Let Me Look At you Edinburgh [preview]

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I’ve been working with a good friend and amazing performer Mark Pinkosh, it’s been interesting partly because he lives in Los Angeles for most of the year. So far we have had three weeks face to face split up over 2017 and months of distance dramaturgy in-between without seeing one another. This, in hindsight, has been a rather good way of working because coming back to the text with space in between makes you see it with fresh eyes, and work that’s created in the heat of the moment can sometimes look somewhat cooler after the initial creative splurge. It’s made the job of dramaturgy much easier and everyone has had a hand in the development. We started by sitting down and recording anecdotes of Mark and his husband Godfrey’s years of the ‘gay movement’ which celebrates this year with the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act. Then we sifted through them alongside historical factoids and Godfrey would write them up in his cabin in LA and in his own inimitable way. Mark would then travel back over to Plymouth and we would look at what we had and play with the text adding and cutting when needed. We noted though that in the current climate, on both sides of the pond, things haven’t changed that much and in some places like the middle east, it has taken a backwards step and therefore it feels very relevant. The show called Let Me Look At You opens at the Edinburgh Festival at the Pleasance, Bunker 2 at 11.15 am August 2nd – 28th but we are previewing one show only at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol on Wednesday 26th July at 5pm. Please come along and give us some feedback either to the Wardrobe or at the Pleasance, you won’t be disappointed. Mark and Godfrey work on stage as Starving Artists and are double Fringe First winners. When they started taking their work to Edinburgh over twenty years ago Mark was the first recipient of The Stage’s Award for Acting Excellence and in those days it was just the one award. So its going to be a bit of a homecoming but I am very excited about being part of this show and am looking forward to seeing it on its feet in Bristol on the 26th.

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Starting to find our Hidden stories:Hidden places

Last year, with my colleague Derek Frood, we made an audio trail within a hidden Jewish cemetery in Plymouth but what we thought would be a quiet weekend, with a handful of curious people, turned into a kind of marathon. Around 120 people turned up each day and those who didn’t have smart phones or headphones waited patiently for one of the 15 MP3s to become available.

Knowing there was the potential for further trails and realising now there was a thirst for hidden stories in hidden places we put a bid into the Arts Council to research and develop more stories across the south west. This will include working with the Exeter synagogue and their family history group for their cemetery  off Magadalen Road and Kehillat Kernow, (the Jewish Council of Cornwall) with the Friends of Ponsharden Cemetery, to research the Jewish & Dissenters cemetery in Falmouth (see above, images taken by Derek Frood on our site visit there last week).

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Once we have collected our stories we will go into a studio with sound technicians, the wonderful people at Stage Technical Services in Exeter and investigate different ways of recording them to make our finished trails.

Currently the Plymouth audio trail is uploaded onto an MP3 and each story is a different track meaning  you can be in charge of your own wanderings and move to whatever part of the graveyard you want to go to. Alternatively you can listen on a smartphone via Soundcloud; operating the trail on your own phone makes it easier to navigate for a lot of people.

The idea that people could wander around listening to a soundtrack meant that the peace and stillness of the site remained which is something we felt was important. As people waited they could take in the site, see people making the tour but at the same time remain oblivious to the audio they were watching them listen to. This had a particular powerful affect on one audience member in Plymouth last year…

“The music and voices really made the people ‘come alive’ the particular reference about the physicality of the Stonehouse police suddenly jolted me into the realisation that I was standing on the remains of that particular body and I found that a very powerful moment. The other thing that impacted on me was noticing the other listeners. They were randomly dotted around the cemetery, solemn statues, heads bent down like they were watching over the dead; every so often they would slowly move to a new grave and take up their positions again. It’s difficult to put into words, but it felt like a strange transposition, the dead being brought to life by the stories while the living had become immobile listening to them”.

“… difficult to put into words”, they managed to do so very eloquently.

Over the next few months we will be collecting our stories and will update our findings on our website here.

With thanks to Arts Council South West, Exeter City Council and Feast Cornwall for funding to develop Hidden Stories: Hidden Places.

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The old Jewish cemetery in Plymouth will be open for audio trails during the Plymouth History Festival, every Sunday between 11-3pm and booking is essential, so we can keep those waiting times down.  All details are here and below.

