Author Archives: Malcolm

Day one at Newbury 101 Creation Space.

Yesterday we started our week long residency at Newbury 101.

There was a great deal of shared excitement about the group that have been brought together. Creative technology, activism, architecture, history, sound design, immersive experiences, movement and dance, song, spirituality, game design, accessibility- all these different angles coming together to test ideas for the show felt like a great decision.

Jesse Jones is facilitating the week, he started us off asking us what our culture is,- and to talk about what ever that question means to us. Where we come from, how we see our selves and what our identity is, what we believe in and where that has come from. How our lives have shaped us. 

Belief became a strong word for the day. This project asks questions of the housing sector, a sector that makes some very rich and others homeless. Our housing system is rigged to create winners and losers and we are all tied up in the narrative, so asking what we believe in become a theme of the afternoon. We played a game taken from a Gob Squad show where we wrote statements we agree with and on reading them out, physically stood with or against the statement, this developed into ‘dancing for the statement’- ‘dancing for what you believe in’ and at points created a mass dance troop. Some statements were deep, and serious, others frivolous and fun. We all found ourselves dancing for ‘We own our own drills’ – 10 people all owning drills! It was a glorious moment. 

We talked about where we live, and where we have lived, our status, our fears and concerns. We threw down ideas about what excited us with the project and what scared us. Late into the afternoon we made lists of problems and causes, possible interventions or games and hopeful ‘take homes’ for the audience. Having been ‘in this’ for a year or so, reading, writing, meeting and experimenting, I have gathered a huge amount of research.  Today was the day to invite 9 other people into the process and hear what they had to say. I left feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, inspired and terrible excited about what this fantastic group of people might make together. Several times we said ‘yes, but do I have the right to….’ and actually, yes I think we do have the right, we have the right to publicly question what is wrong with the housing system and invite others to question it too. 

Asking for one word each at the end of the day we can ‘co-operate, belief, complexity and…. ‘F*CK’

Onto tomorrow……..

England and the Octopus

Ferguson’s Gang was galvanised into action by Clough Wiliams-Ellis’ book ‘England and The Octopus’. First published in 1928 it is an essay chastising the carving up of countryside through ribbon developments and a call to arms that helped pave the way for subsequent planning and conservation acts.

The language is wonderfully theatrical and dramatic:

“you may ravish and defile the most divine landscape in the world, and your children will rise up and call you progressive. You are a “lucky prospector” or a “successful real estate operator” or a “live wire” and what local newspapers call “a prominent and respected citizen”.

and the structure of the essays has theatrical qualities. Talking about good architecture, he asks questions of a building:

“are you practical…are you an efficient house, shop or school…Are you beautiful, or did you seem so to those who built you?…..Are you a good neighbour, Do you do-as-you-would-be-done-by?”

Most striking of all, is how relevant the text is today, and although he was writing about conservation, much of his questions and rants fit perfectly within the themes surrounding our current housing crisis. He champions the garden city and all it stands for. Talks highly of community owned developments and puts down dollar driven housebuilding that puts profit before people and environment.

Much of the text is dated and is fun to look back at how someone might be disgusted by ‘modern bungalows’ and houses that we would now see as beautiful and charming, but the call to arms, the trust of the book is so modern and relevant that it breeds excitement to me as a theatre-maker, but sadness at how little we have moved on.

National Trust Archives

 

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet with Darren Beatson, Senior Co-ordinator (Records and Archives) at the National Trust.

 

He gave me a huge amount of archive material related to Ferguson’s Gang, mainly photos of every page of ‘the boo’s’ – the gang’s notebooks- containing receipts for donations they gave to the National Trust, blow by blow breakdowns of gang rituals, reports of each stunt they undertook and press cuttings of the stunts, which give a brilliant selection of perspectives on each event.

We get a real insight into the playfulness of the gang. The code language used and the world they were playing in.

We’ll be using the boo’s as source material for making the show next week, but I thought I’d share a little here.

All images courtesy of National Trust. The originals are held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

 

More to come soon….

 

‘The Mouse’

Paper Aeroplanes, housing consultancy follow up

I wanted to add a follow up about the play consultation on housing in Hengrove Park. 

