Workshopping the night away

Somewhere out there is an alternative reality in which I ended up working at Techniquest in 1994, rather than falling accidentally into television. I mention this as mildly relevant background, given that last week I really was working at Techniquest.

With the University of Glamorgan, they run a new(ish) MSc course in Science Communication, quite different in character to the better-known Imperial version. The latter is heavy on the philosophy and journalism, while Techniquest’s focusses on performance, interactives, demonstration lectures, outreach… the practical side of the industry. In my (defunct?) rôle as a producer of children’s science TV, this makes the Techniquest course potentially a rather good source of recruits. Indeed, I’ve already met one such graduate, and she’s working happily at Screenhouse. Back around the time of the BIG Event I’d been trying to work out how to wheedle my way into some sort of involvement, so I was delighted when the course organiser invited me down to bend her students’ ears about writing and performing for TV.

What eventually occurred was a day-long workshop, last week, and… well, I had fun. A heap of it, in fact. As the first such thing I’ve done, I was paranoid about running out of material, the entirely predictable result of which was that it all became rather bludgeoning midway through the afternoon. In retrospect, I’d have focussed solely on the writing aspects, and either not done the presenting end of the process, or spun it into a second day. But I think it went OK.

There were some lovely ‘penny dropping’ moments, principally around the notion that, in some circumstances, four seconds of dialogue one way or another can make a significant difference. Also about how easy can be to take something that runs twenty-five seconds, and make it run for twelve. But the impression I came away with was of a bunch of students who really know what they’re doing with props. I’ve seen three-year veterans of make&do shows lay out the stages of a make less proficiently. Very, very impressive. I only wish I had work for a bunch of them.

Some of them were at least competent presenters too, but I was most impressed with the prop-wrangling. It’s hard to teach mechanical sympathy, principally because it’s rather hard to describe it. But this lot were already excellent at it. Bravo!

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