We always try to make sure that we have a lot of projects bubbling away. We know that some of these may not come off, or may happen in a very different form to how we are currently thinking. Sometimes an idea can take years to come to fruition and at other times it just seems to happen in a flash. Some of the projects below are still very much in prototype form and we are looking for partners to help us develop them. And some are very close to moving into production.
We are currently working with the National Theatre to develop a project that examines the stories of the Conscientious Objectors who were ‘billeted’ in these two Lincolnshire villages to learn and study agriculture as an alternative pacifist occupation to serving in the war in the 1940s. The members of this community, from many different social backgrounds and from across the country, arrived in an isolated rural area to undergo training in farming management, and were expected to work on the land. And meanwhile, only a mile or so away at Wickenby Airfield, RAF planes set off nightly on their raids across Europe as part of Bomber Command.
This pacifist community found its own way to cope and flourish under these conditions and many still live in the area; with the Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby being a direct descendant of the cultural activities that were developed by the group in the nineteen forties.
This project has been in development since 2013 when we first met members of the Broadbent Theatre to discuss ideas for a community theatre project based on this story. Although we carried out some initial research, and spoke to a number of those connected to the community, we were unable to get the project off of the ground. Luckily in March 2015 Legsby resident and writer Ian Sharp, who we had met during our initial discussions, contacted us to see if we would be interested in working with him to develop a script.
Since then Ian has been out and about interviewing many people whilst we’ve been in conversation with the Arts Council and a number of regionally based theatres and theatre companies to find the best way to bring this story to the stage. And after meeting up with Damon Albarn, whose grandfather was a member of this community, we’ve been asked to develop this project with the National Theatre. We’re only at the beginning of that process, and we’re still unsure exactly what kind of show will come out of this relationship, but we are all agreed that the Broadbent Theatre, and the local community, will play an important part in the process (helped by Jim Broadbent, whose father the Broadbent Theatre was named after).
We are – as you’d imagine – rather excited about all of this.
On May 29th 1967 The Summer of Love was launched with a rock festival that featured Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. But this festival didn’t take place in San Francisco, and it didn’t take place in a field. It was in Spalding, in the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall. And it had everything – non stop dancing from 4pm to midnight, a licensed bar, ultra violet soft lights and hot dogs. Barbeque 67, as it was known, was the most iconic musical event that ever happened in the area; as well as one of the greatest musical gatherings this country has ever seen.
But how on earth did such a thing happen? And what exactly did happen? Who came? Where did they stay? Why was the pass out system such a shambles? And what was the impact of thousands and thousands of hippies and freaks gathering to launch the year of peace, love and freedom, on this unsuspecting town?
We have been awarded funding from the HLF to gather the memories and stories of those who were there, and to share these at a series of performance events over June and July, fifty years on from this seismic cultural event when the main venue of the tulip industry became home to a different type of Flower Power; one with hipster flares, aeroplane collars, and the psychedelic onslaught of some of rock music’s greatest icons.
We are soon to start work on a project with the very specific geographical boundary of a crescent – Minver Crescent in Aspley. The work will start later this year and we’re just at the planning stage so can’t say too much at this point; but its part of a larger project that is engaging with the north of the city of Nottingham.
We’re hoping to create a range of performance interactions and provocations to find ways to encourage people on the Crescent to use a local community building and to develop a greater dialogue amongst those who live on this big circular street.
We’re very much looking forward to coming back to an area of the city where we’ve made some of what we think of as our most interesting and challenging work (which was in Bilborough, next door to Aspley). You can see a film about that project here.
What were you doing at 5am yesterday? The day before? The week before? Chances are not much. Chances are that just are there are many places that you have heard about but have never been to, that that there are also hours that are rarely visited. Like 5am.
What does happen at 5am? In the town or city where you live?
If someone gave you a ticket for a theatre show that began at 5am would you stay up for it or would you set your alarm? And if you had to travel into the heart of where you live at that hour what would you expect to find?
The 5am Theatre Show is a ludicrous and yet brilliant idea. It’s a play about what happens in this strange hour that so few people ever visit. It’s a play that is different every time that it is performed. It’s a play that brings people out into the places where they live and allows them to see it in a new light. It’s a play about the routines and rituals that happen at this unexplored hour and a play about what happens in the gap between sleeping and waking.
We have had a lot of interest in this idea, in both the U.K and in the Netherlands. It’s the kind of show that will attract interest if programmed as part of a Festival; and it’s a show that will continue to grow and develop. We hope to be able to create something that has a fluid cast and a set of rules, so that in the end it can be performed by anyone.
Right now we’re beginning to look for some assistance across the U.K as we begin to play with the idea. We’re looking for at least three organisations in all. This is how we think this initial stage of the project will play out:
Stage One – What do you do at 5am?
