The Power of the Plural

  • 30th August 2020
  • |
  • Lucy Bell

Anyone who’s dreamt big will know the uneasy feeling of referring to yourself as “we”. “We plan to do this…” “Our team will deliver this…” etc.

All the while, you know that “we” is just “you”, typing through the night in porridge-stained pyjamas.

Technically, the only person who’s allowed to use the first person plural is the Queen, not that this stopped Margaret Thatcher. “We are leaving Downing Street for the last time,” she wept, making free with the Royal We, exposing even her fans to her fatal disconnect with reality.

But notwithstanding the similarities in our ginger bouffont hairdos, I no longer need to feel like Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher. “I” has become “we” in a genuine sense, as I’ll explain…

Cally Hayes and I founded Documental Theatre (DT) in 2014. Being a nurse and a teacher, we had a shared love of plays inspired by lived experience, stories about society which neither despaired nor sentimentalized, but occupied the complex reality in between. Both working mums, we combined forces to back each other up. But, because of those jobs and families, we only had capacity to work on our own individual projects, on somewhat parallel tracks. When Cally generously passed the company to me, it was a scary moment.

Enter Exeter Northcott and Talent Producer Helen Bovey, who introduced me to a far-sighted approach. She helped plan a new governance model for DT. The first board member was wise head and total stalwart Naomi Turner, who has been a tireless enabler of hundreds of SW theatre careers through her live performance programme at Exeter Pheonix. She was followed by Fin Irwin of intoBodmin, who led on our strategy document. He hooked DT up with Plymouth University to get two salaried interns. Plymouth graduates Emma Stolliday (web designer) and Julia Antram (assistant producer) have been powerhouses of productivity.

Next up I asked Ngozi (Goz) Ugochukwu to join us. Goz was a friend from my previous life in documentary television, a documentary photographer, polymath and kindred spirit in her unfailing impulse to “creatively self-harm” (take on projects at the expense of sleep). Fin introduced meto Old Vic 12 alumni playwright and screenwriter Rebecca Crookshank. She grew up in Kingsbridge and led a collective theatre education movement in rural Devon which reached over 500 young people per week for over 7 years. Working with young people and in the regions is core to her vision. Rebecca pulled in director Sarah Meadows, with her vast experience in drama education, theatres and New Writing. Rebecca and Sarah have turned a laser-like eye on DT activity, helping ensure we maximize creativity and achieve our aims of disrupting reductive narratives and amplifying less-heard voices.

Lastly, perpetually-proactive Plymouth theatremaker Ryan Wilce joined us as an associate producer. Business woman Carla Thomas has committed to be an outside eye on the technical management of our projects, and keep us in touch with the “real world”, particularly at this time when the theatre industry cannot solely rely on the theatre industry.

At DT, we use a really forensic research process to explore a recurrent theme:

Who cares for the more vulnerable in society, and how do those decisions play out?

It’s great to draw on so much knowledge, and be able to say “we” in a genuine sense, but it’s especially exciting that each team member has a unique perspective on the question above. Everyone has a different lived experience of the impact of policy on the domestic sphere.

We have someone who boarded in a special school, and someone who has taught their non-verbal child at home. We have someone who will be an adopter and someone who was adopted. We have someone who was raised rurally, and someone who is raising their kids on the land. Many of us have mobilized against the postcode lottery for better services where they come from. We have more than a few people who believe in the power and responsibility of community to protect the individual. As Rebecca would say, total SQUAD.

Documental Theatre has two big projects coming up about the power of the plural to counter isolation.

One project is a pilot to harness this moment of goodwill across the theatre industry, and amplify South West voices (more to follow on that soon).

The other project involves creating an archive of domestic ephemera from contributors who feel their families live perpetually outside “mainstream” experience, whatever that is. The archive will be the inspiration for a series of compelling new dramas.

So long live porridgey pyjamas (especially if they pass as a shirt in Zoom calls). I keep thinking about stormy seas, and how the grit on the seabed gets swooshed to the top. You’d think a smallish company in the far South West would be the first to sink in C19, but you’d be wrong. This bottom feeder is on its way up. Bubble. Bubble. Bubble.

Lucy

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