York Blog 2012


Reflections and projections at the Sixth Art of Management and Organisation Conference

7th September 2012 15:00

Heading home on the train, supping tea, and reflecting that this is a conference that got better each day. We began a bit fractured, split on different parts of the campus, finding our way from a place called “Lost”. The City of Thought – a collectively created “city”, made by many of us over the days, was debriefed and someone said it reflected our real conference community – a bit separated and “thingish”. Someone else found beauty in it. Someone else said it wasn’t a city and needed a master planner.

The final performance of Text was well attended and got a well deserved ovation for the sensitive and intense performances of Lee and Kirsty. It reached a very good place by the end and we’ve travelled quickly down the learning curve of playing it in different spaces and also in setting up within fifteen minutes.

I had one bit of feedback that confirmed how important it is to carefully place film when it is integrated with theatre – never behind – but somehow part of the live action. Never dominating, but neither cut off.

Well done to Jenny Knight for winning the poetry slam with her poems of working life. And even more well done to her for making a run for it immediately afterwards! Smiles all around as yet another realm of rhythm played itself out productively and warmingly.

 The Poetry of smiles

 Poetry with props


A talk from the head of Arts and Business stood out and the final closing conversation centred on the relationship between arts and business, and that dirty word “art”.  So “creativity” is the hip word but I beg to differ. It is about neither – it’s a about culture and the Zeitgeist. It’s about critical incidents, about aftermath and turnaround. It’s about art being felt to be an equal treasure to money, not just morally, but also functionally.  Artists do not need to prove the value of their work; businesses need to seek the sponsorship of art into business processes and places. It is a treasure that is both necessary and valuable.

Brighton by 7pm I hope. The sea, and the reflections of another Art of Management and Organisation Conference.

6th September 2012 23:00

A magical feel to the evening at the National Railway Museum as we dined next to royal trains, head an inspiring talk about singing (and its loss) in the work place. Work songs died out through the roar of industry and the fear by the “owners” and the managers that the songs would give the workers more power than they wanted to have. We heard a last laugh on Wordsworth and the excellent voice and fiddle of Eliza Carthy.

Art sometimes isn’t supported by senior managers in business, not because it isn’t cost-effective, but also because, like songs of work, they fear its power.

 Travelling like dummies

 A royal bath on rails

 Eliza Carthy

There was a convergence here. The foot-tapping rhythms of the performer, the evocative location of trains that offer a different kind of repetition – one that is a rhythm of functionality and progress along a track. These great beasts stood silent as the human genius cast rhythms into the shared ether and we all took hold and smiled. Then there were the images, delivered through a speaker who needed no microphone, and I can still picture the ‘wulking women’, working their waterproofing magic to the beat of collaboration and community.

Oh, and we got an award for Best Performance, for Text!

6th September 2012 16:00

Words unnecessary…

  Quilting (Ann Rippin)

6th September 2012 15:00

The ‘City of Thought’…

… is still rising and we heard the intentions and visions of our co-builders. Some created buildings alone, representing a built version of their own work activity or take on life. A church rises in the centre, roofless and someone wants to place a madonna in it – some negotiation may be needed. Towers rise up and even an underground, trapdoored realm where “here be dragons”. The city is both a collective and a thing of separateness, but the building is not done yet!

I proposed we burn it – together, and then go off to our night sleep, in order to come back together tomorrow and then build. The first is a draft.Do we have the courage and the resilience to suggest away this first draft? Would the post-sleep second draft be the more needed city? I think artists used to make more drafts in their work. Some still do. But many people are so tired by the call of media-flooded life, and being in the machine of a techno-driven society, that first drafts are often put out as final drafts. There can be something beautiful and compelling in that rawness,something essential and fresh in that coarse first-ness. But also something lazy. Something that fears to go further.

6th September 2012 10:00

A morning pilgrimage to Betty’s Tea Rooms for pikelets and a pot of tea.Strong tea. leaf tea.