Over a two month period, using social media and other networks, Excavate will gather stories and thoughts connected to people’s experiences of 5am. As part of this they will run a series of 5am related activities in Nottingham which will be open to all and which they will film and document.
Stage Two – We even have a magician
Excavate will recruit a team of four performers – a writer/performer, a choreographer/performer, a musician/performer and a magician/performer. These will spend one week in Nottingham developing ideas on how to devise and structure a show and how to engage with the communities that they will go on to work with. The material from Stage One will feed into this.
Stage Three – Three cities, or three towns, or a mixture of the two
The 5am team will work in three different cities (towns) across the UK, in partnership with theatre and arts production companies. These companies will assist with hosting the team. The team will ideally be supplemented at each location by one other artist from that town or city, where possible using an artist connected to the theatre or arts production company that they are partnered with.
Before visiting the town or city a similar activity to that run in Stage One will have been undertaken by the partner organisation, although they also have the right to stage their own event that may be far more inventive than anything done so far.
During this week the company will collect stories from those who inhabit the city/town at 5am and use this material, along with the material from stage one and two, to create a performance which will be performed at 5am at the end of the week long residency.
This will be repeated in two more cities/towns.
Stage Four – So does it add up to a hill of beans?
All of those involved in the process will share their thoughts on how to make the project work, how to make it even better and how they would like to be a part of what will become a global phenomenon – the 5am Theatre Show.
Once this has been done – and we would like to begin work on this midway through 2015 and have completed this stage by the end of the year – we will look at gaining some funding to hone the show, produce some publicity and put it out there for the world to enjoy.
We are currently in negotiation with Nottingham City Homes and other sheltered housing schemes to develop a project that encourages those who are in their seventies and eighties, and who may not be as sociable as they wish, to engage in conversation with others both across the city and further afield (Rotterdam, Pristina) and to share their life stories using Skype.
Throughout our work we have encountered many people who feel isolated as they reach their later years, but who have many stories to tell and who come alive when they do so. We want to encourage them to use Skype to communicate with their contemporaries, their families and with strangers, and this project aims to give them the confidence to do so.
The Chairs is a community participation project that takes place in various locations simultaneously. It is a project that also operates through social media. It will one day become a film based installation project. It could quite possibly become one of the largest performance projects in the history of the world.
The Chairs is simple. It is about people – a lot of people – standing behind a chair, their chair, and telling the person who is sitting on this chair, a story.
The story they tell is about something that has happened to them whilst they have sat on this chair. Maybe they learnt something? Maybe they were given something? Maybe they sat down on it to deal with a moment when their life had changed? Maybe there is a meal that they remember whilst sitting on this chair; a meal with friends when a decision was made. Maybe their mother came to stay, their child had its first birthday, or they celebrated getting a new job. Maybe something truly terrible happened; maybe their heart was broken; maybe they suddenly realised that they had grown into the person they always wanted to become.
That’s it. Each story may be very short. They last as long as they last. But it is the fact that there are lots of chairs, lots of people, lots of stories, in one place that will give the piece its power. And the fact – and this is the key to the piece – that it is happening in (at least) two places at once; with the audience both hearing the story that is being told behind them and seeing a screen in which they can see people sat on rows of chairs and facing them, as the owners of those chairs stand behind them, also facing the screen, telling their story.
The Chairs takes place in a series of public spaces. It begins six months, one year, three years earlier. With arts organisations in a number of cities – at least ten, preferably fifty – promoting the project and encouraging participation. A Facebook page and a website will already be allowing people to upload images of themselves standing behind chairs, with the stories of these chairs underneath.
People will be encouraged, assisted, provoked to bring their chairs – which must be portable – into the space on a certain day. The chairs will be arranged in rows. There will need to be at least one hundred chairs in each location in ten rows of ten. The owners of the chairs will stand behind them, passively. The audience will be invited, silently, to sit on a chair where they will hear the story attached to it.
And this space will be filmed and will be relayed live to one or more or all of the other cities or towns that are taking part in the project. And at each of the spaces there will be a large screen that will show one or more or all of the other cities or towns that are taking part. So if we get ten cities with one hundred chairs in each it may be possible to see one thousand chairs with one thousand people from all over the world standing behind them (and possibly one thousand people sitting on them).
If you are sitting on a chair the screen will be in front of you. You will see people from other cities sitting on chairs and facing you; just as those who tell the stories about these chairs from other cities will be facing you. Only the person who is telling you their story as you sit on their chair, will not be visible at this moment.
Each individual story will also be filmed separately by the contributing arts organisations creating a body of stories from which to create further work in the future.
The Chairs will bring people onto the streets in countries across the world. The Chairs will give people the chance to sit and listen to the stories of strangers. The Chairs will tell hundreds of small stories of life, love, birth and death. The Chairs will look and sound incredible.