A Surprise

What is the name of the person who called the session? Tassos Stevens

Who attended? I didn't take names, but here are some photos of us during Parts 2 and 3.


What happened?

I called the session A Surprise and then deliberately placed it as late as possible in the weekend. I wanted to make an event of it and to talk about anticipation and expectations that we all have around events, especially if they are billed as A Surprise.

I took notes of what people said to me in between times to see what was going on in the collective brain of the room as to what the session might be: many people wondered if I would be surprised as well by what happened, and said it wouldn't be a surprise if I knew; someone wondered if I'd be hiding in a cake to leap out; someone wanted me to do a dance; many people just said 'exciting, don't tell me anything'.

I then managed to get surprised rather spectacularly. The session was due to start at 3pm but I managed (in the heat of a lemon joust) to lose all track of time and only noticed at 3.08pm. I saw there were various groups gathered already and was kicking myself that everyone had probably turned up excited and then left. It was only when I saw Trumpton inside the very large circle of people that I realised they were waiting for me. I was surprised, and sheepish, but maybe this was the only way it could have started.

I announced to the group that I had three parts in mind, but was open to how the group went so that I could stay surprised myself. Actually, I only had half an idea for parts 2 and 3 but was fairly confident that the right ideas would turn up in time.

In part 1, we talked about surprises in theatre, what works, what doesn't, what might be at play. I took big headline notes and took pictures of them following. In some ways though, the thing I am left with now is the insight that a surprise is a good surprise if it leaves everyone involved (especially the audience) happy to tell a good story about it. It's about a surprise present rather than a shock, where we are all invested in a delightful outcome.


About 40 minutes in, I sensed that we might start flagging so I offered part 2 or to continue with part 1. Everyone wanted part 2. So I asked everyone if they liked to follow me out of York Hall. This was the only part I'd planned. I was surprised by how our departure itself became an event to everyone else in the room, and some people got up and joined the train.


I stopped outside the Hall to remind people that we might go some way and so it would be more difficult to use their two feet to go to another group if they got bored. I meant to stop at least one more time to give the same reminder but forgot. We walked left down Old Ford Road and turned towards The Approach. As we turned the corner, a man was quite brazenly pissing against a lamppost. A little further down, a cat posed on a purple wheelie-bin. I think it would have been popular if we'd gone to the pub but I had Victoria Park in mind, until a friend wished we weren't going to the park. A church hall suddenly presented itself at that moment so we walked into the yard and stopped.



Here was Part 3. We talked about what we wanted to do now to make it A Surprise, and what we'd tell people when we returned. We agreed to tell as much of the truth as possible and to let people imagine what else we might have done, rather than trying to manipulate too much. It was a very lovely discussion.


We did do something else too, but we agreed that we wouldn't tell you that.


On the way back, I was at the back of the line. When I saw the middle of our group pass a phone box - which I'd recce'd on the hoof to get the number and noting that the glass was broken so you could hear it ring - then I made it ring. It was answered in a flash.


This was a delightful session, and my sincere thanks to everyone who took part.