Tag Archives: Ruth Mitchell

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.

#ripple’s Hidden Stories: Hidden Places @PolyFalmouth

On Sunday September 10th I will be giving a presentation with my ripple colleague Derek Frood about our Hidden Stories: Hidden Places project. This grew out of our Plymouth Cemetery Audio trail, which took place in a hidden Jewish cemetery on Plymouth Hoe in 2016. After the unexpected success of the trail within the Plymouth Art Weekender we continued the research into Exeter and Falmouth and the outcome are two audio trails one for each place. On the 10th of September there will be a chance to hear them within the Jewish Heritage week and the Heritage Open Days. In Exeter you can hear the audio stories within the Synagogue which is open on the Sunday afternoon and in Falmouth you can walk around the Ponsharden burial ground between 2-4pm.

Before the cemetery opens we will be chatting about our research at the Falmouth Poly, how the three trails have cultural connections but how we’ve tried to make them creatively different; from spoken biographies in Plymouth to a more in depth story telling for Falmouth. The talk starts at 12.30 and should last roughly 50 minutes to an hour which will give people time to then head to the Ponsharden burial ground for the tour. This is a FREE event but we ask that people sign up so we can monitor numbers. Thanks

http://thepoly.org/whats-on/event/491/hidden-stories-hidden-places

http://www.dissenters.moonfruit.com/open-day/4587242113

Hidden Stories: Hidden Places is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England , Exeter City Council small grants scheme and  Feast Cornwall a programme that makes great art happen across Cornwall.

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

 

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

Homeward Bound is homeward bound

Next month we will be taking my current show Homeward Bound back to my roots. The show deals with our childhood dreams and I share the hopes of my mother and grandmother and the restrictions that were placed on them.

 

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I grew up in Bradford within a three storey household of women, three generations to be precise (one generation per floor) and I later moved over the moors to Hebden Bridge, where I lived for ten years and where my son was born. It will be nostalgic and very personal to play in my home town at the Bradford Playhouse, where my mother was (almost) a fixture, or so it seemed to me growing up. I would be taken on a Sunday, on ‘fit up’ Sundays to watch the technical and dress rehearsals and eat in the basement cafe and have a celebratory drink in the bar afterwards. Anyone would think that sitting through a technical rehearsal at such a young age would have put me off the theatre but it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that those Sundays and my parents love of the Bradford Playhouse is what prompted my own childhood dream… to work in the theatre.

14th April; The Square Chapel  Square Road, Halifax

15th April Bradford Playhouse, Chapel Street, Bradford

16th April Bradford Playhouse, Chapel Street, Bradford

With technical support from STS Stage Services

Great previews for Homeward Bound @BikeShedTheatre this Saturday

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We have had great previews for Homeward Bound as it started the South West tour at the Brewhouse Taunton. The Western Morning News on Sunday had a lovely double page article written by Jemima Laing, which you can read here. Also Exeter Life has a great half page spread by Sue Carroll -see below

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and the British Baseball Federation have this article on their website click here

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You can also hear me being interviewed by Matt Faulkner for BBC Radio Somerset here (at one hour and 25 minutes in)

Homeward Bound Autumn Tour

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I’ve partnered with the South West Baseball League to create a tour of Homeward Bound, my show about my son’s love of baseball and my own Northern upbringing. From September it will be touring to all the south west towns and cities who have baseball teams that play in the south west baseball league. In receipt of a Homeward Bound flyer or programme, audience members have the opportunity to a free training session with their local baseball team.

Photos by Lee Hind & graphic design by Kerry Eggleton

The venues are

Coffee with Vera returns to the Plymouth Synagogue

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When I first performed Coffee with Vera it was inside the vestry of the Plymouth Synagogue. My decision to use the vestry rather than the synagogue was twofold. The synagogue can be accessed through an appointment to view with a guided tour, conducted by the caretaker. It can be considered a performance in itself, which gives a particular reading of the site. This is very much a male dominated space where the men perform the service and the women are seated upstairs away from the males. This is, according to Rabbi Aaron Moss, so that both male and female can focus on their prayer away from the opposite sex, an opportunity to be with your ‘true self, to communicate with your soul’ (Chabad.org: online). Roberta Mock states that ‘women were (and still, in traditional Judaism, are) “exempt” (that is, excluded) from most religious learning, prayer, and ritual’ (Mock, 2007:2). Secondly, the vestry is a lived in space; the building houses two flats, one for a rabbi and one for a caretaker and there is a kitchen to make refreshments. ‘Women’s sphere of influence is defined exclusively in halacha, or Jewish law, as “domestic affairs”’ (Mock, 2007:2).

For the next three weeks I will be performing Coffee with Vera within the Plymouth History Festival and I have been asked to perform within the synagogue itself so apart from the Saturday (when I will be in the vestry for the Sabbath) I will be performing within what I consider a male space. Will this change the performance? I have no idea but it will be interesting to find out.

