Monday, February 19, 2018

Making the space work for you – how to cope with unusual venues

I have run several singing workshops recently in less-than-ideal spaces.


Rather than being a problem, I found ways to embrace the situation. Here are some ideas you might find useful.

Over the last few weeks I have run singing workshops in a few ‘difficult’ venues.

  1. In Sheffield the other week the venue had a semi-circular platform with chairs round the edge curved away from the main space.
  2. My first Woodbridge Singing Safari rehearsal was in a space full of chairs in rows right up against a platform with rails and furniture on it.
  3. Last weekend’s Sing Out Saturday was in a large hall which had pillars scattered throughout.
  4. My monthly Wivenhoe sessions are in a relatively small space with quite a low ceiling.
In the past my heart would have sunk when I entered these spaces. Now I have a lot more experience I find it easier to embrace the situation.

the perfect space

My ideal space is a large and square with lots of natural light and a high ceiling. Not too bright acoustically, but not totally dead either. There needs to be chairs available, but not necessarily set out.

What’s great about the way I work is that I don’t need any equipment, just a bunch of keen singers and a space.

Somebody recently pointed out that I don’t even really need a ceiling, but walls do come in handy in order to bounce the sound back.

It is rare, however, to have the luxury of working in our ideal space. We are often asked to work in a space not of our choosing, or the ideal space we want is unavailable.

In those situations, don’t despair but take on board the Open Space ethos: “This is the right space, and these are the right people.”

how to cope with unusual spaces

Rather than comparing the space you’ve got with your ideal space, notice the differences and find ways to use them rather than seeing them as obstacles.

Here is what I did in the examples I gave earlier.

  1. In Sheffield, I simply got rid of the chairs, ignored the raised platform and filled the space with people. If an individual needed a chair, they got one and put it where it suited them. The advantages were that I could move people and parts around easily, everyone stayed energised and the space became more flexible.
  2. In Woodbridge, rather than moving loads of chairs (which would have taken time and then we would have had to put them back afterwards), we simply pushed the first couple of rows back to make a bit more space in front of the platform. I moved one of the large pieces of furniture on the platform itself, then we could use the two different levels quite easily. It was fairly simple to put different parts in well-defined areas and use the front row of chairs if people needed to sit down.
  3. At the last Sing Out Saturday the pillars came in useful because it meant I had to move around more during the warm up and make sure that everyone in the space could see and hear me. When we divided into parts, it was useful to get people to bunch up to fit each part neatly between two pillars. It forced singers in each part to be closer, and by using the pillars, the whole group came closer together which helped listening.
  4. In Wivenhoe, when lots of people turn up it becomes quite a squeeze. More importantly though is that the sound can become too loud because the ceiling is so low. This is a great opportunity to remind people that “less is more” and to sing sensitively, make sure they hear all the other parts, and to really listen to each other.

the same applies to performance spaces

It’s not just singing workshops where you can find yourself in an unexpected venue. I’ve often come across unusual spaces when my choir has performed.

If you’re lucky enough to know your venue well in advance, you can insist on rehearsing in the space beforehand to deal with any unexpected issues. Even if you can’t rehearse in the space, it’s vital that you visit it beforehand if possible. You can then lay it out in your usual rehearsal space to get a feel for things.

Again, don’t see things as a problem, but as an opportunity.

If the space is much smaller than you thought, it gives you the chance to fit singers in more snugly so they can really work as a team and listen carefully to each other.

If the space is an unusual shape, you might decide to split the parts up in different ways. Have each part in separate areas of the space or even divide your choir into quartets and spread them throughout the space.

The space itself might suggest a new way of presenting a song. We’ve often sung surrounding the audience or have sung “off stage” before we’ve entered, or had one part start the song from behind the audience whilst the rest of the choir enter from the front.

You get the idea: work with what you’ve got, don’t let it limit you.

use your imagination

I hope this has given you a few pointers on how you can use your imagination to make the space work for you rather than against you. I’d love to hear if you’ve been in unexpected situations that have resulted in you having to become more creative. Do drop by and leave a comment.

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Chris Rowbury



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