• Lauren Noble

Musings From Our Manifesto

The company history of co|laboratory by Lauren Noble


In truth, it had been over a decade that the idea for my own theatre company sat in the very back of my mind. As a vocal advocate for the arts and its potential to transform and transcend, the idea seemed to remain just that - an idea - but it was an idea that also started changing form with every new context I found myself in.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela
Our motto at Ben Pine was perseverance and it is a trait I value very highly to this day. Image from 'Benjamin Pine Primary School' Facebook page.

I look back in amazement at my formative years where, as a primary school student in my little hometown, I was offered the chance to fall in love with the very act of using my imagination so entirely that I literally became someone else – even if only for a few hours in the school hall of Ben Pine. I also remember the heightened anticipation on the day I was to attend my first official academic drama lesson at Pinetown Girls, never having the slightest clue that I would learn just as much in an after-school program as I would in lessons. Compelled at every turn (and term!) to join whatever projects were on offer, I was assured of an inclusive space to act and sing and dance and write and teach and audition and start to acknowledge that the theatre was a space that effectively blurred the very same boundaries that I was learning about in my lessons. It was exhilarating to be a part of something that challenged the status quo like that at such an impressionable age. There was an obvious thread weaving its way through my most influential experiences in the arts and it was all to do with the teachers who were teaching me.


Becoming a part of the Drama and Performance Studies family at Howard College, I was afforded the opportunity to work under and alongside individuals who were leaders in their respective fields of acting, directing, dance, politics, journalism, stage management and theatre design. My experience at university was rooted in tradition whilst, somehow simultaneously, fearless in its capacity for breaking the rules in the pursuit of knowledge. It was at Howard College that I realised that I would simply have to recreate a space like this for others to experience the type of education I had been privileged enough to experience myself. One day. Some day.

The beautiful Elizabeth Sneddon stage at Howard College, Durban. This is a place that will always be associated with magic (the truly breath-taking kind!) Image from www.jcjoel.com.

It was this idea of being the bridge between my experiences and those of my students – always in the recesses of my mind – that informed my teaching practice in both Durban and Dubai. I consciously chose to never allow myself to become so jaded by academic bureaucracy that I started “teaching to the exam” in order to achieve a small measure of success as stipulated by the powers that be. Instead, I aspired to model the educational journey in my classroom on a series cogs that functioned independently of one another but were also inherently interconnected too. It was the one truth I comprehended without a doubt in an industry that sometimes felt incomprehensible in its vastness. Thus, the aim in my classroom was to provide as much authenticity as I could with what I had and, in so doing, achieve educational success whilst also instilling an appreciation and passion and love for the arts that went beyond academics.

“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off.” - Tom Stoppard
Playbill ran an article in June 2020 which covered the new #theaterincolor initiative. This after I had read through - and was completely floored by - Cooper Howell's post on Facebook. Screengrab from Playbill online.

When the world was plunged into chaos amidst a global pandemic, there was a fleeting moment when the arts was recognised for its potential to keep at bay the overwhelming sense of loneliness and loss that ensued. And yet, as quickly as that realization emerged, it suddenly seemed to disappear… and it was then that some of the very worst of our world started to rear its ugly head. I felt as if we were fighting against a Hydra and each time there seemed to be a victory of good over evil, of love over hate, of compassion over indifference, the beast would suddenly duplicate and become uglier than ever. It was around the time that the proverbial spotlight shone most brightly over the Black Lives Matter movement that I started to hear things that challenged everything I was teaching others about the theatre. A series of exposés emerged on social media and it became devastatingly apparent that theatres around the world had been complicit or, even worse, were the actual instigators of intense discrimination in workplaces around the world. Casts and crews working on projects that I had followed, loved and celebrated for years started speaking up and speaking out. And I remember that feeling of disillusionment. For years I had been teaching my students that the theatre provided a space which encouraged the learning and teaching of empathy because we engage so directly with the human condition in both content and context! And here was the proof that those were just the hollow musings of naïveté! I was angry. I was confused. And then I was offended. Because these people were supposed to be my people. And my people were supposed to know better… and therefore do better. In the immortal words of one of my childhood heroines from 3 Men and A Little Lady: “What a crock!”

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Samuel Beckett.
Image from 'The Art of Brian Rood' via www.brianrood.com/starwarsart

Of course, mixed in with my consternation was also a feeling of immense pride. I am still in awe of all those within our industry who were brave enough to risk their careers to raise awareness. There was still hope. And from my extensive knowledge of epic sagas and decisive battles across the fantasy genre, hope is enough. To quote Jyn Erso: “Rebellions are built on hope!” And she should know! Now, I’m not sure how long I ruminated over the complexities of rebellion, but I came out the other side in a vastly different headspace. I had been failed by my people but perhaps I had failed my people just as much? By viewing our industry through rose-tinted glasses, I had actively focused on the positives without properly interrogating the negatives. There was only one thing for it: make a concerted effort to rebel against the damaging and destructive systems already in play by establishing something that actively sought to engage with their counterpoints. The characteristics that I had, for so long, celebrated and encouraged within the arts were to become our symbols of hope.


That decade-old idea of a theatre company resurfaced, now with a renewed sense of purpose. With three independent yet interconnected platforms all underpinned by the same ethos, co|laboratory would aim to consciously imbue our creations, classroom and collective with the positive qualities of our industry whilst actively engaging in a stronger sense of community as guided by an unwavering ethos. Yes! A company devoted to redefining the performing arts on a global stage? Sjoe, we have a lot of work to do!

 

© Lauren Noble for co|laboratory | 2021

 

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