Limenal absorption

Back in the Shire, more specifically in Buxton, it is the festival season. It’s actually quite a long season which has many individual festivals wrapped into a rolling menagerie of performance and music and art and opera and all things wonderous. At present we are at that point in the festival season where the Fringe has kicked in big time. Much like other famous fringe festivals (Buxton apparently has the third largest in the UK after Edinburgh and Brighton) the Fringe is more of a behemoth than the actual festival to which it attaches itself. At present it’s hard at any point of the night or day, regardless of the day of the week, to find an empty space large enough to fit one performer and a single audience member. Art galleries, shops, front rooms, small cupboards and shoe boxes have all been taken over, becoming impromptu stages and performance venues for a cornucopia of delights big and small.

The Fringe provides a major platform for local groups to also showcase talent and efforts. Enter Kitty, my wife (@kittyrandle btw) and REC Youth Theatre, based in Buxton. REC has been going for quite a long time and, as part of her professional portfolio of performance work, movement direction and a little teaching here and there, Kitty took up the reins of Artistic Director shortly after we moved to Buxton a few years ago. When she took it over, numbers were dwindling down into the single figures. Fast forward to 2017 and there are three groups, affectionately known in Chez Grogan as the Littlies (5-9 year olds) The Middlies (9-14 year olds) and the Biggies (14-18 year olds). Numbers are now at the ceiling of manageable and REC is, as they say thriving. Typically REC, normally resident at the gorgeous Green Man Gallery in Buxton, enters two shows into the Fringe and (cue proud Husband) tends to walk away with mentions and/ or prizes in the awards ceremony held at the end of the festival. This year REC has mounted Lord of the Flies with the Biggies and Mobile Phone Show with the Middlies. I went to see the Middlies this week and I’ve also see an dress rehearsal for the offering put forward by the Biggies. Although I’ve been partially involved in the prep for the pieces (our house looks like a scene dock-cum-workshop at present) and I’ve attended rehearsal once or twice, I hadn’t really seen the entire shows. And they are really good. Fantastic, playful ensemble – there  is a real sense of company and group identity which is communicated through the work.

As I was watching, I was reminded of the topic of my PhD – the idea of perfomative absorption – the point at which the player becomes the played and the script starts to have a conversation with the player and neither is really in total control, but each is guided by the other towards an intangible sense playing/being played, a fragile symbiosis between the play text as living artifact and the human engines which bring it to life. The state of absorption, itself a state of optimal being for the performer, is also fascinating to watch and passively experience as an audience member.

My PhD arrived at a point which recognised absorption on the part of the player as a necessary, but not complete, requirement for an optimal state of being-doing in the performer to occur. And then, watching the young performers in REC I came to thinking again about some of the conditions necessary for absorption and I was reminded of the fact that absorption often occurs in a space set in what Victor Turner has called ‘betwixt and between’; a limenal space. It’s a space set aside from the everyday – a special place, temporally and spatially distinct from our normal existence. One also encounters this carefully bounded space in other spheres; we see these limenal playspaces with their distinct rules of participation not just in the theatre, but also in sport – the athletics stadium or the football pitch.

And then I started thinking about learning spaces; what if all players in the act of guided learning; the tutor and the students, treated learning spaces – however they might be configured with the same sense of set-aside-reverence and psycho-spatio-temporal demarcation encountered in a football game, an athletics meeting, or a live theatrical play? The socially connected act of learning might take on new focused absorptive hues…

See you next week.

Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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