Developing technical skills and abilities

To develop skills and abilities in plate spinning I facilitated three workshop sessions at the school with a range of ages and abilities. The first session was more focused and started by introducing the prop in simple ways such as spinning the plate on your finger or on the floor like a rotating globe. I introduced minimal verbal instruction such as the words ‘plate’ show the prop; ‘spinning’ show the action. The stick and plate were introduced soon after this to allow faster learners to try the prop out. To encourage children who were less interested in the plate and stick I introduced more materials in session 2 such as small hoops, toy merry go round, smaller plates & sticks, rolls of tape, light up lanyards, torches, tubes, and mirrors. All abilities contribution where important to record to be part of the final piece and we filmed the children’s different approaches to spinning in their own way.

Developing performance understanding and communication

To encourage play and performing around the idea of spinning I created an open sensory environment that used blue lighting, the climbing frame, textured fabrics, neon papers, colourful tapes, play mats, luminous plates with an accompanying soundtrack. I wanted the session to be open, free, child-led play with the materials to observe how the children would perform. Children would perform on their own and some would make small groups with their friends, the support workers and myself. I followed the lead of one of the students and we started to play follow my leader whilst spinning a plate. This action encouraged more students to join in and we walked together around the space taking turns at being the leader.

In the studio space as the room was set with blue lighting this projection of light would create shadows of the performers onto the wall. This created a visual reflection of the individuals and groups that became a focus to perform in front of it. In our third session, I showed the film we had been making which documented the children’s work and this was a valuable learning resource to see each person’s development. There was a sense of excitement in the students, and a feeling of pride seeing oneself on film on a large projected screen. For the group, the supporting staff and myself, I felt seeing this film gave a sense that we were building and creating the early stages of a performance for an event.

Developing a public performance

Session 3 at the school was focussed on creating a simple performance sequence based on my observations of the student’s work. We performed as a larger group together in front of the projected film a simple sequence of actions 1. Walking in a circle  2. Spinning in front of the wall  3. Collectively bringing our plates together in the center. We repeated this sequence multiple times to embed the performance visually and physically by walking it through. At the end of each session, everyone clapped and I personally praised everybody’s performance. Session 4 was a gallery visit to introduce the building and space we would be performing to the students. This was also a chance for students who couldn’t make the final event to attend a performance rehearsal and still be part of the development process in a public space. The rehearsal offered a research visit for the staff and support workers to get a feel for the gallery space.

To continue some of the visual elements from the school into the gallery I installed materials such as neon paper and silver foil sheets with the plates and sticks. I created a temporary stage as a focus for the performance a visual marker to walk around, a circle in the middle and a gap in-between the stage and the wall that offered clear spaces to perform within. Although we struggled with the AV equipment we used the sound as a guide to the performance sequence, which we walked through. Repeating the performance at the school and at the gallery for everyone involved helped us collectively visually and practically see what the event would look and feel like.

The final Spinning performance was originally going to be presented on a smaller scale in the private studio space. Although I felt really strongly that this work should be seen in public as often workshop activity, especially with vulnerable people, are hidden from public view. After talking with the teacher and seeing how well the performance was developing I wanted it to be presented in the public gallery space. I felt well supported with that decision through the relationships I had developed with the students, the staff at the school and the gallery that was achieved through a focused artist residency period at the school. The gradual building of the performance in workshops through to a rehearsal at the gallery before the event helped manage some of the risks of making work on this scale in a public space.