Peter Laycock shares his experience of hosting the first The Place Audience Club meetup on Wednesday 24 February, part of Pivot Dance. Click here to find out more about Pivot Dance.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen. As the night before turns into the day itself and the hours of that day appear to speed by faster and faster, the familiar, slightly intoxicating sense of fear and excitement rises. My body responds: the contents of my brain are evaporating to the quickening sound of my heart beating in the inner cavities of my being. I’m not sure if I’m queuing up the twisting path to get on the Big Dipper, or putting out the last buffet item in the moments before the party starts.
My plan, due to my teacher training, is committed to paper – a physical reassurance I can hold on to and bring myself back into the moment. I’ve taught lots of lessons…I’ve been here before lots of times. The time leading up to meeting a new group for the first time is always a little sweaty, wondering if I’ve gauged the activities correctly, questioning whether I know what I’m doing, knowing the importance of this first session – the first impression – what if they don’t ‘get’ my humour or view my carefully designed (and redesigned, and redesigned, and redesigned) tasks with a cynicism that burns through the playful way I want to start our relationship.
This is not me in the final throes of a wet morning break, waiting for Year 9 to arrive for the dance class they’ll try to sit out of because they’re “not doin’ it at GCSE, so dunt matta, Sir”…while that beast is a challenge, I know I can slay it…I have met it often enough. This is me, strapped in, being drawn slowly along the upward track of a rollercoaster I haven’t been on before, the click-click-clicking slowing down as I reach the summit ahead of the first unknown descent. This is the moment of suspension, the pause in the action to add effect to the feeling you get when the car plummets downwards. This is the time when you frantically wonder if there’s any way out…but there isn’t…it is no longer about to happen…it is happening.
The group is arriving, well the members of the group – they don’t know each other so, for now at least, they are a collection of individuals not a group…this tussle of how to refer to them echoes the trouble I have imagining them and is a large part of my apprehension. I have assembled these unknown people into a group and this is the first time they will meet each other – they were selected because of their differences to create a diverse group…but what if the one thing they have in common isn’t enough: their curiosity in the creative process and a desire to talk about it, to contribute to it. What if they don’t click with each other? What if, worse than that, they don’t get on at all? What if, worse than that, they don’t all turn up and my party is empty and embarrassing? What if my gingery-fair-skinned blushing radiates throughout the room as I try to keep the evening moving with only a few people, awkwardly joining in tonight out of pity but never to be seen again? “Are you here for The Place Audience Club?” my voice says for the first time and an enthusiastic, smiling reply from the first arrival smooths my panic.
At first, they are trickling in from the street outside…and they seem happy…there is an air of excitement. Nobody complains we’re asking them to write a name badge – they understand – they want to know who everyone is too. I lead the first handful of our guests up the stairs to the room that will be our home for our monthly meetings. I point them in the direction of the refreshments, “introduce yourselves to each other, don’t be shy, James will sort you out with a drink”.
Back downstairs the trickle has become more of a torrent and the Box Office area is bustling, there is a brilliant energy as everyone mills around, doing the admin-stuff and saying hello. This energy is probably the same as mine – on the cusp of excitement and fear…the scheduled meeting strangers and the pressure of the first impression. Everyone heads upstairs in groups of 3 or 4 and soon we have almost all our expected guests. My plan informs me we should have started by now but I hold off from the ‘big welcome’ to spare the embarrassment of any latecomers – just a few more minutes and then I’ll start…
In this pause I take a breath, I check my plan again, I survey the room…yes, everything is set, the tables are still ready with the necessary props for the tasks I have planned – just as they were 30 minutes ago. But how will I get everyone’s attention? There is chatter, there is laughter, there is movement – the natural, improvised choreography of over 30 human beings interacting. They are getting to know each other, they are doing everything I hoped they would. The party is not going to be an embarrassment. The car is released and, firmly holding on to the tracks, begins to sail down the incline at a pleasant and thrilling speed – enough to feel the proverbial wind in my proverbial hair without the hint of any sensation of terror.
The two hours flow quickly. Everyone enters into each activity with positivity and a perfect balance of maturity and silliness. They are a cracking bunch of people; open, curious and witty – whatever type of task I throw at them…discussing, creating, analysing, dancing…they dive in. As I circulate the room, eavesdropping and occasionally chipping-in, it dawns on me my nerves were irrational and probably quite egotistical. The night was not about me: it was not a monologue, it was a dialogue…my role was simply to ensure the space and time were sufficient for others to fill them.
The session is drawing to a close - it would be a shame to cut the conversations short while the party is in full swing, especially now that with first impressions made and taken, I’m able to enjoy the ride. “Stay a little longer”, I say, “have another drink” - Wonderfully, most of them do. The car slows down as it returns to the start of the ride and, as is always the case, I’m ready to go around again. The track will be a little more familiar but no less thrilling I’m sure.
Pivot Dance is funded with the support of Creative Europe programme of the European Union.