Crayons, Clichés and Culture – my time as Archive assistant at Quarantine

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I am currently in my second and final semester working towards a MA in Screen Studies. When I learned about the opportunity of doing a placement as part of my Master’s degree at the University of Manchester, I immediately knew that it would not just be beneficial to my CV to take it. However, with my main interests lying in film rather than theatre, finding a suitable placement from within the drama department started off as being relatively difficult. I decided to apply for Quarantine’s archive assistant placement because I knew that through archiving and administrative work I could gain some skills that will be beneficial to my CV.

I entered Islington Mill in Salford with only a vague idea of what to expect. Passing an array of what could debatably be called amateur art works, the distinct smell of wax crayons crept into my nose and ultimately into every fibre of my clothing to accompany me for the rest of the day. Luckily who welcomed me into the office was a lot more inviting than their colourful yet grim surroundings. Getting introduced to the team and being given a short overview over Quarantine’s work, I started to realise how little I actually knew about theatre. In the process of archiving material from their catalogue of projects I have got to know the company and what it stands for a little bit better. When I entered the company with a list of stereotypical ideas on what theatre should look like (think Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Globe: a stage, an audience in front of it, some timely costumes and a little touch of epicness…), I was amazed to find that nothing Quarantine does resembles this in the slightest. I have had to mentally redefine my understanding of the term ‘theatre’ approximately 150 times until I came to the conclusion that – for me – this is what Quarantine is about: the potential inherent in the changing perspectives on art & the artist in this world to create something that resonates in present and future. (I’ve probably not quite figured it out yet, but as long as it keeps me thinking I shouldn’t be completely wrong?)

Fancy a free curry in exchange for a conversation? Join Quarantine at Kabana Curry Cafe, NQ for No Such Thing.

Fancy a free curry in exchange for a conversation? Join Quarantine at Kabana Curry Cafe, NQ for No Such Thing.

Apart from doing some admittedly tedious archival work, I also wrote a blog post for the company’s website, developed a Wikipedia page, compiled a press list, tagged along to meetings and translated some project dossiers into German. I can confidently say that during my 4 months at Quarantine I didn’t only learn some administrative skills or improved my basic understanding of theatre, I also realised first hand that art in general is pretty hostile towards being put in explicitly labelled boxes. Quarantine certainly doesn’t fit into any box. I discovered that theatre doesn’t need a physical stage and that I do need to up the stage my current culture level is dwelling on… I get reminded of this whenever a subtle scent of crayon creeps up on me. (Which by all means shouldn’t stop next year’s placement students to apply to Quarantine, rumour has it that they’ll be moving into a sleek city centre office in the very near future…)

Picture from a performance of Grace (Quarantine, 2005)

Picture from a performance of Grace (Quarantine, 2005)

Find out more about Quarantine and their relevant and inspiring work on http://www.qtine.com.

Caroline Vogt – 20 Stories High – MA Screen Studies

It may seem a bit odd at first that someone like me, who is currently completing an MA in Screen Studies and who comes from a literature background, decided to do their work placement within an arts organisation, specifically a theatre company. However, even though there were only two students from the Screen Studies MA interested in doing a placement there was only one placement on offer that was specifically tailed for a Screen Studies student. Unfortunately neither of was particularly interested in this placement which left us no choice but to go with one of the drama placements on offer. But do not be fooled, regardless of what academic background I come from and that picking a drama placement seemed like a compromise, I take great interest in theatre and gained valuable insight and understanding of how a small touring theatre company is run, what kind of engaging work 20 Stories High creates and especially how their productions come to life.

20 Stories High is committed to produce theatre with and for young people and to reach a wide variety of people from different social and economical backgrounds. Their aim is it to work and engage with young people from excluded communities from the Liverpool area and in order to achieve this they offer different participation programmes, including a Youth Theatre group and a Young Actors Company. Both groups put on an annual show during the summer. I was lucky enough to be able to attend one of the Youth Theatre group meetings during my time at the organisation and it was fascinating and interesting to see how Julia (one of the co-artistic directors at 20 Stories High) and Leanne (the participation manager at 20SH) motivated and engaged the young people to develop and work on the dialogue for their individual scenes for the upcoming show in July.

My role at the organisation included various tasks in different areas of the company from management duties, to administration, to conducting research for future productions. I attended company team meetings, proof-read grant proposals, worked on a touring budget for a future show, did research into how other touring theatre companies handle fundraising, created a groups contact directory in collaboration with 20 Stories High’s administrator Nicole, I of course also attended their most recent production “Black”, filed documents, drafted contracts, wrote invoices, conducted research into arts trusts and foundations as well as, a bit more unusual perhaps, into abortion (which will be the broader topic of a future production).., to name but a few of my tasks during the placement.

After getting to know 20 Stories High so well over the past five months I sincerely hope they are able to keep securing funding for the excellent work they do not only for the young people they work with but ultimately for every single person who gets to see and experience their productions and who may just be inspired to challenge their own views and opinions on today’s world.

Lauren Ash, Learning & Participation Department, the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, MA Theatre and Performance

‘Conversation is an activity to be valued in itself – not just for where it may lead’ (Jeffs & Smith 2005: 39).

