As anyone who has ever been anywhere near GCSE Drama, a school play or the student theatre scene will tell you, warm-up games are compulsory. A rehearsal has not truly begun until those present have been told to “walk around the space”, tried to count to 21 as a group or conducted some fast-moving exercise with a name like Splat or Zip Zap Boing. As such, it was a pleasure to see NSDF’s day in London devote so much time to gameplay, and reflections on how much can be learnt by having fun.
In the afternoon, a group of strangers – students, professionals, teachers and emerging artists alike – were gathered in a studio at the Old Diorama, for a brief workshop with NSDF’s Director, Nathan Powell. After a series of opening games in which we exchanged names, funny stories and even compliments, we arranged two rows of chairs facing each other and sat down. The task was to speak to the person opposite for two minutes then, when the time was up, one row would move along to talk to someone new.
“So, kind of like speed dating?” somebody asked.
I don’t think anyone found love at NSDF that day, but by the end of the session I had met a producer, a screenwriter, a social media manager, a movement director, a stage manager and a technician, among others. I’d also told all of them about myself, my ambitions, my job, my interests and my current projects. Eventually, the penny dropped:
“Did we just learn how to network?”
Earlier in the day, during the Devoted & Disgruntled workshop, one of the most popular topics of discussion was networking. What is it? How do we do it? Does anyone know how to do it? Can it actually get us anywhere? Everyone was delighted to discover that Nathan had guided us through a speed-networking session without any of us realising what we were actually doing.
The other game that stayed with me from that day actually came in the form of a very familiar exercise. Lilac Yosiphon’s workshop was focused on how to incorporate accessibility (particularly British Sign Language) directly into our creative practice rather than treating it as an afterthought. We played a game I knew well, in which players establish a pattern of calling each other’s names, or throwing a ball, or walking towards each other across a circle – as a director, it’s my preferred exercise right before a performance, to instil focus and calm in the cast. However, Lilac then taught us a variation: she invited everyone to create a small physical gesture for themselves, then we played again in total silence, physicalising each other’s names rather than shouting them out. I suddenly found myself so much more focused, more present in the room, watching closely to see whose turn it was rather than waiting to hear my name called out. It really alerted me to the fact that absolutely everyone can benefit from access measures and learn something new by taking a different approach to a familiar activity.
NSDF’s day in London was a welcome reminder that playing games is a really powerful teaching tool for creatives of all ages, disciplines and backgrounds. It also emphasised that theatre is, as obvious as it sounds, really fun! Making art and playing with other creative people is fun! What a privilege it is to have fun professionally! I came away from the day vowing not only to incorporate games into my own practice more, but to get as much enjoyment out of them as possible.