The Art of Presence: A creative workshop in Barbados

On Thursday May 26th and Saturday May 28th me and my husband (Percussionist, Wilson Torres) met with the students of Operation Triple Threat in Barbados to lead a creative workshop on developing their personal story and creatively sourcing how they express it. OTT is a dynamic theater charity that gives opportunities to youth on the island of Barbados who otherwise would never be exposed to theater and the power that it brings not just to an artist, but to anyone who has a story to tell. This group of 22 students chose the theme for the workshop prior to our arrival: 'Pages: The Chapters of my life.' OTT was founded by Janelle Headley, A long time friend of mine with a huge heart for her native island. She experiences art as a means to heal and connect. She is making some serious waves and these kids are now well known on the island of Barbados with shows such as 'Once on This Island' that they just performed this spring.  Word is reaching as far as NYC of the heart and talent that is pouring out of these kids!

Tanya introdcuing the workshop  

Tanya introdcuing the workshop  

students settling into the meditation

students settling into the meditation

 

We worked with two groups of students ages 14-21 and began each group with a guided meditation dropping them into the present moment and out of the business of their minds. At first many of the students mentioned not being able to slow their minds and the thoughts flowing from school, exams, home life and friends, but once I started to lead them in slowing the breath and dropping into the heart I could physically see their bodies relax more and the tension freeing up. Throughout the meditation I invited them to ponder this quote:

 

The past is life, the future is life, the present is ART!”

dropping in

dropping in

 

We sat in a circle for most of the workshop and spoke about how we felt (purposefully not what we thought) again tapping them into their intuition and out of the mind. I then invited them to grab their journals and write a stream of consciousness to these three questions:

 

circle and share

circle and share

Past: knowing what you do now, what advice would you give to your childlike self?

Present: what makes you feel alive right now?

Future: what is the vision that you have for your life?

students writing their chorus for their life!

students writing their chorus for their life!

fter having time to write and reflect on each question, I invited each student to share one of their observations with the group. It was fascinating to discover that many chose to share about lessons from the past, a few more on the vision for their future, but only 2/22 students chose to share how they feel in the present moment. I found this interesting and a testament to how little we are asked in our society to drop into the now and be fully present in our lives. The students found this fascinating as well. Reflecting on the quote above, we spoke of presence being the truest place for an artist to reside and create from.

fter sharing, each student was asked to find some linking ideas or a thread that ran through their past, present and future and create an chorus or refrain for their life. I walked around the room and helped each student as they needed but they all really had something pretty profound to share. One favorite was … who spoke about mangos being the first thing that she thinks of whenever someone asks her to think of something so her refrain was “mangos on my mind”. If it's authentic than it is truth and it can be art! Each student was then invited to sit with Wilson and Neil (Musician on the island) to create a personal sound and melody for their chorus. This filled the students with a sense of ownership over their work! Many said “i didn't know I could write a song!” A new found sense of accomplishment and confidence was instilled.

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Day 2

We started the session the same way with meditation/visualization this time really focusing on the presence of the heart. I led them to close their eyes and see themselves in the past/present/future. We then practiced yoga and shared again what they experienced.

“I saw a green fuzzy ball when I closed my eyes”, “I saw a blue light”.

Their sense of imagery was amazing. I explained to them some of the principals of color and the chakras (energy centers of the body). Green representing the heart and blue the voice. The students were intrigued by what they saw. Some other observations about the yoga class:

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I felt like I was flying/I saw water and waves/ I felt very small in comparison with the world/I felt liberated and peaceful/I felt tired.

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We did a moving metaphor practice where I said a word (joy/peace/love/life/journey) and standing up with eyes closed, each student had to make a spontaneous movement that they felt that word represented. (Wilson And Neil improvised a sound to match each word). When asked to reflect of the experience one student really captured it beautifully:

“When I heard the word life I made a picture with my body. When i opened my eyes and looked across the room Shade was making the exact same motion. When we got together and shared what that meant to us, I realized that we have a somewhat similar experience with our mothers. I felt less alone” - Chad

his exercise proved to the students that when you tell your story, you give permission for someone else to be encouraged and feel less alone and more understood. Although it made many of the students uncomfortable to be in their bodies in this way, it proved to be freeing and powerful to many. They realized that even without words, we are communicating powerfully with our presence.

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To close the workshop each student was able to finish up their chorus and finalize details of their song with Wilson and Neil. They created 22 individual sounds for each student!

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To conclude the workshop we brought both groups together to share their story. Each student stood up one at a time and said “my name is… and this is my story” they then sang or recited their chorus for the group. Everyone was blown away by how different each refrain was. How unique the sound. By the end the students were swaying back and forth to the music and waving their hands in excitement for each other. This took tremendous courage from each student to dig deep into their past, be present in the now and look forward into the unknown. We as leaders of this workshop were also changed and inspired in return!

It is always a pleasure to share in the joy of these very special students. OTT holds a special place in my heart and to be able to share it with Wilson and collaborate on such a personal project is why I do what I do!  Watch out world... these courageous kids have some stories to tell and they are going to change the world! 

Students of OTT with Wilson, Tanya

Students of OTT with Wilson, Tanya