I hope this blog finds you feeling passionate and motivated; creative and expressive; at the very least I hope you are feeling content and engaged in whatever you are doing.I have just returned to Australia from what has been a remarkable year overseas during which; among other things, I completed, as in, totally finished, done and dusted, one of my biggest project to date. Here it is!
One huge goal…completed!
I put this up here not to blow my own trumpet (ok…just a little!… I am very proud of having completed this and also about how far Act Out has come since we started in 2007) but to share how humbling it is, on reflection, to recognise and acknowledge how much we depend on the support, encouragement and inspiration of others to accomplish and sustain our goals.Over the next few newsletters I will be honouring… or blowing the trumpets… of some of the people who have supported, encouraged and inspired me this far.
Anne Sorenson at Parliament House, Canberra receiving the Australian Migration and Settlement Award for Innovation
Anne Sorenson, now the Artistic Director of Southern Edge Arts Inc. and Creative Producer of Myriad Productions, based in Albany has been an ongoing source of inspiration and counsel since I started on this path.Sorenson was the former coordinator of the Sharing Stories Project for the Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre in Perth, and has been successfully working and engaging with young people for nearly 20 years. In 2011 Sorenson was a consultant for a community project Act Out conducted with young people dealing with bullying and ‘sexting’, resulting in a forum theatre play Relationship Status funded by CANWA, Healthway and Department for Communities.
I interviewed Sorenson about engagement for my upcoming book Peeling Them Off the Wall, about what it takes to genuinely engage young people, especially young people we label ‘at risk’. With scores of successful projects under her belt Sorenson stresses that engagement is about ‘generating a level of curiosity in participants so that they ask themselves “what’s going to happen if I stay with this?”’‘We have to evoke a curiosity… Ultimately you know they are engaged the moment they decide that they are going to stay with this activity and want to see what develops.’
She outlines three key elements in her work:1. It’s all about them
‘When working in community arts, it is not about me, or expressing what I want, it’s about what their community wants – that’s the ultimate struggle’. A facilitator’s role is to create the space and the energy through the methodology so that there is a point where participants start to throw ideas in; they start to contribute to the dialogue and offer of themselves. The facilitator does not lead, or leads to the point at which the young people can take over that lead. ‘Movement is not so much directed by me’ but it is up to the practitioner to ‘meet people where they are at…to adapt’.‘I always let them talk a lot…and never shut people down when they are contributing…nothing is impossible’
2. Get used to being in the unknown
‘When you work in community arts you have to be happy to be in the unknown’.
Sorenson reminds us ‘this is something that they (young people) are volunteering to do, they’re busy, there is a lot going on in their lives’.
You have to work with ‘what is in the room – have they had a shitty day? Has there been a death in their family, in their community? Are they fighting with anyone, is anyone in their family fighting with anyone?’‘People are always afraid to be in the messiness of it…you have to give up control’.
Giving up control means ‘letting go and not being afraid to fall…not being afraid to fail’
This means really learning the skill of improvising and this means having good awareness of yourself; ‘know thyself and be thyself!’
3. Invest in your professional development
Community artists need to continually invest in PD. Like us at Act Out, Sorenson uses Boal techniques and other embodied and aesthetic practices to create arts-based interventions like forum theatre and films about issues that matter to the young, often marginalised, people that she works with.Sorenson has trained in Australia and overseas in Drama Therapy, Theatre of the Oppressed, Contact Improvisation and Body-Mind Centering, and continues to attend PD events as often as she can. Methodology is very important to Sorenson.It is a practice that requires us to have a deep level of awareness so that ‘we can listen for that moment where I can engage them into the development of something, so that you can establish trust and self-awareness and body awareness.’
For Sorenson, this is a service and it has to be done with love and tolerance and no judgments, continually developing cultural competencies so that you can accomplish something ‘…a moment to shine’.