Taking a cue from the context; Detached youthwork on the stage of the world

I got to realise, that filming in India, there are always three people to work with, the actor, the script and the City

So said Dev Patel, film maker, who was talking on the Wittertainment podcast, the Kermode and Mayo Radio 5 film review show last week. He was promoting a new film, Lion, out at the end of January, his fifth set in India, with another being released later in the year also. He said that the Cities are just alive, and so when he was filming scenes, there would be traffic, cows, traders and people bustling all over the place into and out of shot, and that even as part of the script that an actor and others might have to be delivering, his task as director was to ensure that they acted with authenticity to the unpredictability of the setting, given that the setting of the city was crucial to the plot, the character and the scene.

It got me rethinking again about the sense of doing detached youthwork out in the public, out in the scenes of real life. I have in the past talked about taking a cue from the context – but what if to go further, the context also plays a speaking part in the improvised drama of being out on the streets with young people. Yes, like the film maker in India, there is often no knowing what might happen next, the proverbial cow might move into shot as a group of drunken adults start shouting down the road at the young people you’re speaking to. But in another way the context might make profounder positive statements into the situation, and not just say a sunset, or a rainbow. But the context of the streets might bring about the creativity of a game, might be a blank canvas to draw chalk, or an object to play on. How a young person interacts with the space, as they form their own game, their own identity even, might be something for us, as we are in the space too, to reflect on further. How might young people be learning in and from the open space, the stage of the world?

As detached youth workers the location becomes critical to the interaction, it is not a young persons space, but it is an unpredictable space, a public space, a space alive with possibilities, a space that young people shape narratives of, that adults do too, a space of fun, of safety and peace for a young person, a space they might call home. I guess if like the filmmaker we decide to try and shape interactions in a public space, then the space itself creates scenes for the action. It is up to us to be able to listen to and respond to the signs, symbols, smells and suggestions from the context as it shapes the interactions and affects the performance- making it more authentic.

Sometimes there are extras who move in and out of shot, there are those extras who want to get involved with the main scene that we’re trying to shape, but in a public scene this is going to happen.

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