Mock, Roberta (2007) Jewish Women on Stage, Film and Television. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

COFFEE WITH VERA
Saturday 9 May, 3pm to 4pm (in the vestry)
Tuesday 12 May, 11am to 12pm (synagogue)
Sunday 17 May, 11am to 12pm (synagogue)
Tuesday 19 May, 7pm to 8pm (synagogue)
Synagogue Chambers, Catherine Street, Plymouth, PL1 2AD
Watch Ruth Mitchell’s award winning performance of ‘Coffee with Vera’ in the Plymouth Synagogue, followed by coffee and cake in the Vestry with “Vera” herself.
Admission is free. Donations are welcome. Booking is essential via 07753 267616 or phccaretaker@yahoo.co.uk

Bringing the audience into the cultural conversation

In August 2014 four women came together to research and develop the first draft of a new play The Orchard. It wasn’t even a first draft, it was two monologues for two actors. Although intended to be a dialogue playwright Natalie McGrath wanted to find the voices of the characters, she was finding one easier than the other and so wanted to play with them in a rehearsal room. And we really played, joyfully and democratically, we read the monologues, spliced them apart and slotted them together to begin a conversation between the characters. Once we had created the start of a dialogue we invited a small audience to hear it.
The characters were Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett, two women who, one hundred years ago had a huge impact on the rights of women but had opposing ways of achieving their goals. What came out of that work in progress showing was a determination that these voices should still be heard, maybe over the years they had become silent to new generations of women and with a general election coming and 9million women not using their vote in the last election, it was time those voices were heard again.
With funding from Arts Council SW, Exeter City Council and Fawcett, Devon, Dreadnought South West are touring with a roadshow – an imagined meeting and conversation between Emmeline and Millicent as it isn’t documented that they met on their own after Emmeline left the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society (NUWSS) to set up her own movement.
What is so fascinating as we dissect their rise to power and their tussle between militant or peaceful methods is how pertinent that central argument is to today’s politics…the impetus to walk for hundreds of miles across a country in protest, or to chain oneself to railings or go on hunger strike whilst in prison in order to have a voice and be considered an equal citizen. As Pankhurst says in The Orchard ‘the world must get used to hearing us speak’ that is an incredible idea to get a twenty first century head around. We think we are used to hearing women’s voices, but are we? Is it a lack of hearing women’s voices in the public realm the reason some women don’t vote, because they think they won’t make a difference?
We have gone off onto the road to ask questions like these and to receive some answers from our audience. Our roadshow will be a scratch performance of the play The Orchard, a script in hand reading which, of course, some people may have a problem with. Is there any benefit from seeing a ‘reading’ when the actors are only engaging with a small percentage of what is required if they were performing a fully rehearsed show. I have seen many performances by theatre makers who read from a script after many weeks of research and preparation, I have seen performances that question the very premise of what is a traditional theatre performance and what isn’t and I think the time for theatrical snobbery is over. This is a different way of engaging with an audience, this performance is followed by a conversation with them but more than a question and answer between us and them, a dialogue about what they saw, how they perceived it and whether it came across in the way we had hoped. Any feedback will then be fed back into creative discussions and these discussions will shape the final draft of the play. This method of gathering an evalued response creates a platform for the voices of the audience and not just female voices.
Last night was our first showing at Krowji in Redruth Cornwall, an artistic hub for creatives across different practices. In a rehearsal room with a log burning stove we performed in traverse for forty minutes and then sat for twice that time whilst every member of the audience returned and every member of the audience responded. They weren’t asked to but volunteered to. I have never witnessed that in other Q&As. The audience considered everything they had seen; the relationship between the two women, the setting of piece -not just in traverse but also why an orchard. They wanted to know where the audience were coming from, they wanted more young people to see it because there was so much to learn…is suffrage still taught in Schools? One history teacher spoke up, we have to obey government guidelines… well I know how Emmeline would respond to that! To perform as part of this process is very emancipating, our voices ARE being heard, as I come to terms with who I am playing the audience are feeding me with their outside eyes and this feels very democratic.
We finished on a point made by a male member of the audience ‘it’s not just a feminist thing, its a human thing’ he said and that seemed to sum up the evening in every way and it makes me very excited to hear how other audiences will respond.

The roadshow continues, as will the blog responses.

For more information click on the image below to enlarge

Coffee with Vera in the Vestry

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COFFEE WITH VERA IN THE VESTRY: sharing a cultural conversation

A solo site-specific performance                    Created and performed by Ruth Mitchell

Wednesday 22nd May @ 3pm and 7pm       Sunday 26th May @ 12 noon

In the vestry of the Plymouth Synagogue    Catherine Street, Plymouth

A performance of stories  about identity and heritage from the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in continuous use in the English speaking world. Join Ruth and Vera Jockleson, chair of the Ladies Guild, for an informal coffee morning.                                  This is a free event and is part of Ruth’s MRes in Theatre & Performance at Plymouth University.

I will also be giving a performance at the Jewish Museum in London, on Sunday 30th June.