Category Archives: Hidden CIty

List of this weeks Hidden Stories:Hidden Places audio trails

I’ve been working with my ripple colleague Derek Frood to make audio trails for some Heritage open days, the national event is this coming weekend.

It is also the first week of the Jewish Heritage Days 2017 and here are three events where our cemetery audio trails can be heard.

Thursday 7 September Plymouth Cemetery Audio Trail.

2pm. Listen to the audios in the synagogue vestry and then take a walk up to the cemetery to see the graves. Free event but booking advised for numbers. Contact Jerry Sibley 07753 267616 or 01752 263162

Thursday 7th September Phonic FM Exeter

6-8pm. I will be appearing on Phonic FM’s first Culture Club.  Listen live on Phonic FM: 106.8FM in Exeter; phonic.fmworldwide. Listen again at www.mixcloud.com/phoniccr.

Sunday 9th September Exeter Audio Trail

Synagogue open 11-3 have a tour of the synagogue and listen to our audios with your refreshments. There will also be a film running to illustrate one of our stories.

Sunday 9th September Falmouth Presentation

12.30pm. Derek and I will be talking about how we unearthed stories from the Plymouth cemetery and how they turned into a project called Hidden Stories: Hidden Places. Places are free but we are asking people to sign up here http://thepoly.org/whats-on/event/491/hidden-stories-hidden-places

Sunday 9th September Falmouth Audio Trail

2-4pm in the Ponsharden Cemetery our audio trail will be part of a talk and walk in both the Jewish cemetery and it’s neighbour, the Dissenter’s burial ground. Derek and I will be there in person to hand out the headphones.

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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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Tunnelling for Stories

During the month of February I am facilitating, alongside Dr Phil Smith, the Sited Theatre module for first year students at Plymouth University and we will take them away from the safety net of the campus and into new spaces across the city. Ironically we have been based this week at the Plymouth Athenaeum which, among its many spaces, is a 300 seater theatre. In its current guise it is a post war building (1961) that has all the hall marks of that era but, as with so many inner city buildings here in Plymouth, before the war there stood a much grander building. Designed by John Foulston, who was a leading architect in Plymouth for 25 years designing many buildings in Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport (including the Devonport Guildhall and Egyptian House in Kerr Street), the old building was very much in the Greek revival style. Owen, the key holder gave us a tour and was passionate about the history and the standing that the Athenaeum had had as a seat of learning with stories of Darwin and other scientific illuminates rubbing shoulders alongside the Beatles.

When the building was rebuilt in 1961 it was next door to Westward Television Studios (now a pile of rubble) and the ABC cinema (now the Reel Cinema), Westward used the theatre in the Athenaeum to mount their in-house game shows which they recorded from the stage. In order to do this they had to lay cables from the two buildings and built tunnels that ran from the two buildings to contain the electric cables. In 1963 when the Beatles came to Plymouth and played the ABC cinema they were taken from the Television studios through the tunnels to hide them from the screaming girls outside. For part of our tour we were taken down into the tunnels where the walls are peeling and the photographs of the Beatles lay hidden away underground.

These stories, alongside being in the space where history was made brought to life the past for us. The students came away with ideas spinning in their heads ready to take inspiration from the tour and turn it into performances. This was a wonderful start to the month, which will take them into unknown city territory to create pieces that hopefully will have the same inspiration that we found underground at the Athenaeum.

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There will be tours of the Athenaeum tunnels during the Plymouth History Festival which will run throughout May.

Where’s the freelance community?

Down here in Plymouth we have the award winning Drum that programmes and co-produces with some of the hottest theatre companies around. And The Theatre Royal with its huge production and learning centre TR2 can offer companies time and space to rehearse and perform premieres of their work, hence we see the latest from Complicite, Frantic, Hofesh and Matthew Bourne way before anyone else. The people of the South West like their theatre, dance and musicals so you would think that amongst all this there would be a thriving freelance fraternity.

WRONG… In the decade that I have lived down here I have produced two shows that have played the Drum and I was extremely lucky to do that. I was fed up of constantly leaving my home city to make work and in 2008 I tried to do something about it. I co-produced an arts festival with the intention of using local professional writers, artists, technicians and directors, in the vain hope that once a community was established as being here, and of a standard that other cities seem to have on their doorsteps, then more opportunities would develop amongst a freelance sector and the organisations that can offer the work.

YET… five years later there are no opportunities for freelancers in this city. The Theatre Royal hoovers up any funding by the nature of its reputation, kudos and therefore, power. On top of that we have a council who seem apathetic to cultural offerings and have very little money to put into events other than those which have the reliability of regular funding behind them. In fact the job of arts officer seems to have all but disappeared from the council website, there is no visibility of any arts awards or pots of funding. Where five years ago I was able to co create something that needed substantial funding behind it, today I would be hard pressed to find match funding from this city council.

SO how do we start again and sustain a vibrant artistic community? We have lots to offer in the way of training from higher education courses at two universities and a college, to classes and workshops run by the Creative Learning department of the Theatre Royal and the Barbican Theatre – who have a long reputation for excellent work with young people. These establishments are currently offering opportunities for ’emerging’ artists but seem oblivious  to the wealth of people who have emerged, plied their trade (elsewhere) and have a wide range of talent between them to offer up. And once those ’emerging’ practitioners have been well and truly primed for the creative industries, where are the opportunities for them? Yet again another generation will have to leave and go elsewhere for the jobs.