It was very evident in speaking to the children at Perry Court that the architecture of the urban  planning could have significant effects on their access to the playpark and their experience of accessing and using the park.  Currently they walk through a wide open space to access the park. They feel safe as they are in the open, able to be seen and able to see others. If the children are forced to access the playpark via an enclosed route- an alley or street for instance, because of encroaching housing, they immediately feel concerned for their safety. Older children can seem threatening for the younger ones and during conversations at the playpark we were told that the skate park and play park naturally segregate older from younger in  positive way- they each have their zones. When older ones use the playpark, younger ones can feel threatened, so encountering older children in, and on the way to the park can be a worry for younger children. Older children are not the only threat, it could be adults too, but the main thing is that encountering people in an enclosed space is a worry, while being in an open space is good. They feel safe, watched and free. It is evident that if access route was to be constricted, some young people would stop going to the playpark, at least would stop accessing it from Hengrove Park.”

We used paper aeroplanes to ‘send’ messages to the council. Children wrote on the planes and we flew them into the cockpit of the large, blackboard plane.

Messages were very varied, lots about wildlife and space to play. The one that really stuck out to me as sending a message though was:

““Dear whoever came up with this idea-  no offence but I’m not liking the big pile of houses because it’s just ruining the environment. Please take this.”

 

childrens throughs caught on paper aeroplanes

Ferguson’s Gang vs the Octopus research, episode 2

Focus East 15 Visit 7th April.

I went to visit Focus East 15 again a couple of weeks ago at their street stall on Stratford High Street and joined their monthly meeting at ‘Sylvia’s Corner- the groups headquarters, named after Sylvia Pankhurst.

Each time I visit I am stuck by how blatant the irony is in Stratford. As I walked to meet the group, who are campaigning for housing rights in a borough where 1 in 25 is homeless, I see adverts proclaiming “YOU CAN BUY YOUR FIRST HOME AT THE FIRST TIME BUYER HOME SHOW!!!”

Subtlety

I met more campaigners and friends of Focus, including local residents, former residents of Carpenters Estate and several artists and theatre makers. Many more ‘gang names’ were thought up and allocated.

The Terrible Turtles

These two hatted sleuths are the ‘Terrible Turtles’, who also happen to run the Museum of Homelessness. I also met artists from Blueprint, Lung and You Should See the Other Guy- theatre makers who are actively engaged in this campaign, making shows about Focus East 15 and the wider issues.  Follow links to see more about their work.

I’ve been keen that the show should raise the profile of campaign groups and the wider stories, but that we should also directly work with groups alongside the shows, particularly if this was to tour. I’d been thinking about workshops in playful protest, creativity in campaigning, but I’ve realised that workshops, and a wider online presence also need to be vehicles for skill sharing and a way to link groups. They might also direct attendees towards legal or other support and networks.

The meeting drew links between the many, many groups in London and further afield united in the fight for housing rights. Time and time again the same story is being told, of council housing being sold off and residents being decanted and displaced. “The London clearances” was brought up as a term, linking the plight to that of the Highland clearances. Scottish people cleared for sheep, Londoners cleared for luxury flats. Both stories putting profit before people.

“‘We need more housing” is what they say, but the new housing is not for working class people and (the demolition and wholesale evictions) are destroying communities.” – Jasmine

A resident who had lived on Carpenters Estate for 30 years talked of her sadness any having to leave. ‘I was decanted’ ‘Every time I pass (Carpenters) I check to see if (my old home) is still empty.’ She has lost her community. ‘It was a good estate’. She would open her door to neighbours and friends. Now she feels isolated and alone.

I gave a short presentation about Ferguson’s gang vs the Octopus and was interested in what perceived impact this, and other arts projects about and supporting such issues could have on the campaigns. I wanted to know how Fergusons Gang could be useful. The main reason clearly linked to play. The story of Ferguson’s Gang fills people with delight. It’s inspiring and exciting. What they did, and how they did it is fun, and it makes people smile.

“Activism is serious but it needs to be fun too”

“It’s inspiring because these strong women were bold in their campaigning and did this, with playfulness all those years ago”

“They made a difference, and people can see themselves in Fergusons Gang.” “

Its tells you that you’re not alone, you’re part of a story.”

“It gives solidarity through time. It’s good to know about our history. See your part in this story. The same story of Suffragettes and Pankhurst. Fergusons are part of that story as is every campaign group today.”

As I was leaving Stratford, I saw the Terrible Turtles, in long coats and hats, weaving their way through dense crowds in a shopping centre. I had them in my sights, and went towards them, but immediately, they had gone. Lots them in a  shop full of mirrors. I wondered if I’d imagined them. Or perhaps they had sneaked off through a hidden door……

Back soon for another instalment…..

a 21st Century Ferguson’s Gang

Mouse

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