Thought for the day: You cannot teach people to do leadership, but you can help them to be better leaders. A lot of people are employing arts based methods to help leaders and managers “make meaning” or “sense” out of their working lives through an artistic experience. I wonder if it is meaning that people seek through art. I think they seek meaning through experience. Art can be a experience – something very direct. But the mistake is then to debrief the artistic experience rather than to refer back to life. Allow the individual to reflect on what they will. You cannot direct reflection without distorting it. I can only call me “I” – no one else. Reflection cannot be given to us by another. At best they can stimulate the activity into happening. But even the there are dangers that the pool will be ripples, essentially cracking the mirror.

Well, I didn’t type in this mobile-free tea room. And out came the paper and the pen…

5th September 2012 16:00

Jenny Knight shares some of her poetry on the organisational dark side. She uses a style that’s effective and affecting because she writes in present tense as if we are witnessing her inner dialogue in the moment, in the remembered situation. It gives the poetry an immediacy. Our inner dialogues (self-conversations) are often remarkably poetic and rhythmical, bordering when emotional on musical.

Andrew Armitage talks about auto ethnography. Poetry becomes a means of exploring silence and secrets, shadows and ghosts and “every voice counts” and even between the manager and the academic there is a common humanity. We all share archetypal experience. The shadows in a business – the secrets are also in play, a different aspect of light. This was a many layered exploration of personal and organisational reality. It turned into something highly poetic and eloquent from a self-proclaimed non-poet.

I know where I am because of the air that I breathe…

5th September 2012 13:00

Another intimate audience (for intimate read small) for Text in a rather marvellous full scale theatre space which was a pleasure to work in. We also took some stage shots and recorded some film. The actors found their real tears at the end of the piece and feedback has been very positive. So, with two showings done,there’s one more on Friday.

“U means You!”

I’ve found the conference very laid back, and this is either an act of genius or an act of clumsiness because there area lot of people seeking rooms for sessions and looking a bit lost. I do like the relaxed feel of the conference but I think we suffered a bit, being in yet another unfindable building with a first thing in the morning slot.

Theatre can be more accessibly truthful when it is simple and direct. We’ve staged Text very simple, and at Steve Taylor’s The Invisible Foot (same venue), he reminded us that audiences have a role to reach forward and to suspend disbelief, especially when there is no set and actors aren’t in costume.

Steve Taylor and the cast of The Invisible Foot

Well, I think that can also be achieved without the audience needing to take on a role as anything other than the needed listening ear, watching eyes, and open heart. It requires only consciously simple, direct theatre that connects through truthfulness at the level of physical life and at the level of archetypes. Simple forms, simple process, simple themes: connection, disconnection…

“Fingertip Connection”

“We realise ourselves through those around us. They speak to us through our questions of them.” I get as much as these conferences from the questions and reactions of others as from anything formally or informally presented. Conversation. A researcher working in partnership with an artist to help a community make meaning via art of their working lives. A change facilitator sharing their poetry inspired by the darker side of organisational life, seeking reaction from listeners and it is the reactions that will throw more light than the poems themselves.

“Talk to me!”

One more performance on Friday at 9.30am.

But what happens “after” an artistic event or intervention? I’ve heard a lot of different views. That the debrief need not happen through words; that the debrief needs to be a work of art in itself to match the artistic event it follows; that silence is all that is required; that people should be able to “follow on” in whatever way they wish; that it is about making sense and meaning because that is what the organisational paymasters require; and that debrief is valuable but there is no ideal way to do it. Should the artist be the facilitator of their own debrief with a group? Should that always be a separate individual? Plenty of questions and ideas milling around.

