No Boundaries – Inspiration Exchange

Alexander Kelly explains how Inspiration Exchange works.

At No Boundaries 2014 in York I’ll be running an Inspiration Exchange, a four-hour story exchanging project, swapping ideas with the audience, or rather, the participants. Swapping stories and ideas that inspire people. On one level it’s a one-to-one performance exchange, but as there often other people in the room, I think of it as much as a conversation generator. Explaining what the piece is back in November 2011, I wrote this on our blog:

Generating Conversation

Karen approaches us in the bar, weeks later. She says, “I’ve been wondering, why did I tell you the story I told you?”

Making space and finding time. Sitting opposite. Playing conversation – talking and listening.

Over the years, alongside our end-on seated-audience theatre work, and our durational gallery and sited work, Third Angel has returned to the exploration of a mode of performance built on conversation, or interview, with individual audience members. Performance in as much as we know what’s going to happen and they don’t; or, at least, we know more about what’s going to happen than they do. We don’t know what they’re going to do or say. We hope that they will do or say more than they would have expected, had we told them in advance, what was going to happen.

Their interaction is what makes the work.

It cannot even be properly rehearsed without an audience member sitting opposite. Making the performance involves making the space in which the audience member is allowed – encouraged – to be active, be open, be creative. A space in which they feel comfortable enough to think about things, talk about things that at, say, 10 o’clock that morning, they hadn’t thought about for days, weeks, even years. A space in which, at the end of it, they feel comfortable enough to say of what they have given us, “Yes, that’s fine, I’m happy for you to share that with other people.”

Early last year I was invited to speak at a Cafe Scientifique event called Sing to Me Muse, an event exploring inspiration and asking the old question, ‘Where do ideas come from?’ There was a great panel of speakers, and we were asked to give a short presentation and run a workshop activity. Drawn back to our story-exchanging work, I came up with something that combined the two, a way of swapping ideas that had inspired me with things that had inspired the participants.

It seemed to go well, and in Edinburgh it grew into a four-artist plus host, durational event at the brilliant Forest Fringe. What really struck me was that the really simple format worked as a chat in a cafe and as a team performance in a festival. This year the format has shifted for a couple of other incarnations, running in the breaks of TEDxYork – bookended by mini TED talks, and slipping back into Forest Fringe for the Edgelands flash-conference in August.

Of all the story-exchanging projects we’ve done, Inspiration Exchange is the most direct, from the descriptive title to the mechanism of performance. It strikes me that in these interactive pieces, which I think of partly as ‘conversation generators’, the key is to find a clear mechanism, a simple rule, that allows the conversation to happen.

Since I wrote that, Inspiration Exchange has found a slightly more regular form of a six-to-eight hour day, finishing up with a ‘Story of the Day’ summing-up performance, drawing together the new stories and themes of the day.

But at its heart it’s the same beast. Earlier this month in Aberystwyth, I heard some beautiful stories, and met a woman who stayed and talked for nearly an hour. She found it hard to see the inspiration in the story she told me (though I could), but said, “It’s the only story I can tell today.”

Alexander Kelly is Co-Artistic Director of Third Angel, a Sheffield-based Theatre Company.
[This post originally appeared on the British Council Theatre and Dance blog:]

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