Kiz Crosbie from member Mortal Fools shares their development journey to a tangible and clearly articulated co-creation practice that combines the creative process (practical activities used to produce artistic content) and the relational process (the environments cultivated and how people work together). With practical tips at the end!
I am Kiz, the Artistic Director and founder of Mortal Fools, a theatre, drama and creative learning company specialising in co-creation with children and young people. As a cultural organisation and a charity, we have social change at our core, with the primary purpose to support people to have better interpersonal relationships, as this is a fundamental part of human wellbeing, fulfilment and productivity.
As a company of artists, we use the co-creation of drama and theatre-based productions as our method to do this. These are collaborative and inter-personal art forms by nature and so the process of co-creation provides a highly effective means to achieve our desired outcomes for people, together with the impact which comes from sharing the resulting performance with audiences.
As a theatre director, I make plays about people’s lives and experiences and have to craft them into a form that tells those stories in ways that are relatable to audiences and makes them feel something. To do that, a director must develop a strong emotional intelligence, a comprehensive and deep understanding of what makes people tick and behave in the ways they do and a detailed understanding what that behaviour looks like. Only then can we work with actors to present it authentically and impactfully in performance.
People have always fascinated me, but this took a deeper turn about five years ago. I was consistently seeing things happening in rehearsals (especially in our co-creation settings) where people would bond, take risks, where friendships would develop, where skills would grow and ideas would flow and it awoke in me a deep curiosity about what was happening to people. What was happening in their minds, bodies and souls to make these changes happen? And how could I help to make these things happen more and better?
What followed within Mortal Fools was the crafting of a training programme – initially for businesses – which combined practices from actor training, theatre making and business thought leaders, underpinned by social science theory. We called it CONNECT – a programme of training with the primary purpose of helping people have better inter-personal connections with one another in the workplace.
We’ve since started to apply the same approach to crafting a tangible and clearly articulated co-creation practice.
What happens in the process of making art isn’t magic – it is the result of many layers of learning and appropriately and adeptly applied skills. If we want co-creation to be truly accessible, inclusive and equitable, it is our responsibility to interrogate the processes we’re using deeply and work hard to articulate them in ways that are universally understandable to everyone involved.
I wish I could tell you that we’ve nailed it, but where we are currently is definitely a work in progress. Like all creative processes we started with a clear impetus and excitement about what was to follow, and now we find ourselves mainly in that dark tunnel of creative uncertainty, with glimmers of clarity and inspiration that we note down immediately.
What we’ve learned on this journey so far is:
- Co-creation is a combination of the creative process (practical activities we utilise to produce artistic content) and the relational process (the environments we cultivate and how we work together).
- The two strands consistently intersect with one another.
- Each strand has a set of success criteria that we should see evident at all times. One example we’ve defined that features in both strands is Response-Ability
- When all these success criteria are present, it results in our highest quality artistic outputs and in the greatest social and personal outcomes for everyone involved – including our audiences.
- What gets in the way most consistently is fear.
If fear is what most consistently gets in the way of creativity and successful co-creation, it warranted some special attention. You can’t just tell someone not to be afraid and they will. Driving fear responses are a whole host of subconsciously-controlled systems in our bodies and minds, which have to be consciously understood and managed in order to keep that fear in check.
Fear responses in the body produce adrenaline, for instance, which is an energising hormone, designed to fuel our body’s fight or flight response (i.e. fight or run away from a threat). Harnessed in the right way, as many performers will testify, adrenaline can be a excellent fuel to push us out of our comfort zones, to try new things and to accomplish in ways we hadn’t previously thought possible.
Creativity requires risk and failure – both of which naturally stimulate our fear responses – and you have to wade through a lot of muck to get to the creative nuggets of gold. Most artists have at least some understanding of this, but if fear is our number one barrier to being creative then consciously cultivating a practice of being resilient to the negative impact of this should be one that all artists are prioritising.
For those of us working in and facilitating co-creation settings, we have the additional factor of those we are collaborating with. My aim is that by articulating our co-creation practice, with its clear success factors and by openly noting and practically addressing the barriers to success, we can properly integrate our core purpose (of supporting people to have better inter-personal relationships) into all streams of our work.
To finish, here’s a few simple activities to help cultivate a practice of resilience into your work and support others to do likewise:
- One part of Response-Ability is to not allow subconscious processes to drive our behaviour. For example:
When you feel that flush of fear – pause. Take a breath. Remove yourself from the situation if you can – even for a few minutes – to take time to consciously connect with what specifically is driving the fear. Name it – which instantly reduces the power it has over you. Maintain responsibility for your own feelings – e.g. resist the common urge to blame to discharge your negative feelings. Share your feelings with others if possible.
To help us with the sharing part (which is often the most vulnerable) we use a version of Brené Brown’s Rumble Language, e.g. “The story I’m telling myself is…” (Google it for more details).
- We’ve created a team Sh*t List – three practical things that help each of us reset and recover when we’re feeling rubbish – in fear, stressed or overwhelmed.
Try doing the same thing for yourself or your team / group. Maybe write them down or create a visual reminder of them which is kept close to hand. It can be hard to remember to do these types of resilience activities because fear and stress triggers our survival instinct, which wants to keep us focused on nothing but the fear.
A couple of things on my Sh*it List are:
- Getting out into wide open outdoor spaces with a view, which helps reset my perspective. We have a balcony outside one of our offices, where I’ll pop out for 10 minutes with a cuppa.
- Walking and motion – which helps my body process the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol and bring my thinking brain back online. We use a similar approach in rehearsals when stress levels get a little high or pre-show – shaking out through exercises like Rubber Chicken.
To find out more about Mortal Fools, including our CONNECT training programme, visit www.mortalfools.org.uk.