Article by Arteria
Adam Banach – a lawyer and culture culture animator (specialization in pantomime). He collaborated with numerous theater, juggling and fireshow groups. He currently works for the Kejos Theater, one of the leading contemporary circus groups in Poland. He works with Brave Kids Project as an art instructor and in the preparation of labor codes with children. He conducts circus and theater workshops for people of all ages, psychophysical condition and socio-economic background. He completed the European course for circus trainers CATE. Author of stage workshops for circus performers “Juggler on stage like a lion in the arena”. He collaborates with the Circus Pedagogy Network and the European Youth Circus Organization. Co-founder of the Polish Young Circus Forum
Adam, you’ve been dealing with broadly understood performing arts for a good few years. I wonder where your interest came from and which areas are your most interested in. After all, you are a lawyer by profession.
My first contact with performing arts took place in childhood, when I was dealing with the first circus group. I wasn’t particularly happy about it though, as we had to play clowns, but it broke my shyness, which I am by nature. In retrospect, I can see that these early performances gave me a sense of self-worth, which made me feel more confident in my daily contacts with peers.
In later years I also tried my hand at drama theaters, but at some point I realized that this was not my dream path.
The next shows I took part in (apart from the juggling ones) were, for example, pantomime performances. The main difference in comparison with dramatic theater is that in this case the audience has a great influence on the course of the performance, and you, as an actor, evoke different emotions. However, it was not a traditional pantomime – only the so-called physical theater, departing from the artificiality of movement. I always liked these pantomime performances the most, because by means of movement I could convey emotions or feelings universal to everyone, transform movement into meaning – and if the viewer understood it, it was the most satisfying.
What about juggling, fireshow performances?
Recently, unfortunately, I have not been able to perform juggling, but it is important to me as a hobby. Fireshow gives me the joy of just doing it, of delighting people.
The spectrum of activities that interest you is really wide. What projects or initiatives are you participating in?
Currently, I am focusing mainly on the play “Epitaph of the Jester” with the group Kejos The-At-Er, which premiered at the Shakespeare Festival. This is the largest project I participate in, and it still grows into new initiatives, including two documentaries. Another project is “It’s a circus”, which received a scholarship from the mayor of the city. During this project, we tried to look at the circus through the eyes of Tadeusz Kantor. For this purpose, we used his “Milanese lessons”, which are a record of exercises for actors from the workshops he conducted in Milan. He smuggled a lot of interesting motifs in these techniques, e.g. artistic ones.
Have you personally been inspired by these „Lessons”?
In fact, the entire Project and series of workshops were inspired by these exercises, and we performed them with circus juggling motifs.
That’s it for last year’s summary. In 2021, we wrote an application for the city of Wrocław and received funding for the “Kejos Days” project, as part of which we put on a performance, on the basis of which we will prepare lessons for schools. We believe that this is a more interesting way to learn than the classic school assimilation. Another advantage is – from our perspective – the possibility of breaking through with a circus from another audience, showing that it can be beautiful, informative and valuable, not necessarily having much in common with the traditionally understood circus arena.
The theme that repeats in your activities is a workshop. Are you also a teacher? What and who do you teach?
Yes, usually I am (laughs). In my life I work a lot as an instructor, in fact, the major part of my professional activity is instructor activity. This activity began with juggling festivals, during which I was captivated by the process of horizontal education, where in a certain environment there was a transfer of certain knowledge related to humans.
As an instructor-educator, do you have a sense of a mission?
Yes, I really like teaching people. When I started the series of workshops “Juggler on the stage like a lion in the arena” it gave me a huge dose of inspiration for teaching: I could experiment together with the participants. The above-mentioned workshop allows, most of all, to embolden people, give them a sense of the stage, encourage them to follow the path of the performer, and provide basic tools for development. It is not only about developing a repertoire of juggling tricks, but most of all the ability to present them.
As an educator, I teach people many different things, in addition to these theatrical and juggling skills, juggling, I also conduct circus and movement classes.
As for the participants, I teach not only adults but also children. A year ago, for example, I taught children aged 3-6 in kindergarten in mixed groups. Then I tried to study and develop their coordination, motor skills, alternating movements, elements of circuses. In the form of games, we tried to develop the basic skills of using our body, the basics of balance and building strength. When working with children, you need to approach learning in such a way as to convince them that what you are doing is playing, not learning, and that it is a fundamental challenge.
Do you need to have any specific competences when working in such diverse groups?
Formal pedagogical training is required to work in a school, but to work “normally”, not as a teacher, but more as an instructor, does not require specific qualifications.
In my opinion, when you are a teacher, the most important skill is humility, that is, understanding that a certain workshop environment is created so that participants can learn something and get the most out of it, and not just to learn from it. It’s not about being a champion that people „absorb”. Students are not to feel a bond because then the teaching process will not work. It is important to be able to create an environment where learning is attractive.
