process because, even though I’ve known him for a number of years, I learned more about him in these 6 weeks than in the years before. He likes to collage. He really enjoyed the process of finding pictures while listening to the soliloquy and putting them in order and seeing the end picture. He’s not so much of a performer, but there is a depth to him that is absolutely wonderful.

Proximus: now, I kind of organized this workshop around him, so I had high expectations. Well, I have to be quite honest: he met them, he met them well. I think it will be interesting to follow up with him in the future and then also to find a way to keep the work from this going.

The idea of having an end performance was our original idea. But then, as the workshops progressed, I thought it might be better to have an alternative so that, should things regress in any way, there would still be a way for them to feel like they accomplished something. That’s when I came up with the idea of filming them. And I think that is a great idea for them. Maybe in the future, as they get healthier and are able to commit more time to workshops and the like, then who knows, a live performance could be in the cards. I would like to hope so.

Please now, enjoy the fruit of their labors. Both The Prez and Rammstein have given me permission to share their videos in the public forum. First: The Prez (aka J. Smith)

And here’s Rammstein’s. To add one more thing, I recommend reading this blog post from my friend ‘Manda Whitney about her experience helping me film Rammstein’s presentation: “The Answer That Killed The Question

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