Over the last couple of years practitioners who lived down here have moved away to more vibrant cities with cultural offers for freelancers. The ones who remain here are those who have no choice but to stay because their partner’s work is here, or have other family commitments. Some have had to leave their freelance status and take up teaching work, or have left the profession altogether.

At a recent open spacer, that the council initiated after Plymouth failed to get to round two of the city of culture bid, there were plenty of suggestions to create a vibrant cultural community. Maybe its time for the large institutions to open their doors to the freelancers so that there can be a conversation about culture beyond the corridors  of the main organisations and, for the council to listen to the feedback. At the end of November New Model Theatre will host the first scratch night in the new space at the Theatre Royal, the Lab. But we could be doing so much more, where are the lunchtime play readings, the experimental festivals, the work in progress. Its a myth that local actors, writers, designers etc are not as good as those from the bigger cities, but we need to share our work in order to mature as artists.

Evidencing the research

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Showing the first coffee morners the 1820 map of Plymouth, that showed a potential town square where the Synagogue would have had a prominent visible position – unlike today.

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The 1820 map of Plymouth

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Family photographs and ephemera that fuel my interest in my identity and ancestry.

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The second coffee morners listening to Vera’s stories.

Thanks to Anna Kelly, secretary of the Plymouth Synagogue for the photographs.

Performing the Archive

Facilitated by Tracing the Pathway, Performing the Archive: body-memory-site-encounter was a weekend workshop where we explored the notion of the archive as a performing and performative site. Challenging how an archive is conceived and how it evolves through memory, imagination and encounters, we accessed public spaces and hidden ruins to look at the connection between our personal experiences and the public spaces we traverse, as potential archives.
The workshop invited 15 participants to engage in an open dialogue and exploration of the concepts of body, site and archive, practically investigating how these might function within a performative context.                    We started by exploring memory, do we choose what remains of the past?  How do we create our memories and what sets a memory in motion? We shared a vivid memory with a partner and it was interesting to see, through encounter, what they then remembered from the telling. Later, we broke off into groups and explored the city. We found a hidden garden, a palimpsest of history that was choosing to remain aloof but we were lucky enough to encounter someone who told us the history of the space, which then opened up a whole performance content. Hidden in the middle of a busy urban setting the reclamation of nature was producing a haven for birds and birdsong, creating a natural audio score, that felt at odds with its place within the city map.

horse bazzar

Our hidden garden was originally a horse bazaar, the horses were paraded on the ground and the potential buyers would stand on the first level and look down through the archways that are now being taken over by ivy and buddleia. Interestingly our installation/performance re created the audio score of the different animal noises more than a literal or realistic performance. Things I will take away with me; I will certainly use  the ‘silent walk’, it was noticeable that if talking is prohibited you will observe far more in your journey then you would otherwise think. Another useful provocation that I will use again was to take an object from the site your journey takes you to and to ask what that conjures up away from its original space, this may tend to take you on a trajectory away from the meaning or memory of the original site but it’s also an interesting path to take for what it opens up for you, creatively.

First Steps Towards a Site-Specific Performance 1

Well my project proposal is in and in a months time I will know whether it has been excepted and I will be able to share my journey with you on this blog. Yesterday was my final day at university before Christmas and I have been given homework alongside my own reading to do. On the same day, I received through the post Site Specific Performance by Mike Pearson, and performing site specific theatre edited by Anna Birch and Joanne Tompkins. I think it’s safe to say, that if you are only reading this post, you can guess what the subject of my proposal may be from the titles of my new reading books. My homework entails taking one of my aims and devising an exercise that will help me achieve it, then showing it back on January 10th.

With my aims in mind I am going to look at Phil Smith’s first steps towards site-specific performance, I know there’s a similar exercise in the Mike Pearson book so I will be explaining the outcome in a new year post having applied both ideas.

Starting Out

Working in a non-theatre site is very different from working in a theatre. From the start it is best to assume everything will be unfamiliar. You are taking a journey that begins in the dark. “Site-specificity” means getting your inspiration from and working in and for your site. Sharp perception counts for more than past experience. Long before you get to “script”, “plot” or “character”, your site should be touched, stroked, collected from, mapped, played in, observed, framed, listened to and analysed. Maybe inhabit it for a while?

You can use the destinationless “drift” of the situationists: follow your instincts, feel out the atmospheres of places, choose your site according to its psychological (or “psychogeographical”) effect on you. This way you are more likely to find genuinely hidden places, rather than ones widely known as “unknown”.

There is a rough theatricality about places that are usually unvisited – basements, rooftops, tunnels. Just looking and discovering may provide you with material for performance.

Found a site that attracts you? Then fingertip search it like a crime-scene, diagnose it like a sick body, wander in it as if it were a dream. Speculate on how it came to be like it is. Write its creation myth. Once the site begins to respond in its own terms, adopt those terms as your own.

Smith, Phil (2010) ‘Endnotes’ in The Hidden City Festival Handbook. Ed. Roberta Mock. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press