Last week I attended the Amateur Creativity Symposium at Warwick University, at which I gave my first ever academic presentation. It went grand! The symposium was organised by the team from the Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Space project, so the majority of presenters there were from a theatre background. For a full account of the conference, see this blog by another of the delegates.
Most relevant to my own research was a paper by Stacy Wolf of Princeton University, entitled: ‘The Bunk Show Meets Broadway: Musical Theatre at Girls’ Jewish Summer Camps in Maine, USA’. Stacy spoke of how the compulsory musical theatre projects at these summer camps constitute a strong enactment of group identity. It reminded me of performing in Grease (as Gaelige) as a fifteen-year-old in Rann na Feirste Irish language summer school. We had asked one of the teachers to translate the words of the Grease Lightning song, but she actually re-wrote much of it, sanitising all the sexy lines such as ‘You know it ain’t no shit when you get lotsa tit.’ In this case, our performance adapted a popular musical to fit the Catholic moral codes of the summer school!
Wolf’s paper, and another by Mae Finlayson, got me thinking about the distinction between ‘canned’ and ‘crammed’ creativity. Finlayson uses these terms to distinguish practices of amateur crafting: ‘canned’ crafts are when you get a pre-packaged kit, with exactly the right amount of materials and a handy how-to booklet. ‘Crammed’ crafts, on the other hand, are when you improvise completely and let your imagination run wild. I wondered whether this distinction might usefully be applied in thinking about youth drama. Are those stage schools who produce versions of popular musicals, involving young people in a process of pre-packaged, ‘canned’ creativity, where there is less scope for original thinking? Or is this assessment culturally snobby, underestimating the joys of the well-known musical? Could we say that devised youth theatre projects (where the performance is crafted by young people themselves with some guidance from adults) are examples of ‘crammed’ creativity? What about the space in between these definitions – like when a drama group adapts a popular pantomime, filling it with local references? How can we critique youth drama performances artistically, whilst still employing an ethics of care to the young people involved? I certainly have some food for thought!
Inspired by Claire Cochrane’s presentation, I am also thinking about my own status as an insider/outsider researcher. I am an academic and as such my analysis should be objective. Yet my whole working life (and a lot of my personal life) has been devoted to youth drama. So I am kinda biased here…
I look forward to teasing out these and other questions in the months ahead. If you’d like to read the paper I gave, which was on the relationship between local authorities and youth drama, here it is here: MG Local councils & youth drama paper. Oh and here is the accompanying PowerPoint Prezi, featuring a lovely picture of the late, well-loved Sean Hollywood.
Right, I’m off now to practice my hand-jive…
PS: The photo is of young people from Steps Productions in Yorkshire (a lot more fabulous -looking than we were in Rann na Fast!)