I graduated into the big wide world, which was temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
So, I packed my bags and moved back in with my parents to a house in a small ageing community by the coast. Just west of the Solent, lies our shingled beach and rugged cliffs, not too different from my University town of Plymouth. After a month of searching for a job in a world of theatre closures, Plymouth University announced a brand-new virtual internship program. I applied to Documental Theatre and in September I joined as an assistant producer intern, albeit from my bedroom. The plus side: unlimited tea breaks.
I was plunged straight into producer life with the #WhereTo project, liaising with theatre companies, organisations and artists from across the South West. The aim of #WhereTo was to switch up the usual way people curate who they offer opportunities to. So often venues and AD’s know very little about the talent outside their immediate postcode. We hoped to build a sense of a South West theatre artist community and celebrate the diversity of work being made.
After placing the call out, we received everything from poetry to animation in low-fi three minute films. I was even inspired to create my own short film about my hometown by painting postcards of the area. Watching the wonderfully eclectic submissions, many of which were filmed by the seaside or rural villages, fuelled that sense of community. It really felt as though we were all connected, experiencing similar artistic obstacles and navigating a year without live theatre, side by side.
After numerous rounds of difficult decisions, the seven submissions for individual sharing were chosen, compilations made and a database of all the work uploaded. The theatre orgs started posting the work and suddenly Theatre Twitter was abuzz with talent from the South West. This was something really special, and I can promise you that we worked incredibly hard to make it all happen. The response was brilliant, artists sharing work by other artists, the dynamic of competition set aside. It felt like a little ray of sunshine in an otherwise quite gloomy world.
I thought I’d already learnt so much, then Lucy asked me to stay on after my internship and my original 8 weeks turned into 5 fantastic months, cranking my producer skills up a gear! Like the coming and going of the tide, one project gently petered out blending seamlessly into another and PROPS came into the foreground. This project would take the form of a radio series inspired by isolated communities all across the UK. PROPS intended to shed some much-needed light on some often-hidden perspectives. It would be inspired by real stories told by individuals experiencing isolation long before the pandemic.
I hunted for articles, support websites, and interviews which covered perspectives from Carers, Military Spouses, Families of people in custody, loved ones supporting those awaiting an immigration decision, Foster Carers, Foreign Domestic Workers, Remote Islanders, Families confronting addiction, Offshore Rig Families, submariners, and Residential Workers… there was a lot to consider.
People living in these circumstances tend to observe the world from outside of “mainstream” life and can often feel excluded by society, disconnected. It started to dawn on me just how much of an issue this is. The mantra “isolate to protect those you love” started to take on new meaning.
Yes, we have all been missing out on things we need for nearly a year, but I thought more deeply about how there are many people living in the same town as us who have had to deal with something similar for years if not decades, going unnoticed by most.
The team’s next step was the search for participants. This took us to many places across the UK (virtually of course). Every participant we welcomed to the project had a story to tell and agreed that their experience would be shared with people outside of their everyday circles. They were asked to respond to a series of prompts while considering their own personal circumstances, such as ‘name 3 pieces of music which mean something to you’ or ‘describe 3 objects on your shelf’. The prompts were wonderfully simple, yet the creative responses provided revealed so much. Photos of these objects created an archive, which in turn became a tangible point of reference for the writers creating six radio plays.
Before working for DT, I hadn’t really thought about archiving as a creative process within theatre but it seems quite obvious now. Social history plays such an important role within biographical or socially relevant theatre. You have to drill down to those minutiae to understand the perspective that person has on the world: the devil’s in the detail.
During my tenure at Documental Theatre, my understanding of storytelling has grown broader and broader every month. All of a sudden, I felt part producer, part researcher, and a very tiny part social historian which was pretty cool.
Once the archive was bursting with information, the six writers started interviewing. We had found 16 participants with a variety of lifestyles, and we listened to each incredibly unique story and set of opinions. Taking inspiration from these interviews, our 6 writers began planning their 15 min radio plays, which I personally can’t wait to listen to. Some will be comedies, some dramas, others fantastical tales, but ultimately each play will provide a small nod of acknowledgement to someone listening, that they’re not alone.
The series has already generated a lot of interest from charities, radio stations and even MPs who have expressed their admiration for the project. It should be standard practice that everyone can access and experience entertainment which relates to their lived experience in some way. I felt that PROPS was another step towards truly inclusive culture.
So, thanks Lucy, and thanks DT for taking me on this eye-opening adventure. It has been everything a graduate could ask for and more… definitely more.