To give you an idea of how we started and the company’s twenty-five year history, here’s a piece written six years ago by company founder Gill Gill:
Today we’re a participatory arts company, but actually we (Susan Clarke, Gill Gill and Hilary Hughes) started out as stilt-walking, fire-eating, bicycle riding street performers, around Liverpool, Stoke, Glasgow and Gateshead Garden Festivals, and Glastonbury.
We then tried our hands at: creating touring shows for schools and playschemes (Cold as Ice, Hooray!, Stormy Weather, Respect), working with local communities to create community celebrations (Monument for Apedale series); making work with international partners starting in Italy in ‘89; then in Romania (Tower is Ours); Bosnia (San Sogne Dream, Constellation 2 year programme); Hungary (Secret Life of Pigs); Belgium (Noahs Flood); and currently European Whispers in Denmark, France, Germany, Tunisia and New Zealand.
While back in North Staffordshire we worked on Rattling Bones, a programme of site specific theatre based on the social history of Stoke on Trent. These projects, Rattling Bones, Pandaemonium, 1842, Welcome to China, The Knotty, My City, represent our ongoing obsession with the interplay of history, dreams and heritage: what Umberto Eco called “hand to hand combat with history.”
We’ve also been engaged with the big outdoors, working with a variety of partners (inc Small Woods Assoc) to create guided walks, site specific theatre (Play in the Woods, Walk in the Woods, Nuts!).
When, in 2000, we began to engage with newly dispersed asylum seekers – in the grimmest of hostels – to create Crossing Frontiers, it became clear that this work represented an opportunity to bring the international programme home. This work has been fruitful, both artistically and in terms of the development of our approach to community cohesion and social justice; and led to The Bridge, a project which engaged displaced young people living in North Staffordshire in a programme of tailored support, arts, educational and cultural activities and community integration, from 2000 to 2009.
There have been lanterns almost everywhere. In Tipton, Bilston, Lichfield, Burntwood, Bedworth, Chesterton, Stoke and Lochgilphead. In Italy, Romania, Bosnia, Hungary and Denmark. On the waterfront in New Zealand and the canal in Warwickshire. On baby buggies, wheelchairs and wheelbarrows. Carried by children and pensioners and families and big stroppy lads. Mostly made of willow and tissue paper, but not always. Often very simple, sometimes complex, breathtakingly beautiful. A light in the darkness, and a lot of fun.
The work rarely takes places in theatres or galleries. Instead, we have worked on the street, on the water, on the beach, in woods, in schools, youth clubs and village halls, up mountains and alongside canals, with people of all ages, from pre-schoolers to people in their eighties. We welcome the challenge of working with people who are excluded from other opportunities, and particularly like to mix groups of people from differing backgrounds together to create new work.
Image: A to Z, Stoke Garden Festival, 1986. Photographer unknown.