The first task, even before turning up for my first session, was to try to drum up some enthusiasm. I sent Matilda some suitably enthusiastic text, and a couple of photos, and she created a poster, which would then be distributed throughout the hotel. I recall that that approach had not proved particularly successful when we had attempted to offer a similar course at Mosaik, in Lesbos, but there did not appear to be an alternative.
As our opening approached, I was a little nervous, not having taught any Drama for quite a while (even two years ago in Ioannina, I had never really had the chance to do any practical work.) But actually, I tend to be like that before every lesson; it is only when I begin that all of that drops away. And in fact, my initial concern was more about the logistics of getting to the right place at the right time that worried me… Looking back, once again, at my blog for Ioannina, there it was the mechanics of making my way to Thessalonika that concerned me most; comparatively speaking, Wembley ought to be a doddle.
I gave myself plenty of time, and arrived at Wembley ridiculously early, even with the problem of making my way to the Holiday Inn – easily seen, less easily approached. It is an enormous hotel, and given over entirely to housing refugees – I suppose, on reflection, that it would not really be possible to operate for both refugees and regular guests at the same time. The main entrance was blocked off, with just a small door to enter, manned by a security guard.
Being early caused me no problems; I made myself known to the management, was shown the space where the class would take place, asked for the chairs to be arranged in a circle, and then sat down and read.
The lesson itself went much as I had anticipated. People drifted in for about 20 minutes at the start, meaning I had to start over a couple of times. I had begun with some name games, to warm people up, and for me to grab a name or two, but actually these were less than successful, in either respect. Things were much improved when we moved on to some actual drama activities, though of the most basic kind. We worked on various uses of stillness: learning to freeze, creating statues, and then more elaborate tableaux.
Observation one: language is more of a problem than I thought it might be. Despite many of the participants having been in the UK for a while, their English is weak. I have encountered this before, in Lebanon and Lesbos, but in both those cases all the participants spoke the same language, and it was possible to have an interpreter, or at least the weaker helping the stronger. Here, there were several languages, and some people had no-one who could help them.
Two: there was quite an interruption when one of the hotel employees arrived to take a couple of photos, presumably as a record of one of the activities on offer. This caused chaos, with half the class more or less hiding around the corner. One imagines they have concerns that such a photo, if published, would have unpleasant consequences. It seems a little unlikely to me, but what do I know.
I was not expecting too much. But we had begun, and for virtually everyone there, it was their first experience of anything of this kind, and as they were adults, they were rather more wary. And by the end, those that were left – we did lose a few, as some wandered away – seemed to have enjoyed it. That, at least, is my hope.