Features Published 9 February 2011

Devoted & Disgruntled: conferring in Open Spaces

The 6th annual event saw theatre's organisational avant-garde in friendly, pragmatic and inspirational form.
Aliki Chapple

The first hint of Devoted and Disgruntled are the posters on the street corners surrounding York Hall.  Drawn in different colours of marker pen, bearing different styles of handwriting and slightly differing words, they are unanimous in their message: Come to D & D, it’s this way. A great deal has been done to make the event open to all who want to attend; from the wording of the invitation, the low entry fee (£20  full price for 2 and a half days) to the banner outside inviting anyone who loves theatre to come on in.

The large meeting hall is already teeming with people when I arrive at ten past ten on Saturday. Most are clustered by the door, where a row of clothes rails silently invites you to hang up your coat. Here also are sofas and cushions forming a small, informal seating area and, crucially, an arrangement of tables from which you can get free tea, coffee, water and biscuits – other treats can be bought, including, later in the day, a selection of hot meals.

The left-hand wall has been divided into sections, each representing one of the four sessions that will take place each day. At the moment, they’re blank, no meetings have yet been announced. This is no ordinary conference, it is run by Open Space technology, a technique for facilitating self-organizing gatherings.  Anyone who wants to can call a meeting by simply announcing the topic and their own name, and designating a time and place.  They then put a piece of paper with this information in the appropriate place on the wall. Whoever is interested in that topic can then turn up to say whatever they wish, or just listen. At the end of the session, the person who called it is expected to sum up the discussion in a report. For this purpose, a row of computers have been set up along the right –hand wall. There is only one iron-clad rule, known as the Law of Two Feet (or the Law of Mobility); if you find yourself in a meeting which you’re not contributing to, or from which you’re not learning, go somewhere else.  To facilitate this, Open Space events are held in large spaces, each group meeting, not in a separate room, but in a designated area of floor, around which people group chairs. For Devoted and Disgruntled 6, these areas are marked with the names of various influential performing artists, teachers and thinkers; Boal, Graham, Craig, Barker, etc.


Aliki Chapple

Aliki would do almost anything in order to get to spend time acting. Recently, this has included writing and directing. She is more of a materialist than a formalist, and fell into thinking theoretically about performance. Now addicted, she is opinionated and analytical without being notably well-read. She lives in Lancaster.