Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Spotlight On: GymJam

These recent times have been some of the hardest challenges we've faced and as a community, it hit us pretty hard. However during these difficult times, here at Pocket Size Theatre, we wanted to spread a little positivity and celebrate the work that people are still managing to generate during these difficult times. In this ‘Spotlight On’ series, we'll be speaking to our friends in the industry to share what they are up to during these challenging times and how you can be involved.

Let's stick together, share the love and get through this as a community!

Here we caught up with Will and Gavin co-creators of GymJam, an open artists community dedicated to getting a creative sweat on.

Can you give us a little intro into who Gym Jam are and what you do?

Gym-Jam is an open artistic community founded by William Townsend and Gavin Maxwell. Primarily, we offer creative workshops for movers and theatre-makers. Our first series of workshops Creative SWEAT, which were hosted at The Monobox, were 1-day intensive sessions designed with the aim of getting participants to sweat, play and create. To put it crudely, they were workout sessions for theatre-makers, who wanted a physical and creative blast. We found we preferred keeping fit by doing physical theatre exercises as well as topping up our skillset, as opposed to monotonous home workouts. Our workshops are a sandbox style environment which is playful, open, and free of expectation.

What made you want to start Gym Jam?

Gym-Jam was born out of a conversation that we both had about a lack of affordable, regular and accessible physical theatre training. We’re aware that there is an abundance of companies and opportunities to train, but we wanted to create a space where working-level artists could play, sweat and create that was agenda free. In the past we have both experienced spaces where bringing ourselves didn’t feel like it was enough, or part of our focus was preoccupied with the possibility of a job opportunity or audition. We felt we needed a space free of expectation, ulterior motives and agendas where the focus was purely on rigour, playfulness and creative provocation. At the very beginning before we knew what it was, we were just playing around in office spaces between sessions, spilling cups of tea and challenging each other to find another creative game or movement using office stationery. Most of these have made it into our sessions now! Minus the stationery... Mostly.

What are you guys up to during Covid19?

We have tried to resist adding to the over-saturation of digital creative opportunities online. Some of these offers and incentives are incredible and will no doubt be helping artists and audiences through this difficult and uncertain time. This decision has also been partially down the nature of our work. So much of it is about contact and being physically present - it has been challenging to find ways for this to translate virtually.

That said, we have been exploring some opportunities for our community and following to stay connected and to keep SWEATING. One offer has been our Provoc8 series, these are daily provocations that aim to get theatre-makers' brains sweating by offering up creative challenges and conundrums.

We have also been cooking up a collaboration called: Momentum. Working with the incredible women Ingrid Mackinnon and Laura Dredger who run MoveSpace. If you don’t know them, check them out.

Momentum will host a day of events that bring together the movement community to engage in development, reflection and discussion. Our first event given the current climate will take place online, but we ultimately aim for this to be a physically attended event post lockdown.

How can people get involved?

Well, at GymJam we have the usual suspects of Facebook, Insta and Twitter. We also have our warm online community on Facebook called GymJam Artist Connect. This is a space that acts as a growing community and noticeboard, a place to find creatives that aren’t in your bubble, job offers, auditions, key news and exciting events. We post about our workshops here too, so it is a good way to stay in the loop.

Our work with Laura and Ingrid is gaining ‘Momentum’(!) and can be found on the same social media platforms. 

When this is all over what do you think the landscape of the industry will look like?

This is something we think about a lot here. We have started discussions and shared articles on it between us and as GymJam.

However you look at it, the industry certainly won’t just ‘return to normal’ as so many seem to hope it will - we believe that is wishful thinking. Whilst a rapidly changing industry might feel like a negative or incomprehensible thing to imagine, we believe it will be full of exciting challenges and opportunities. It will also host a lot of grey areas, most of all financially. We will need to be careful to adapt quickly once we can physically begin to meet again. There is no clear government plan for this unsurprisingly, however for now we could use a simple framework - for example, what if small groups of 5-10 people are allowed to meet for educational/professional purposes whilst maintaining social distancing?

