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Day 3 at Newbury

 

We started the day playing with ideas of Ferguson’s Gang, who they were and what parallels we could find in ourselves and in modern housing campaigns. 

Subversive, playfulness, artists, radical and eccentric found collective identity and they feel a very fitting inspiration for this piece.

We looked at rituals the gang carried out at Stonehenge and created out own ‘Skiptual’ around a pile of resting metal on an industrial estate. We sang a drone, danced a Morris hop, worshipped then finally sacrificed property ‘particulars’ before ‘heading down the pub’. 

We welcomed Liz Beth of LB Planning into the gang after lunch. Liz brought me into work with her on the Hengrove and Whitchurch Park Neighbourhood Plan, where we built the Engagement Plane. Liz has worked in town planning and local government for most of her life and is now a freelance consultant working in neighbourhood planning. It was hugely exciting to bring in an expert. We’ve been playing with the gamification of complex legislation and so far had to be quite vague. With Liz’s input we were able to quickly make solid, playable experiences that engaged you in a process and (although very frustrating) were hugely fun to play. 

We played with ideas of nest eggs, using durational live art and real money; a city wide gameshow looking at the history of property value growth; set up a stall asking for consultation on unsuitable developments (with a hint of Monty Python); created a NEW Bury in a place-making meets Art Attack; played Sardines; made a ‘lego legislation challenge’ (the best game yet -thanks Liz!) and the ‘precarious and proud awards ceremony’. 

 

Few, another two days to go- now to refine, condense and sharpen the games, then take them out on to test on the High St! 

Stay tuned.

‘The Mouse’

Day 2 at 101

Once again the sun was shining, hight temperatures with a  holiday-ish feel, all be in strange surroundings – we are staying at 101 Outdoor Creation Space which is at the former military base by Greenham Common. Our accommodation takes the form of box-park style cabins adjoining the warehouse. inside are a mix or spaces for fabricating, rehearsing, meeting and eating. We’re in the dance studio and next to us are Theatre Temoin, another Without Walls Blueprint R&D company who are redeveloping a show for the outdoor arts. Sharing the space with another group of artists allows opportunities to reflect on the making with others as it happens, and good gameplay at the end of the day- last night in the form of Labyrinth , a board game about opening and closing pathways. 

We started the day welcoming two new members of the gang, Rowan James and Katie Storer. Katie has worked with Mufti games many times and is a game inventing guru, while Rowan has come in as ‘access provocateur.’ While working on MASSIVE BATTLESHIPS in 2015, we wanted to effectively open it out to Deaf audiences. Our version of the Naval guessing game uses visual signals to send co-ordinates over long distance, so it made sense to ensure the whole experience was accessible to Deaf audiences. I phoned Shape Arts at the time and had a conversation with Nick who said-  (I‘m paraphrasing) ‘yes, fine- but what about wheelchair access, how about sight? Whats your experience then?’ His style was very direct and his comments stuck, so when I was putting together this team, creating a show that would be in public space about a universal right and need- housing, it felt right to advertise for a provocateur to shake up our concepts of accessibility and force us to think about how we deliver this work in an inclusive way.

Rowan gave a short talk to kick things off then spent the day working with us as a devisor, but asking us to think about things in a different way. “I don’t identify as disabled as something that is wrong with me, i use it politically, as a mode of power.” He was interested in this project because there is a clear link between disability and poverty within the housing crisis. He asked us to think about  when we have been uncertain, in housing and to think about what we can’t do- how we are disabled. He talked about arranging spaces to be wheelchair accessible and generally to be friendly, including and just think about other peoples needs. If our work contains instructions, then to pitch them in a range of ways that don’t target anyone. A headphone experience for instance in is quite common now, and allows opportunity to create audio description. Written instructions can use a range of language, and pictures to get across an idea. 

Next, we headed off into Newbury on reconnaissance, looking at where our games might sit in the public realm. 

I introduced the group to #oneplaything, an exercise we started playing with at Counterplay Leeds. It’s a simple provocation- using chalk, you write invitations or playful instructions in public spaces in order to allow the reader to consider the space in  playful way, or have a different perspective on the space. It might be as bold as JUMP! or it might be a snakes and ladders board. We evolved into provoking thought about housing, a drain with a chalk sign ‘£495 PCM, own swimming pool’ and a property ladder hopscotch. We also lay seeds: “what used to be here?” “what could be next?” outside an  empty shop. #oneplaything is a great, simple provocation to play the city. We’ve been encouraging people to take part and some, like Lynn Parker have been really dedicated. Put #oneplaything into Twitter and start your own #oneplaything games where you live. 

We also visited a church yard and felt how different the space was from the surrounding high streets. An immediate oasis as you walked through the archway- suddenly you could hear birdsong, smell flowers and felt peace. 

Post lunch we started putting the work into action. We played with 6 ideas: 

  • A landlord and tenant version of the boat riddle.
  • Audio installation tours of skips, back alleys and corners, ala ‘Location, Location, Location’
  • Nursery rhymes as housing games- Goldilocks letting out the 3 bears house, 3 Little Pigs ( no explanation needed!), Billy Goats Gruff and the troll.
  • An auctioning game, playing with the difficulty of generation rent becoming generation own
  • we played with contact mics, building blocks and conducive tape and experimenting with ideas around group building tasks on the street
  • a snakes and ladders game that looks at lobbying and policy making

We ended the day on a really high having played with so many ideas and seeing how they might play out in a city. 

Now, back into the Labyrinth of theatre making. Today, we find our Ferguson’s Gang. I’ll be back with more later, so long as I pass the initiation!!!

Written by ‘The Mouse’

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’