With travel restrictions between many countries, artists are working together from a distance. Floating Space Theatre Company (Sri Lanka) reflects on the experience of an online workshop series with Forced Entertainment, creating Table Top Stories
Creating worlds, connecting worlds
Artists from Nepal and Sri Lanka created Table Top Stories in online workshops with Forced Entertainment, using tables at home as performance spaces and using everyday household items to represent characters. Here, Sri Lankan choreographer Abiramy Patkunman rehearses her story. Image: Floating Space Theatre Company
The practice of ‘telling’
It was morning for some, and late afternoon for others every time we met. Each day we came a little closer in this practice of telling. It was as though we were sitting around a table, getting to know each other a little better, seeing each other, connected to each other through the stories we were choosing to tell.
And the table – the most functional of furniture, the most ubiquitous of props – long before it manifested tangibly as the ‘site’ of performance existed in our communal online experience. What did it mean to look into a small square on a screen to see someone, read their smile and learn their lives in five minutes?
Over time we grew in our own sensibilities of ‘telling’, sometimes struggling with the weight or extent of our stories, often revelling in the joy of watching something come alive. We grew more aware of the life of the objects we were working with. We started to approach, in our own ways, the sense that these objects were ‘standing in’ – and learned to unlock within our stories the eloquence of character.
'What did it mean to look into a small square on a screen to see someone?'
Watch Forced Entertainment’s short video for a brief view of the artists using everyday objects – such as a candle, a kettle and a perfume bottle – to tell their Table Top Stories. Captions available in English.
Making a moment
These moments that we were crafting in workshop started with questions of gender. The process, however, revealed to us that what we were reaching towards was to think through, and with gender, rather than trying to represent gender.
Each of the stories that found expression reflected our personal standpoints: be it the extent to which we felt the politic of our stories, or asked ourselves those difficult questions around our own position in relation to story. We shifted as performers, into makers – and the whole time we brought to bear on the work we were making our individual senses of practice.
'We shifted as performers, into makers'
We came to the experience with different perspectives.
Abiramy Patkunam is a choreographer whose vision of the dancer permeated through the body of the object.
Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke and Sumathy Sivamohan brought their writerly sense which held objects in careful structures and symmetry.
The performance makers among us, such as Ruhanie Perera, used the microscopic to bring us closer to the vision of the whole.
And we experienced too the bodies of the actor, with Chalana Wijesuriya and Tasmin Anthonisz working to transfer their bodies, their sense of being, to the body of the objects.
These sensibilities were certainly indications of our different senses of practice; they also informed an approach to working with the objects.
Sri Lankan theatremaker Chalana Wijesuriya during the Table Top Stories workshop. (Image: Floating Space Theatre Company)
'We were evolving a means of thinking with people'
Through the process we worked with language and translation. We had to keep asking if there was a better way to hold a conversation when our points of access to it, in terms of language, were so diverse.
Perhaps we never answered the question, but it stayed with us. And this defined the implications of the moment we were creating, both in performance and its process. We were evolving a means of thinking with people.
Working within this broad-based collective sharing, as artists, we returned to thinking through patterns and approaches to storytelling. We explored how one might use, or find, one’s voice through the structures of a story, told and experienced in deeply personal, as well as playful, ways.
What Table Top Stories has given this community of artists is the space and context to return to questions that artists have always been asking in some ways: why we make work, and how we approach making. That the process unfolded through the Covid-19 pandemic heightened these questions. And that began the work of finding ways of being present – both in our practice, and in the shared space we were creating.
Floating Space Theatre Company (Sri Lanka), along with Katha Ghera (Nepal), partnered with the British Council to hold Forced Entertainment’s Table Top Stories online workshop series with artists from Nepal and Sri Lanka in January 2021. @floatingspace
Find out more:
> Read more about the Table Top Stories project
> Explore the story of Floating Space on its website, with information on its practice and philosophy
> Check out a previous Floating Space project, exploring literature and censorship
> Watch a video about Forced Entertainment’s Table Top Shakespeare