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

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

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.

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).

lottery_Logo_Black RGB

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.

2 FEAST- Print redCC funding cmyk2013 ECC Logo

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.

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 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



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.



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


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.


The 1820 map of Plymouth


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


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


Choosing Sites

Any place with which one has a relationship to and memories of becomes part of an internal, personal map with coordinates that are inextricably linked to emotions and imagination. We all carry these maps. It is why people get so passionate about place – it’s personal. When we began the process of selecting sites for the Hidden City Festival we focused on five core Hidden City criteria:

 Inspiring – that the sites are artistically exciting through their spatial and atmospheric qualities or through their resonances and themes.

Hidden – that they are little known, underused, undervalued and/or ‘hidden away’.

Value – that they are of substantial value to the city’s past, present or future (that is, places of architectural, historical or social interest).

Community – that they have sufficient community members to whom they mattered.

Practicality – that it would be practically possible to work there.

Everywhere we went we encountered people’s passion for place. More and more buildings and places were suggested to us and each suggestion seemed to reignite the speaker’s excitement about what that place had been, was now or could and should be in the future. Against this outpouring of passion however we had to offset practical considerations. Sites would have to be able to be safe, a reasonable amount of people (for our budgetary reasons) needed to be able to get inside or be able to see what was taking place, and we had to be able to get permission to use the site. This process included forging partnerships with site ‘landlords’ and others holding key information, including those with specialist knowledge and exploring logistical issues including access and health and safety. We poured over our ever growing list, from the oldest building in Plymouth to the longest and tried to boil it down to three for which we would commission performances and the three about which we would commission work-in-progress presentations.

We wanted the chosen buildings and spaces to reflect the diversity and complexity of Plymouth, to be entirely different in their physical and atmospheric resonances and qualities, and to hold very different stories. Local communities were a key consideration when choosing the sites. We wanted the work commissioned for the Festival to have an impact for people who cared about the sites, usually because they lived or worked in their vicinities and, who could take an ownership of the finished piece.

from the  Hidden City festival Handbook by Rachel Aspinwall, Ruth Mitchell & Phil Smith


Hidden City Handbook

My MRes has partly come out of my involvement, over the last five years, with site specific events within the city of Plymouth. In 2008 I got together with another theatre maker, Rachel Aspinwall to create something in our joint home city, the result was a week long festival of new writing performed in buildings across the city that were either hidden away or had a hidden story behind them. As a result we were commissioned by the University of Plymouth to write a book about the process.

here is the beginning of the book explaining how we started Hidden City

Points of Departure

When we first started to exchange ideas for ‘making something happen’ in the city in which we lived, we were influenced by our backgrounds as performers, theatre makers and culture seekers in other cities across the world. What we found to be lacking in Plymouth were opportunities for the talented emergent and established artists of the city and region to develop their work, work together (or even discover each other‘s existence), and to have their work showcased locally. How could the city’s cultural community grow and flourish if so many of its artists left, or felt the need to make work elsewhere once they reached a certain level of development? We set up our company, Part Exchange Co, in direct response to what we saw as a ‘gap in the market’ in order to offer Plymouth and its regional artists (many of whom regularly travel elsewhere to develop and present their work in a professional context) the opportunity to create and network in their own city.

Deciding to embrace the opportunity that being a non-building based company gave us, we chose to focus on making site inspired work outside of conventional venues and reach non-traditional arts audiences in the process. The question was: what should our first project be?

Plymouth was – and still is – undergoing enormous re-development. Buildings and sites of interest, including many that were standing empty, were all fair game. Making a response in performance to this fast changing city seemed a way to intervene in the giant game of building and knocking down of sandcastles that was going on before our eyes. With our shared background in working in new theatre writing, we settled on the idea of a festival of site-inspired performance that would prioritise working with the city’s and region’s writers and artists, bringing them together in exciting new collaborations and in engagement with a city and  its changing landscape. As we traveled the city’s streets looking over potential sites for our festival, we found that the most intriguing places, those that spoke to us, were those that had been hidden away. These sites included both grand and gracious buildings and far less distinctive structures that also happened to house extraordinary history. Something in their desertedness left space for the imagination and, as we discovered more about how they had come to be the way they were, we learnt a tale of another city, of many other cities, different to the one that we thought we knew.

It was about at this point that the city itself started to intervene. Once it had started to speak, it was impossible to stop it, talking ten to the dozen, gathering pace, taking us on a helter-skelter ride of serendipitous meetings and revelatory moments.                                  The city of Plymouth is a fascinating entity. It is an imposing military town bristling with war ships and nuclear submarines, has a quaint medieval quarter full of cafes and antiques shops, is a post war planner’s dream of pedestrianised shopping streets and ring roads, and is an elegant seaside retreat in one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the British Isles. At the time we were developing our ideas, it also had the ward with the highest indicators of deprivation in the country. Its public image did not do justice to the complexity of its diverse identities. Blossoming under our investigative gaze, the city best known for Sir Francis Drake, the Blitz and the Pilgrim Fathers was revealing a host of other histories. This was no longer just about what we wanted; it was also about what the hidden city was demanding.

So the Hidden City Festival found its name and its aim, grounded in and inspired by Plymouth, its communities, its built and natural environment and its history and heritage.