Sometimes we all need a little space. Sometimes your head just gets a little bit clogged up or starts swimming with a thousand ideas and projects. Sometimes we start buzzing with questions. Sometimes that space is all you need. It can blow out the cobwebs and revitalise you. What better space than TheatreBristol’s Open Space at the Arnolfini?
These gatherings are always sociable and very constructive, and can be just what you need whatever stage of your career or project. They’re usually fairly broad in subject range (within the theatrical spectrum obviously), but last week saw a specific focus on Writing and Producing. I opted for the Producing session and came away feeling relieved of my worries and a whole lot more grounded than before.
The great thing about the Open Space format is that everyone who wants to can propose a question or topic for discussion and anyone who wants to can choose to answer, debate or discuss in response to those things put forward. You’re free to change your mind (or occasionally the topic) and each discussion is given a set amount of time in which to air itself. It’s a wonderful way to problem solve, instigate change and generally sound things out. There are some simple rules which guide the evening, such as “whatever happens is the right thing to happen”, “whoever comes are the right people” and “whenever it ends is the right time to end”. These kinds of ideas mean that there are no obligations, nothing is forced, and it all feels very relaxed and free. There’s also a rather helpful ‘law of two feet’ which gives you the freedom to wander off if you feel you’ve gotten all you need from the conversation or simply fancy joining in a different one.
The only hazard I have so far experienced with this format is that it can leave you slightly open to hijacking from the less, shall we say tactful, among us. What I mean is those who arrive with an agenda which doesn’t necessarily have a place in this particular evening, and who will pursue it undeterred. But this can always be solved by gently bringing the conversation back to the original topic or by applying the helpful rules and acknowledging that that person may not be interested, but another person may well be. There is always plenty of opportunity to strike up conversations with new people and you never know what valuable advice they may have.
I got chatting to Richard Headon of Desperate Men who was just lovely and very informative when it came to the prickly issue of balancing several roles, complete with anecdotes and metaphors. A fine example of an established performer handing pearls of wisdom to one less so in the least patronising way. Wonderful! Without Open Space the chances are I wouldn’t have met him and wouldn’t have made the decisions that I now have. Open Spaces are full of people exchanging knowledge, experiences and contacts, and help to inspire ideas. They keep us moving forward and prevent us from feeling isolated or clogged up.
So if you get chance, whether you’re feeling stuck or inquisitive or feel like passing on your own experiences, go to an Open Space session or create your own. People talking to one another have the power to make change happen. I’m thrilled to have been part of it and am thoroughly looking forward to all the ripples it will have created in my own career and to hearing what it’s done for others. Keep an eye on www.theatrebristol.net for the fruits of the evening.