These small groups could meet in a large space - such as Studio 1 in Jackson’s Lane, Chisenhale Dance Space, or even theatre stages to try and gain them some revenue. Or in the case that studios and theatres are not permitted to open, we could meet in open spaces such as local parks, unused warehouses/office space (Theatre Deli, The Nursery) and create a safe zone for yourselves. Guerilla classes could become the norm! Where in our cities and countryside can we practice that we hadn’t considered before?

Once we have a space, then we can adapt our practice. Dance, movement and acting classes could have to operate with less numbers, so exercises would need to prioritise solos, distanced duets and even distanced ensemble work. 

Creatively, what does this add? What does this opportunity provide us? 

What an exciting chance to explore the juicy connection of not being afforded physical touch, or even, to expand distance between one another. What an opportunity! When we can finally resume contact - it will make it so very electric.

What about the introduction of connected, but distancing costume and props. Imagine an ensemble connected by 3 metre sticks, or swathes of fabric, to keep their distance. We must approach these coming challenges with this kind of curiosity. Productions have included these sorts of restrictions before, why not take it further?

To elaborate on adapting exercises, space could be marked out, give us tape on the floor, jumpers on the grass, mark out boxes, zones that must be adhered to by the participants - imagine the games and excitement of swapping zones with one another, or as a whole ensemble. Finding new ways to traverse space, at a distance. Even extreme distance, what about an entire park or warehouse? The electricity of risk and games with space is what practitioners like Grotowski have prepared us for.

Halved numbers, larger spaces. The cynics among us have already huffed at the money and expense of this, we have too. It will be a very real barrier, and one that we will need support and goodwill to overcome. The theatres, studio owners and practitioners who need money for their space and work to live, could be left quite spectacularly in the mud as we begin a slow climb out of quarantine. The Arts Council has begun an ambitious support programme. If, as a community we make waves to begin practicing in an adaptive way, it is up to us to not just huff and puff and say they are not doing enough, but to let them know what we need from them. They, amongst other arts funding organisations, need our feedback and they need to know what we plan to do, and how we plan to do it. They are organisations created to help the arts, they want to help us, we have to tell them how.

Hard conversations like this must be opened up with practitioners, studio owners, theatre managers, arts council organisers and council chairs. Ultimately finding ways to support the arts with physical space as well as how to fund the people doing it will be our biggest challenge. Perhaps the cost of classes will, frustratingly, rise for a brief period of time? Or perhaps subsidies can be introduced by funding bodies to allow the expense to not be passed onto an already decimated body of artists? What can local councils do to provide us with free or low cost space that allows educational and professional needs to be met? How about your local community hall? Some woodland?

We must face this with curiosity and a willingness to engage in hard conversations and change, or we will be left behind as an industry and as a community.

Finally, on a positive note, the important thing to remember is we are the most adaptable species on the planet. We have already found some strong initiatives and ways to practice remotely - online classes, creative do-in-your-kitchen provocations, streamed shows, interviews, podcasts. These are a beautiful start, and if anybody told us that this would become the norm!? We would have balked and struggled to imagine that too. These next steps are the steps we are most interested in and the ones hardest to plan for. However, if we take a common sense guess at even our worst case scenario, We believe we have plenty of options to plan for.

Is there something thats happened during Covid19 that’s surprised you? For better or for worse!

So far this has been the opportunity of a lifetime to appreciate everything that makes us human. We have both hit our lowest lows and some very lofty highs during this time. We have been in regular contact with each other, checking in and supporting each other as we go.

Will’s bakery addiction has suffered, forcing him into a pastry recovery, he is on the homemade bread but with a shortage of doughnuts and other baked goods. He has also reconnected with family members too - each Sunday they set themes, dress up and sing during family Zoom meetings, Gangsters, Nuns and 70s disco being highlights so far.

The most pleasant surprise has been how much more compassionate our communities in all variations have become. I see people differently now.

It has provided space for reflection, an opportunity to pause, to breath, with difficulty at times and with ease at other times. It’s offered us a chance to really question what kind of normal we might want to create.

Keep an eye out on the Monobox for GymJams workshops and if anything above has got your head ticking reach out via the links below and connect with Will and Gavin.

Twitter: @GymJam5

Interview written and conducted by Phoebe Hyder
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