The second important feature – rather from the soft skills category – is – in my opinion – vigilance and reading human emotions. You have to be careful all the time and observe if the given tasks are not too difficult, to respond to the needs. This is because people have different learning styles: some will learn instantaneously by repeating a movement, some need a thorough explanation of what the movement looks like, others need their bodies to be guided and mapped, others need to know why they have do something. The educator should know these differences and not take them personally, as everyone has a different learning potential. Sometimes it is important for a student to let go and go back to learning a better day, and sometimes it is better to motivate someone because we know that he will do it. There is no one true rule and you must always react dynamically.
So humility and giving – and if the recipient does not take – is not to be offended, because you cannot force anyone to do anything.
From the “hard” skills it is obviously good to know as an educator WHAT you are teaching; the longer I teach juggling, for example, the easier it becomes because I know what mistakes people make, and so I learn other people’s ways, which is important guidance in guiding the learning path – sometimes it takes really little to increase the success rate.
Do you have any individual work system?
I try to connect people into groups, e.g. in pairs, so that they train each other. It is not important to me that I teach someone, it is not a goal and it does not mean that I am a teacher. I create various groups so that they are able to tell each other, for example, what they fail in a given exercise and how they can improve it. Peer-to-peer learning is not only about building bonds and awareness of what you are doing, but also learning according to the opposite pattern: being a student, you become a teacher at the same time – you not only take and learn, but also give, and this element of giving is very important to me and it is worth learning from the very beginning. Social learning is always more effective because you do something together and create a shared experience. Community, bonds and relationships are established. Therefore, for me, learning is always a richer experience than just learning, for example, a technique.
A few years ago, I participated in your “Juggler on the stage like the lion out of cage” workshop. One exercise was to go to the center of the circle formed by the participants and mimic the behavior of a lion, including a loud roar and walking on all fours. What was the purpose of this exercise?
The essence of this exercise is to perform seven specific activities sequentially under the pressure of being watched. I believe that once someone learns to maintain their worth, the fact of being watched will not affect the action that much.
A good example is the daily shopping scene in the store – you pack a pile of purchases in panic when you see the growing queue wanting to eat you for that pace. The task of this exercise, then, is to be efficient and agile, fast but unhurried, even under pressure.
I would like to illustrate my role as an educator on the example of this story: I once conducted a workshop at a center for boys with a para-criminal past. Earlier working in the Critical Education Association, I learned that when you go to someone’s workshop to his “backyard”, you should respect the fact that he is the host, and if you need anything, you can ask for help and not be afraid of it. Thanks to this open approach, being a stranger in the environment will not be treated as an intruder, but as a guest.
The people with whom I conducted the classes assumed the role of the host and thanks to this they “took care” of me – they felt that I had come to help them, not to contest their competences, and thanks to that the situation was not so asymmetrical. The more you can even this out, the better the learning process will be. The element I am talking about, empowerment, is very important in this pedagogical effort: the feeling that someone has taken up the challenge and has achieved the goal. Diligence is definitely more valuable in the education process than “talent”.
Exactly, this famous talent. I believe that there is no such thing – talent is just hard work, not a gift someone was born with.
Yes, it also seems to me that talent does not exist, and what we call talent is the so-called hidden work. Thinking on the principle of “born with success” is very damaging and debasing thinking. Even educational games or just games are work from the beginning of life, the kind that later means that we call someone “has talent”.
You can see that we have a common position here. Anything else you would like to add that we haven’t talked about before?
Yes, I would like to mention two more important projects for me:
Brave Kids – a project organized by the Song of the Goat Theater in Wrocław – the project consisted in inviting indigenous peoples to create performances with adults; at some point, the director decided to make editions for children and this is how Brave Kids was created: they started inviting different children from all over the world, where they presented their performances, learned together and created these shows together. The role of the workshop facilitator was not just to transfer skills, but to stimulate the children to exchange skills, eg a group from Peru and Iran exchanged and then these scenes are combined; In this situation, the instructor is to teach these children how to perform and how to work, for example to teach them how to combine scenes, etc. This role can be described more as a fascilitator. It is more of creating an environment and coordinating more theatrical things, and the script itself works later under his supervision. Thanks to such cooperation of young people, with a large dose of freedom, solutions that adults would not come up with often appear. Everyone has some degree of creativity – saying what is art and what is not is harmful and takes away creativity.
It seems to me that this is a huge challenge for the educator – that his own limitations do not limit the charges. In my opinion, this is the most demanding and educational in such work.
For me, such a determinant in which situations should certain restrictions be placed is the settlement and the safety of the participant – physical and emotional. In my opinion, only this can limit the participant, besides, I try to “let him go”, setting the minimum framework.
As human beings, we all have certain patterns that we follow and an innate asymmetry, so when working with children you have to remember that children live in a different world and have different challenges.