Nightwalks with Teenagers was a performative journey from Mammalian Diving Reflex, a Canadian theatre company, who worked with teenagers in Knowle West and the result was a guided tour through their neighbourhood at night.
As part of my role as Festival Writer, I was asked to review the show, along with 7 other writers including William Drew. We decided to respond with a conversation, which originally appeared on the In Between Time Festival Gathering Storm page, “a week of writing towards, from, around and through IBT15,”
Nightwalks with Teenagers by Mammalian Diving Reflex
by William Drew and Ellen Waddell
W: We could just write it now really. I mean we could just talk about it and write that down.
E: Yeah, let’s do that.
W: What shall we say?
E: Should we say it was a rare opportunity for conversations with strangers?
W: A rare opportunity for conversations with strangers. Yes, that’s good. I’m writing that down. Did you have any actual conversations with strangers though?
E: Well yes, I talked to you.
W: But you already knew me. I mean you didn’t meet me at the event, did you?
E: No. Okay. Hang on. Yes, I talked to a woman. She worked at a hotel in Clifton and she’s thirty. Also we had the opportunity to learn knock knock jokes.
W: Didn’t you already know the knock knock jokes though?
E: I did yeah but it’s all in the delivery. The delivery was very good. Another thing: it gave me the opportunity to stop being an adult. By letting the teenagers take over, the adults were left off the hook for a while. We had a kind of freedom. The natural landscape too. We were using the natural landscape as a playground but we were also using an actual playground as a playground.
I suppose I’m not sure if it was theatrical.
W: What makes something theatrical?
E: Well there wasn’t a narrative.
W: Does something have to have a narrative to be theatrical?
E: I suppose it depends on what your expectations are. How it’s framed.
W: It was described as a performative journey.
E: Yes, there were dribbles of performance in it.
W: They did perform a play for us. It seemed pretty improvised.
E: We also got to see inside people’s houses. That was good. And there was a nostalgia to it about being a teenager.
W: What did it invoke?
E: I’d say a school trip/sleepover/school disco.
W: Because of going on the coach to get there. We talked about that. About Lynx deodorant and setting things on fire.
E: Yeah and there was awkward dancing too. There’s that aspect of looking back at childhood. It seems a more carefree time. Fewer responsibilities. Even though you may not think that at the time. I thought they seemed really confident though. Much more confident than I was at their age.
W: Didn’t you think that they were showing off though? They knew they were being watched by all of us and by each other so they were showing off. They loved being the centre of attention. Also, I wonder to what extent it’s a self-selecting group.
E: It might have been. They were getting quite excited by the whole thing. The more hyped up they got, the more worried I got. I was worried that someone would swear or fall off the scaffolding or the tree or whatever. It felt dangerous. That was fun but it was also worrying because they are young and it pushes certain buttons. You feel like you should be protective of them. You want them to be like children but not too much like children.
W: You want there to be limits on it.
E: Yes and Mammalian Diving Reflex’s relationship to what’s going on: they’re supervising but they’re not actually getting involved.
W: I think the intention is to make it feel like a safe space.
E: What do they get out of it, the teenagers? Other than being the centre of attention? Is it helping them in any way?
W: Maybe they don’t need helping. Maybe it’s helping us.
E: Maybe it’s helping us, yes, because it’s something you don’t normally do and it connects you with something from your past and, if you have children of your own, that must change the meaning for you too.
W: Or perhaps it’s not really helping anyone. Maybe it’s just a conversation. A bit like this.
E: Oh we saw a duck. Write that down.
W: Okay. I’m writing it down.
E: Nothing beats the child-like glee of seeing a woman in a fluffy bathrobe holding a duck. It meant the warning about not touching the duck made sense.
Did you get all that?
W: I got it.
E: We got to hug strangers. That was good. I mean I wouldn’t say I enjoyed doing that exactly. It actually made me feel really uncomfortable but I think that’s why I should probably do it. Did you make you feel uncomfortable?
W: No, I don’t think so.
E: What did it make you feel?
W: Nothing really. That doesn’t worry me though. I don’t feel stuff that often.
It was interesting to see the hierarchy among the teenagers.
W: Do you think that was to do with age?
E: It might have been. Some of them were a lot bigger than others.
W: Wouldn’t that have been to do with age?
E: It might have been. Teenagers grow at different rates though. It might have just been about respecting kids who are bigger than you.
W: And then there’s the hierarchy of us and them and the fact that, if they’re showing off, if they like the attention, it’s because they are looking at us, as adults, for a kind of validation.
E: Yes, like having them there makes us realise that they see us as grown-ups.
W: But we know we’re not grown ups.
E: Exactly. Nobody’s a grown up.
W: So when you’re given the opportunity to swing on the monkey bars, even though you know you shouldn’t care. you secretly want to do really well and impress everyone.
E: Of course and that’s why I got really angry when one of the teenagers pushed me off the ropes on purpose. After he did that, for a second, I wanted my tubes tied.
W: I’m writing that down.
E: Don’t put that in.
W: Alright fine.
E: It was nice of them to give us hot chocolate at the end.
W: I asked for tea.
W: I didn’t actually want tea. I just wanted what everyone else was having.
E: Yeah, I get that.