What James Riordan says:
For me, the aims of the programme varied, from helping build people’s communication and listening skills, to working on participants creativity and confidence. It was also about access to the Arts and having some fun.
The course was roughly divided into 3 sections and the workshops often started with a group song, bringing people together and setting the tone for the work ahead. We would warm up to some James Brown and play some fun, physical theatre games to get out of our heads and to get the blood pumping.
The first group of workshops were about building trust, ownership and a solid base for the SOAR students. We began the course by signing a contract that we devised as a group. All participants wrote anonymously about what was important to be included on this shared document, everything was discussed and all participants signed it, allowing for a safe space of trust and mutual respect within which we could take risks and have fun. Examples include Being on Time, Patience and Non Judgement. We also had a document of shared Goals, including working on Public Speaking, Comfort in Groups and Learning more about Theatre. Once these were set we embarked on 4 weeks of fun games, sharing of personal stories, improvisations and group devising.
The second section involved working with small scenes of theatre from Fishamble’s Tiny Plays for Ireland book. Participants chose scenes they liked and we discussed everything from props and set to intention and dramatic builds. We examined things like body language and voice and worked on watching and being watched, all done in an informal yet engaging way.
The third section is about building towards a public sharing of the work we had been doing and aimed at having a small amount of pressure around public performance, being vulnerable and relying on yourself and the group. As the arrival of COVID-19 forced plans to change across the world, we moved online and had a sharing of monologues the participants have been working on.
We had a breathing technique workshop with Yoga practitioner Lara Campbell in the first semester and were also keen to merge the SOAR group with LK Shields solicitors, to bring together two different walks of life to have a shared experience. This joint workshop involved scene study and improv and was a great leveller, diminishing any perceived differences within the two groups.
There have been many stand out moments, but overall the thing that stays with me is watching the SOAR gang grow in confidence, from a place of anxiety around speaking publicly and fear around making mistakes to actively pushing for public performance. We bonded as a group and threw ourselves into the process, achieving some beautiful results. There have been a few challenges, from absenteeism having a knock on effect on morale at the early stages to COVID-19 changing our plans but overall it has been a wonderful experience for me as an artist and facilitator. It’s helped develop my own artistic practise, opened up new areas of potential employment and developed my communication skills as a workshop leader and course content creator.
James held four workshops with the NUI Galway Access students and one workshop with LK Shields staff in 2019. There were three workshops with NUI Galway Access students and one collaborative workshop in 2020 before moving online due to COVID-19.
6 students took part in the Residency programme, with up to 6 LK Shields staff members participating during the workshops. James used a combination of theatre games, body movement games, and dance to help the workshop participants feel at ease, build confidence and collaborate successfully together.