OLD JEWISH CEMETERY AUDIO TRAIL
The Old Jewish Cemetery, Lambhay Hill, Plymouth PL1 2NP
Sunday 7, 14, 21 and 28 May and 4 June, 11am-4pm (last entry at 3pm)
Tours take place at quarter past, half past, quarter to and on the hour
Located on Plymouth’s historic Hoe, in the shadow of The Citadel, lies a hidden secret: The Old Jewish Cemetery. Contained within high stone walls it has always remained hidden from public view. The only clue to its existence is an insignificant door. With the aid of funding from Vital Sparks and Drakes Foundation, recorded with Stage Technical Services and hosted by the Plymouth Hebrew Congregation, an audio trail has been created in the garden cemetery by Ruth Mitchell and Derek Frood, aka Ripple. It brings to life the lives of those buried within this hidden gem. In 1740 this plot was a family garden; today it is a calm oasis that hides a wealth of history and culture.

If you are coming please bring your smart phone and headphones (its by far the best way to hear them downloadable at https://soundcloud.com/ripple-theatre) or use the MP3 players that will be available on the day. Please note: The Cemetery includes entry and exit steps with uneven terrain throughout and therefore is not suitable for those with limited mobility. For those unable to attend the Cemetery, an opportunity to hear the audio trail at the Synagogue Vestry is available on Tuesday 23 May.
Free / Donations very welcome / Booking essential due to limited spaces via 07753 267616 or phccaretaker@yahoo.co.uk

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Save the Date

I am currently working as dramaturg for Starving Artists on their new show Let Me Look At You. This will be heading to the Edinburgh Festival in August but we will be presenting a preview performance at the Wardrobe Theatre on July 26th @ 5pm. If you are in Bristol we would love to see you there and get your feedback. Save the date.

http://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/let-me-look-at-you/

The Hidden Histories Seminar at Plymouth University 29-30 November

 

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I will be giving a presentation on Wednesday 30th November for a Hidden Histories Seminar organised by the Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, (a Major Partner Museum in partnership with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter) hosted in conjunction with Plymouth University and funded by Arts Council England. I will be talking about creating an audio trail for a Hidden Jewish Cemetery, how one starts to make a performance for a graveyard and the stories we eventually found. This is a project that I worked on with Derek Frood, together we are a.k.a ripple and you can find out more here or come along to the seminar, find out about our project and hear about the other diverse histories for Plymouth.

https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/whats-on/hidden-histories-2016

 

The Orchard – opening the Calm Down Dear Festival at the Bike Shed Theatre 4.10.16

Dreadnought South West
The Orchard
Tuesday 4th Oct 2016 at 19:00, Bike Shed Theatre

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This is a performed reading of a script in development, with live music and song, and will be followed by an invitation to debate the work in conversation with the cast & team.

The Orchard is an imagined meeting between two extraordinary political leaders and thinkers:  Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst.  Radical women who definitely wanted to smash the patriarchal values preventing them being seen as citizens with a right to vote.  Their methods divided them and so the play considers what that means in terms of sacrifice and solidarity.

Exeter-based Dreadnought South West is developing its latest show, The Orchard, prior to a SW tour and as part of the Rebellious Sounds project. If you missed their first show, Oxygen (‘beautiful & uplifting’ THE STAGE) then make sure you book your seat for this one-night-only sharing.
http://www.dreadnoughtsouthwest.org.uk
Our aim is to produce high-quality feminist theatre, arts and heritage work that inspires, educates and raises awareness of often unheard and unseen courage. We also want to engage audiences in a dialogue about the way we work and about the work itself. If you’re interested in how theatre is being made, interested in the content or in stories of activism, then we would love to meet with you after the reading for a conversation.

Dreadnought SW is supported by Arts Council England, Exeter City Council, Fawcett Devon and the Elmgrant Trust.
This event is part of the Calm Down, Dear Festival in collaboration with Camden People’s Theatre.
Writer: Natalie McGrath
Director/Dramaturg: Josie Sutcliffe
Composer: Claire Ingleheart/ Musician: Sarah Moody
Actors: Ruth Mitchell, Saskia Portway & Michelle Ridings
Producer: Charlie Parker

thoughts on making an audio performance for a hidden walled cemetery

 

 

