The story so far …

‘We’ve worked with young people in care, devised connecting conferences, enabled hard-to-reach group aspirations to be expressed – on we go!’

It began at many times and in many places. One place was the bathtub. My son, who was eight at the time, was asked by his schoolteacher to write about the jobs people did in our hometown. One of the jobs he said that was a common occupation was puppeteer. I’m a puppeteer, but that wasn’t the whole story behind my son’s insight – there was indeed an unusually high density of puppeteers in our town.  As I soaked away in the bath I thought, What if I got all the puppeteers in town together and we ran a huge workshop and tried to set a world record for The Biggest Puppet Show on Earth?

And that’s what we did. Fifteen puppeteers + 250 people x one day of life = a mind blowing performance to an audience of another 250 people.  The show was called The Guests of Chance and I remember standing on the stage watching the show unfold and feeling as though I was standing on a high hill watching unutterable beauty below me. Something new had begun.

Teams of us began creating large-scale events with whole schools. The results were amazing. I was and still am amazed at what a group can achieve and how people consistently confound and exceed expectations. An early one of these events involved working with 100 young people bringing an African creation myth to life. Over four days the young people seemed to transform into luminous orbs in front of our eyes. They were astonishing and on the way home we began to muse about what had just happened. Somebody said that all we had done was run a workshop. Then the question arrived, ‘But what is a workshop?’

Socrates is purported too have said that the object of philosophy is to find a good question. What is Workshop? is a good question. In this tale, it was also an invitation. I decided to write a book and to seek support to develop our workshop practice. At the time, the conditions were not quite right. We are always betwixt and between creating and being created by circumstance. That question remained though and over the next few years led me into a chain of new adventures.

The first was a meeting with the person in charge of research at the Arts Council who invited me down to central office for a chat about workshop. And by and by there was a research grant to conduct The Workshop Interviews and initiate a national forum on workshop… The second part of that instruction was not really my idea and took no account that it might be casting a spell over a sucker for invitations. I mean we are going back here to the last century and here I am still at it creating forums about workshop.

Having at last secured some support for my investigations I enrolled on a Masters Degree in Applied Drama so that I had a theoretical and supportive structure to realise the research. And one day I was walking up the High Street of my hometown when I met a friend who taught at the local college. He told me that he was vacating his post teaching Workshop Skills and asked if I would be interested. I was and I did.

By then I had been to several academic conferences including the wonderful IDEA conference in Bergen, which is a global gathering of practitioners and academics involved in drama, education and social intervention. It was there that I ran my first workshop on workshop. Another light bulb lit up – if academics can have gatherings of this quality why should I, as an artist, feel so grateful if I get offered a cup of tea in a staffroom?

Sometime later, at the college where I was teaching I told someone about my idea to put together a big workshop for workshop artists about workshop. They said I should meet the woman in charge of the Centre for Creative Enterprise and Participation which was at that time based at the college.  We met and the first moveable feast event was conceived and produced a book and was an incredible experience that validated and expanded a hitherto largely unrecognised practice in an imaginative and hands-on environment. Ten years on its influence is still discernible.

Over the next five years there were many moveable feasts and then someone said that they were at a party and had heard that moveable feast was being incubated as a satellite company by the Centre. It was the first I’d heard of it but it was not bad news. A large group of artists from a variety of disciplines and all of whom had been on moveable feasts got together and a new company was born – The Moveable Feast Workshop Co.

The company provides bespoke workshop projects by combining artists and art forms in collaborative teams that maximise the resonance of the work done with and by the participants. We have worked with young people in care, devised connecting conferences, enabled hard-to-reach aspirations to be expressed by  a group, run events for artists and teachers and the list goes on. The distinctive elements of the company are that we always start afresh to invent each workshop with imagination and rigour. These collaborations are founded on training together and sustaining a creative support network for each other as well a company.

So one thing led to the next just as Enzo Cozzi explained Workshop to me all those years ago in The Workshop Interviews:

Every workshop is a story and it’s an original story and it’s a story written there and new completely and it’s never been thought of before. It’s the one story and it has a thread and one thing leads to the next to the next, to the next to the next.

So a good workshop mirrors life unfolding – one things leads to the next. There is plan but the plan is porous; we do not know what will emerge from within the group. The next thing is School of Workshop because it is time to create the conditions to pass it on.