Bradford Council recently approached Freedom Studios with an invitation to perform at the Reflections arts festival, planned for Bradford City Park on 23rd March.
Tom, our Associate Director, decided to create an installation for The Home, called Pensioner’s Warehouse. And I was invited to create some invisible theatre performances which would take place throughout the day on the day of the festival.
I began to think about how the practice of Invisible Theatre might lend itself to small pockets of outdoor performance. However, I was a little wary of going ‘all out’, since Invisible Theatre was created in the context of political oppression and holds as its principle the rule of challenging oppression – pioneered by Augusto Boal. And much Invisible Theatre nowadays becomes people arguing in public – certainly the idea seemed to be lacking in playfulness. However, when I asked myself ‘what do I think is oppressive about Bradford?’ My answer was how people saw Bradford, the bad reputation it has had since its decline from one of the most powerful industrial cities in the UK.
Deborah – Freedom Studios’ Creative Producer – suggested that we embrace this invitation as an opportunity for some of the actors on the Freedom To… network to perform publicly but on something quite small. As a demonstration from Freedom Studios’ Freedom To… actors, I did want to make a point about interculturalism, as I’ve been so inspired by the diversity of the actors on the network; we had also been discussing multiculturalism/interculturalism/intraculturalism a lot on the Freedom Studios team since I joined the Company in late 2012.
So I thought and thought… but all I could come up with were concepts. I had seen so much small-scale pop-up performance, that all I could think of were examples: Forest Fringe’s Bench, a multitude of work at the Battersea Arts Centre’s one-on-one festival, preshow activities before Midnight’s Pumpkin at the Asylum, European Street Theatre on my travels. Once I even sneaked an artist I met at a Manchester gallery into a ticketed conference I was due at – just to see how long he could manage to stay (35 minutes – Big Up to Demo Joe).
Getting all of these examples out of the way was a help to stop me thinking on a purely concept level, but I still couldn’t answer the question, ‘what is it about?’ So I went back to the beginning.
In my research I had been drawn to the statement “Bradford is cited as a prime example of parallel communities, where the population is effectively segregated along ethnic, culture and faith lines”. And I started down the multiculturalism route again; looking at reflecting perceptions of Bradford’s oppressive self-segregation. But if I’m honest, hitting the issue head on was really depressing, and as an artist I want to make work that’s playful and accessible and not banging the audience over the head with the message.
I looked instead at the idea of Fords, of islands and how, in segregated communities, we don’t attempt to cross those tunnels of water between us. That’s when I bumped into Phil. D’s Underground Waterways images on Flickr and was inspired by the idea of a tunnel snaking a route under the whole of Bradford. I had a little map (from the back of a How Do magazine) and I thought about how this underground route might make unexpected links between locations, which, by definition, then become little islands – not a bad metaphor for the perceived segregation along cultural and ethnic lines.
I had canvassed the square and counted the people in it across several days, watching how they moved and where they went across four hour periods. And I imagined trying to keep them in these little boxes that external opinion seems to have put Bradford’s ‘segregated’ communities in. How silly, to expect people to stay in one space, on one island and in the box you put them in – how impossible it would be to keep any of them in these little boxes… and the idea of osmosis arrived: That actually, people do integrate and evolve, they mix and diversify. It’s an evolutionary process and so is slow, small and steady. Not something we necessarily see happening all the time right in front of us.
I left the square (with my head buzzing!) and walked straight into a lady by accident. Suddenly it all came together:
– Trying to box people in and be just one thing is so ludicrous, why not laugh at the futility of it
– We unknowingly create our own islands ourselves through our preconceptions about culture
– “Parallel communities” speaks of lines and the hidden routes that connect us all even if we don’t know it
– Osmosis across islands and territories, ‘Fording’ is inevitable and will happen no matter what
– We (people in Bradford) have all been so focused on the bad, on multiculturalism and self-segregation, we’ve forgotten that natural interculturalism will occur through a human process of osmosis
And so OSMOSIS is where we are at! A performance that combines all of these ideas in a small, tight, playful, pop-up performance; which I held an R&D on with our Freedom To… actors – to whom I am incredibly grateful for their contributions, insights, playfulness and sheer nerve!
Now here we are in development and rehearsal of Osmosis, with our dedicated Company of actors – who might well be popping up at Festivals and Arts events in and around West Yorkshire in the near future, keep your eyes peeled for colourful, family friendly pop-up PLAY!