In 2013 I made a performance for the Plymouth Synagogue, which is the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in continuous use in the English speaking world. I spoke to the ladies of the very small, congregation and used those interviews, verbatim, to create my text. The performance has been performed inside the synagogue every year since and has helped to raise awareness, not just about the hidden history of the site but of the culture and people that have gone unnoticed by many who live here.
When the synagogue custodian came to me to ask if I would do a performance within the cemetery they were opening for the Plymouth History Festival in May 2016, I jumped at the chance. This cemetery is even older than the synagogue and in 1740 it was the garden of a Mrs Sherrenbeck, who gave it to the community for burial purposes. In those days the bodies of Jews who had passed over had to be shipped to London for burial but if a Jewish cemetery was geographically too far away it was acceptable to bury someone in the garden of a fellow Jew. Mrs Sherrenbeck allowed such a burial to take place and eventually gave over the land to the Hebrew congregation. When the plot became too small, adjoining land was leased and as the community grew from strength to strength so too did the burials. After several plots had been used twice, by lawfully interring new bodies on top of older ones, it was decided that this cemetery was full; the last body being laid to rest in around 1867.
So how does one go about making a performance for a cemetery? I have worked with site for ten years and I’ve learnt that you don’t go in, all guns blazing with an idea, instead you allow the site to speak. Mytheogeographer Dr Phil Smith says, ‘fingertip search your site like its a crime scene’ (Aspinwall, Mitchell & Smith, 2010:66),  we needed to go into the cemetery and listen to it, observe, and allow it to communicate with us as if it were our collaborator. With actor Derek Frood  (having worked together in theatre and audio performance) we visited the site; it was so calm and peaceful, and beautiful that it seemed to create its own performance and the stones, some broken some leaning precariously, were creating pathways throughout: the site was becoming its own theatre. Some gravestones are illegible being worn away, some illegible (to us) because they are in Hebrew but in the middle of the last century Dr Cecil Roth had the bright idea of translating all the remaining stones that could be read to keep for posterity and so began a labour of love by Rabbi Bernard Susser who created an archive of the graves.
And that is where the research started, the Rev Susser had not only left this invaluable publication of the gravestones but had written a book, The Jews of South West England: the rise and decline of their medieval and modern communities which was published by Exeter University Press in 1993. This was the starting point, but as we searched other avenues we kept returning to Susser, we found that the routes we were using, Susser had travelled before us. If we couldn’t find that extra family member then we realised we wouldn’t because Susser would’ve found them 50 years earlier, his research was that extensive. But unlike 50 years ago we had the advantage of the internet and the genealogy sites that proved invaluable for the family lines.
For the History Festival we decided to trial something and gather feedback from the participants. We decided to create small biographies for a handful of people buried in the cemetery and we would record those biographies onto MP3 players which the curious could listen to as they ambled around the gravestones. It was really successful and people said they were hungry for more so we knew we had to go away and think this through. We applied for funding from Vital Sparks within Plymouth City Council and from the Drake Foundation, both of whom fund community projects, then we could pay a sound designer and a gardener and also buy equipment that the synagogue could keep and re-use when they open the cemetery in future.

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The research was the most fascinating and the most frustrating part of the dramaturgy, some people were pre census, some had changed their names, some had arrived from parts of Europe that no longer exist and some were, for all manor of reasons, not on any records. Two ancestors came forward who had relatives in the cemetery and they shared their family trees, so we thought it would be a nice touch if they wrote their own ancestors’ biography. The rest was down to us. Yet what reads well on the page doesn’t always translate to recordings and once on our feet speaking the words we found we had to re-write and tweek lines to make the text sound like we were sharing stories out loud for the first time, to draw the listener in with our voices and keep them with us. Sometimes we needed the text broken up with another voice, sometimes that was just a throw away line, other times a different voice to take over the telling. We realised we would need a variety of voices to fill these stories that we unearthed; two murders, tales of bravery and heroism, of plague and famine plus connections with royalty, six generations of one family with royal ties that became untangled – thank goodness for those genealogy websites. We also noted that many were just ordinary lives, but are as important because, this cemetery shows life in all its guises but mostly in the ordinariness of it. People just getting on with their lives and assimilating themselves whilst at the same time being true to their faith and culture without flaunting it. It is this aspect that we felt had a relevance today, the people buried here came to England for a better life, fleeing persecution, some were the children of immigrants and in the eighteenth century Jewish immigrants stayed in Plymouth and the south west because of religious tolerance.  Susser says [The book] ‘describes in detail the integration of a foreign ethic minority  into the mainstream of English life, without entirely losing its distinctive characteristics’ (Susser, 1993:sleeve note). We can see today, from these hidden buried lives, how the stories from one small community can illustrate how much they gave back to their adopted home.

You can find more information on this and other audio performances here

 

The cemetery audio trail was researched and created by Ruth Mitchell and Derek Frood aka ripple  https://rippletheatreco.com

The audios were recorded and designed by Stage Technical Services, http://www.stagetechservices.co.uk

The cemetery will be open as part of the Plymouth Art Weekender on the 23/24/25 September, you can find us in Garrison Green, Lambhay Hill Plymouth PL1 2NP
Friday open 11-12noon :: Saturday open 2-3pm :: Sunday open 2-3pm

Aspinall, Rachel, Ruth Mitchell & Phil Smith (2010) The Hidden City Festival Handbook. Plymouth:University of Plymouth Press

Susser, Bernard (1993) The Jews of South West England: the rise and decline of their medieval and modern communities Exeter:Exeter University Press