4th September 2012 21:25

An evening gallery…

Stephen Linstead asserts Yorkshire

The Art of Management and Organisation is always about flow

Choux Pastries wait to select their delegates

We heard about the roots of this conference this evening,and a restlessness to bring together artistry and organisational life. Since the Banff conference, four years ago, there’s seemingly been a flurry of creative activity to rival or even outbid the previous decade. Stephen pointed to a clutch of books and publications and a revived journal. A very laid back start to the conference with people still arriving.And then there’s the City of Thought Project as well – “community building through co-developing an architectural model”. We are invited to collectively realise on a landscape of boxes and board, a shared and emerging physicalised document of our thinking and practice. We can stake a small claim and then we can interface and meld with those thought artefacts around us. What kind of realised community will be imagined into being? I do know what the f**k I’m talking about here but it feels exciting. Tomorrow it really begins…

4th September 2012 17:30

The first performance of Text is done and to a select crowd that generated much discussion post-performance which was ironic as I’d pointed out we usually just “perform and go”.

We were warned that the room (on the first floor in Van Brugh) would be the “worst of the three spaces”, yet with a little tinkering it turned out to be a very usable, intimate theatre space. We cooled it down with a portable fan, and had the blessing of very flexible overhead lighting, enabling us to mark out a very specific performance area. Claim the space, with creativity and an open mind. It worked.

Perhaps we do not always need to “debrief” art though and it often says more about the artists’ wish to get the gig and please the client. Over-elaborate debrief can step on the silence and the space to simply “take in” that a lot of artistic experience really needs. Do we really need to be debriefing a piece of theatre within minutes of having seen it? There seemed to be some strong views in the room in favour of non-word based exploration or even just silence. At Rational Madness we bring performance, not performance AND facilitation. One view was that facilitated post-event discussion was valuable and, indeed, our own discussion after Text was proving it!

So, my reflection for the day. I’m a big mouth as many of my friends and family will attest to. I’m in favour of silence, more so as I get older. Art needs time and space to sink in, or to be spat out! Theatre often reaches into the heart and can even impact on behaviour. The head and intellectual thought and speculation are just one mode of post-event experience, often the loudest, delivered through breathed out speech. The more silent feelings and even restless impulses can easily be stifled and gagged by the human voice, driven by thought. I’m in favour of …


4th September 2012 11:10

Rehearsing Text in a “Pod” on the new part of the York campus. These are little classrooms set out onto the manmade lake. Rotunda-style and the reflection of water shimmering onto the plasma screen. There’s more concrete here than greenery. but there’s a calmness I quite like.

Now we are running the piece and finding new aspects to it. Text is a piece I find hard to watch, even after staging it quite a few times. And the ending is heartbreaking for all the right reasons. Gentle, simple theatre can be full of power for employing our real human emotions, clothed in acting. Then we aren’t doing acting, we ARE acting. Acting in the present, drawing upon our biographies and also on archetypes. Love, loss, and the drift that can creep up on us all.

3rd September 2012 21:15

So, that’s a grand start to my time here. A very productive and enjoyable rehearsal with Lee and Kirsty, the cast of Text. One important reflection: Sometimes a rehearsal under an very old tree, in the warm evening sunset, yields up unique insights into how a piece of art should develop, and can be finessed.

Lee Bainbridge and Kirsty Green

We played the scenes in different ways, and the openness of the space also opened out some of the physicality of the scenes. There’s also benefit to be under a roof and surrounded by walls, providing aid to focus. Here we had a tree canopy as a kind of rebellious roof, that kept letting in the sunlight of possibility!

Then a very welcome meal and a drink in the local pub with Steve Taylor and Phil Cartwright. Prices here are nearly half that of Brighton – £1.99 for a pint of bitter, and two curries for under seven quid! It felt very unrecessionary, as did Steve who seems as busy and creative as ever.

But a host of reflections from that conversation: Shifting modalities; hmm, where we transition from one art form to another, rather than be located in only one,as part of a creative organisational or personal exploration. Phil also pointed out that Business School’s seem asleep to the need to change and reflect the current changes in the world in their learning programmes. And does artistic intervention in organisations and business serve best when it is disruptive? Can major change occur through entirely positive artistic inspiration?

Plenty to ponder over the coming days.

