Polmont Youth Theatre has always been about coming together in a space to make theatre and to create a sense of community. It is a space where we share ideas, opinions and conversations. It is where we make together and have a laugh.
It has been thirteen weeks now since we last saw each other. We sat in a circle, we played games, you wrote texts that you later performed with movement, you chose the tunes at breaktime and we made the cups of tea. We had a brief conversation about what was happening in the world, but for most part – we did what we always do.
We shook hands at the beginning and the end of the session – a simple, but important action. A moment of connection, a warm welcome, an acknowledgement of everyone’s presence. A way of marking the beginning and the end of our time together each week. A simple, but important action that has now become something to avoid.
We were a few weeks into a new project, exploring time and our relationship to it and were working towards a sharing of this new performance. We had texts half-written, moments half-finished and conversations to come back to. And then came the unexpected pause. We have not seen each other since the middle of March, and we don’t know when we will see each other again. This was all very unexpected and unpredictable, and so we did not have any plans in place. We felt a strong need to continue – to continue our conversations, text writing and moment making but most importantly, to continue connecting with each other.
A couple of weeks after we paused our activity in Polmont we were able to launch a new project of engagement – a 12-week letter writing project. When we started, we did not know how long it would be, we did not know the process of writing, sending and receiving letters and we did not know how important this would become.
I read somewhere that a handshake is like a poem, that it can carry a similarly meaningful reflection of the person who offers it. This is perhaps why the letter writing project became so important – creating space for reflection, personal offerings and creative responses. A moment of connection, a warm welcome, an acknowledgement of everyone’s presence when we cannot be in a space together. It has not been easy, but I am not very interested in easy anyway. There were weeks when we did not get any responses, when we were unsure about how to balance creative tasks and conversations at a moment where everything felt so heavy and difficult and we worried about those who we had not heard from. There were also moments of real joy – engaging in conversations and exchanging poetry, drawings, short stories, written memories and instructions from members of the group who thanked us for offering ‘something to do’ in a moment where it felt like everything had come to a standstill.
A Way of Passing Time started off as an exploration of time, where the title felt poetic and the exercises often metaphorical. The letter writing project became much more literal as we navigated this new way of connecting with each other, of keeping things going and passing time together. Before, when we were in a space together, the young men made moments around the best times in their lives, created texts on marking important moments in time and they reflected on how difficult and complex time can be, whilst they also couldn’t be without it. The pandemic forced many of us to pause and to take stock, to re-evaluate what is important and how we spend our time – which all feels strangely connected to this project.
A Way of Passing Time has become a way of responding to an unforeseen global crisis that has meant we have had to reimagine what Polmont Youth Theatre is – and can be. The letter writing project proved that this is possible, that connection and a sense of community can be built through writing and has reminded me of the importance of being a responsive practitioner, continuously reflecting on and adapting what it is that I do. It has not been easy, but as I said, I am not very interested in easy anyway.
We wrote weekly letters to fourteen young men for twelve weeks and we are still writing.
Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir
Lead Artist Polmont Youth Theatre