Gavin’s blog on life in Chengdu

Gavin’s blog on life in Chengdu

With two and a half months left before I return to the UK to work alongside David on Bleak House, I have become reflective of my time spent here on behalf of the Ensemble. Since arriving in Chengdu over 3 months ago, the staff at Marphy’s Play House and Marphy herself have been the most welcoming, warming and fun group of what I can now call friends. I have gained a family that I know I could return to anytime, and that is something quite special, humbling and unexpected of my time here.

Since March, I have been devising an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel. This has been a project I have been working on with the other teachers at the Play House. The aim is that from the end of this month they will be touring it around schools here in Chengdu, as well as conducting workshops to aid the children’s learning. These teachers have little experience in devising, so it goes without saying that this was a difficult task- yet they have all grown in confidence and have become positive risk takers. They understand that the story and the telling of it is the most important. Their skills are developing weekly and their dedication to their work is inspirational.

This week the older children I teach (9-11 year olds) got to perform Halibu, a story about the Mongolian nomads. Having only had 12 weeks and under 40 hours with them, it is phenomenal what they have achieved. When I started with this class, one of the children didn’t even want to perform! His (as well as everyone’s) progress has been huge, and he got up on stage and performed amazingly! His mum even said to me afterwards, “drama has helped him so much, he’s much more confident and positive now thanks to drama class”. Hearing that and seeing this growth myself has been a highlight of my time here so far.

I now move my attention to the 6-8 year olds performance of The Journey to the West and summer camp, whilst continuing my weekly classes at the weekends. It’s an understatement to say I’m busy – however as much as I am seeing others learn and develop, I too can feel a development in myself. I always thought I was a good listener, but my time here so far has taught me how to REALLY listen. How to listen to others needs and learning abilities, listen to cultural differences and understand how this effects our creative outlet and communication. I’ve learnt how constricted we are by TIME. Learning, development, growth, understanding, exploration and progress all takes time. When we teach or direct, time is our enemy – there is never enough of it!

However, what I now fully understand is that creativity is endless, as are our dreams. There is never a finished piece or project because there is no bottom or top to it. Creativity is continuous, creativity has no boundaries – that is why stories are retold, because it is different every time. When my time here comes to an end, I will be happy to have had my share of the story at Marphy’s Play House, and I will continue to stay in touch and watch on as the story and adventure continues to unfold here.

In light of the recent electoral results, the future is uncertain and we have witnessed many other crazy political movements, and not just in our own country. As a young artist I feel empowered to be part off the Ensemble, I feel as if my voice can be heard. But so can everyones, if you are feeling oppressed, frustrated or angry – get together, create art and theatre to express, if nothing else it will give you a voice! We are stronger together than apart!

– By Gavin Richards

News from Chengdu

News from Chengdu

A month has passed since my arrival in Chengdu and I find myself writing this from a peaceful tea house in the Buddhist Monastery, Wenshu Temple. It is my day off and I am exploring the most well preserved traditional buildings in the city. The tea houses are famous in Chengdu, along with spicy food and of course pandas. I just have the latter to experience now!

The staff at Marphy’s Playhouse are like a family and I feel honoured to be a part of it. Our leader, Marphy, is an incredible woman. Not only is she the head of a pioneering company in the capital of Sichuan, but also an inspiring teacher, mother and now friend.
I live with two lovely teaching assistants who are incredibly helpful and patient with me and my lack of mandarin!

During the week I have been accompanying the teachers to a small primary school (only 1000 students!) to observe their classes and lead coaching sessions with them. Approaching education through drama is, generally speaking, an unknown practice here so it is very exciting to be a part of a new movement in China. It has been met with some scepticism by the more traditional teachers at the school, but so far the children have really taken to their new class where we have been exploring the ancient story of Sun Wukong.

Across the rest of the week I lead different sessions in creativity with children between the ages of 3 and 12 years. I am using David’s Creative Practice, my own methodologies as well as Marphy’s own scheme work developed by Professor Joe Winston (University of Warwick) to explore this. Next week I will use music from experimental electronic artists Quantic and Bonobo to help the children create their own improvisation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

From October I am creating a performance installation with two Chinese performers based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This will be a playful, interactive art work, inspired by Abramović’s Rhythm 0 and Duchamp’s Etant Donne, where the children have the opportunity to control the performance. The installation will help promote the new Play House Theatre opening at the end of the year and also act as a learning opportunity for the teachers who have predominantly seen only traditional theatrical performances.

In November I will be joined by Associate Artist, Jonny Hoskins, for a week of clowning and mask work. All of us here at Marphy’s Playhouse are looking forward to seriously flexing our silly muscles!

Over and out.