3rd September 2012 0900

This is one of my favourite moments for blogging at a conference – travelling on a train towards to venue! This is a two leg journey, from Brighton, via London Kings Cross.

The last time I was doing this in relation to this conference it was a trip to Gatwick for a flight to Banff in Canada four years ago. So it has been a long time. In 2008 we weren’t talking meltdown and there seemed to be more funding floating around the world of organisational theatre. Now I’m experiencing colleagues in arts based training who are in meltdown, and yet others who are busier than ever.

It seems to me that those practitioners who were in tune with the zeitgeist, are still in demand. Some were in tune from a business opportunist point of view, others in order to respond to the pain of the age with an act of service. As in expressionist and impressionist art, there will also be varying levels of pomposity and humility, arrogance and sensitivity.

We performed Death by PowerPoint at Banff, which explored the essence of change, and, since then we took Recycled Dreams which explored sustainability to the Edinburgh Fringe and then round the UK site specifically. And now it is Text, which dives into the world of mobile connection and the phenomenon of “Alone Together”. We are developing this piece and the three performances in York at part of the experimental journey. I’m keen to get the feedback of my peer group. And we are keen to try it out in different performance spaces as it is a site specific piece that needs to adapt to different spaces. I found the actors at the Edinburgh Fringe after seeing them in a five star show at the Underbelly called Razing Eddie. Well, they found me, as I put out a casting call on Twitter and by happy coincidence they applied! So we are experimenting with a new cast as Jane Lesley , our previous actor is giving birth to twins hopefully this week! Blessings to her and Ben.

I’m still very committed to non-over-elaboration. Over-elaboration occurs when arts makers fuss up their work in order to make it appeal more to non arts-based audiences, such a businesses or public institutions. They wrap their work up in method, in workshops, in training, in tools and techniques. Work is “debriefed” and made relevant to those paying – often called “clients”.

We don’t work with clients. We work with audiences and with partners. When we work with partners we still hold artistic ownership of the work – from initial restlessness to final performance – not as an act of ego, but as an act of service to a wider humanity and perhaps even beyond.

We simply perform, then get the hell out of there. There should be at least a night’s’ sleep between performance and reaction/reflection. In much of our work there are no discussions, debriefs or workshops – there’s an act of art, then an exit, and a trust that the mirroring and self-reflection of the archetypes in the performance will do their work. People will see aspects of themselves, their questions in the mirror of the drama. And impact will be the only intervention necessary. We do not poke at people’s souls when the work needs to be resonating. This can take days, weeks, months, even years. Over-elaborated debrief and facilitation is a kind of forced reflection that can actually distort and dilute the effect of the art. I’m very interested to see what others think of that notion and approach, in York.

I’m looking to see what’s changed for people at the conference since 2008. I’m interested to learn where people are working and what’s making them creatively restless. I’m very interested in how the “meltdown” has inspired them, or whether they are just trying to work around it.

I’m interested in how specific areas are being explored: how is art serving as a response to the current state of the world ? How is improvisation developing as an applied field? What stories do people have to tell about their attempts to be in a world that seeks highs in the Olympics and finds lows in recession and poverty? How are people experimenting with different spaces and venues for their work? And how are virtual and smart technologies impacting, if at all, on their practice ?

This is a four carriage train which is fairly packed. Only one foursome are engaged in conversation. A mother reads the paper while her baseball capped child is looking directly at her. I’m one of the few using a device at the moment – an IPad. At least a dozen people are reading books – real paper books.

I was last at York University in 1992 when I presented a paper at the Institute of Electrical Engineers Conference on “Coping with Chaos”. There I met someone who, despite the discipline of that conference, led to a lot of theatre work in Slovenia! Unplanned, unexpected and it formed a foundation for the creation of Rational Madness Theatre Company. So, I’ll dedicate this blog to Professor Mihael Junkar, mechanical engineer, and occasional artist.

More to come


You can still read my blog from the 2008 conference in Banff, Canada here.

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