The above quote from Tony Jeffs and Mark K Smith’s book Informal education: – conversation, democracy and learning sums up an essential element to informal learning which I came to realise during my placement with the Newbury Women’s Group as a Community Theatre Group Assistant for the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.

Conversation is a fundamental part of the Newbury Woman’s Group, a community group originally set up by social housing charity Bolton at Home for women who had been affected by domestic violence. Bolton at Home work in partnership with the Octagon Theatre to deliver weekly drama sessions to this community group who are on the verge of forming a theatre company and now welcome members who have not necessarily been affected by domestic violence. The group was initially started by Bolton at Home in conjunction with their 2011 arts vision aim, ‘to deliver a quality arts service that meets customers’ needs and contributes to the regeneration of our neighbourhood’. Bolton at Home identify areas where arts projects, such as the Newbury Women’s Group, can benefit its customers and invests time and money into setting up community groups and projects in order to achieve their arts vision.

The Newbury Women’s Group are currently working on a script focused on the issue of domestic violence which they will perform later in the year. The topic of domestic violence has been identified by the group as they wish to raise awareness about this issue. The group will be performing their production to raise money for charities that offer help to people affected by domestic violence and promote awareness of these organisations. Weekly sessions are led by a drama facilitator from the Learning and Participation department at the Octagon Theatre, and I was recently able to lend additional support to the group as Community Theatre Group Assistant.

My main objective during this placement was to facilitate and support the group during activities and conversations. Throughout my placement I came to understand that conversations are as important as activities and conversations can become activities in their own right. Conversation is a social activity that is fundamental to human behaviour, it allows individuals to establish relationships and connections to others. When conversations are conducted in a manner that allows the participants to feel comfortable and valued these connections are strengthened. The use of both everyday conversation and focused conversation within this group not only improved the group’s relationships but, due to the nature of the conversations, also enhanced their product, the script.

This placement has not only given me an insight into working with community groups such as the Newbury Women’s Group but also has enabled me to recognise the benefits of conversation. The invaluable knowledge I have gained through this placement has allowed me to reflect on how this can be applied to benefit both my personal and professional life.

Jeffs, T. & Smith, M. K. (2005) Informal Education: conversation, democracy and learning. (3rd ed). Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

“Rule 35”: Uncovering the murky business of detention with Community Arts North West – Yolande Goodman, MA Applied Theatre

Hello,

My name is Yolande and I’m currently studying for an MA in Applied Theatre. I wanted to gain some practical experience to compliment my theoretical knowledge and so chose to partake in the work placement module. Given my interest in community and participatory arts I chose to work with Community Arts North West (CAN) on their Refugee Women’s Project. This project was a stand of their refugee and asylum seeker programme, Exodus. CAN have been producing work in Greater Manchester for over 30 years and are well established in the field of community arts. The primary ethos of CAN could be described as working to create inter-cultural dialogue in order to create rich and dynamic art forms; CAN pride themselves on producing high quality, beautiful and professional standards of work. The main output for this project was Rule 35 an immersive theatre experience exploring the arbitrary nature of detention centres in the UK. The decision to produce work based on this issue came from the women who CAN had previously worked with, some of whom had experienced detention. Having previously studied exilic perspectives in theatre during my undergraduate degree I had some knowledge as to the injustices that occur in the immigration system, however, hearing the experiences from some of the women involved in the project really emphasised the often inhumane nature of detention centres.

So how do you go about creating a piece of theatre on such a difficult issue? Well, with difficulty and a lot of trust. The women involved were highly motivated to speak out against the problems within detention centres and through workshops over several months Rule 35 was created. Dance and singing were also key components in creating the piece. The women contributed beautiful songs of hope which gave the performance a strong emotive drive. Whilst partaking in the dance warm-ups there was much laughter, occasionally at my inability to tell left from right, and a palpable sense of enjoyment in the room. The workshop sessions were not just about creating a high quality piece of theatre there was a strong social and well being element to them. Refugee and asylum seekers are often highly isolated so this was a brilliant opportunity to bring everyone together.

My role within this placement was multi-faceted to say the least. Initially I wanted to develop my drama facilitation skills, therefore wanting to focus on this role. This was not possible, however I was able to co-run a few warm-up exercises with Caitlin Gleeson who was also working on this project. I was given some great workshop observation opportunities and helped the women improvise scenes that would be included in the final performance. I worked as part of the digital media team which was a challenge as I’m not necessarily very confident in this field. Within this role I helped develop “The Game” an interactive social media experience in which the audience can meet some of the characters in the play before the performance. It was disappointing that the concept never reached the number of people that it hoped to. I believe that with some adaptation this strategy could prove useful in reaching and attracting new audiences to community arts practice. I also worked as production assistant. This included completing tasks such as: research for props, building soundscapes, transcribing audio files, attending production and artistic meetings, assisting in the technical aspects of the performance and blindfolding audience members… Whilst at times it was difficult to keep track of all the tasks I was doing my time at CAN was enjoyable and the participants who I was working with were incredibly proud of their final performance.

Post performance photo of some of the cast and team behind Rule 35.

Post performance photo of some of the cast and team behind Rule 35.

Caitlin Gleeson, MA Theatre and Performance

My name is Caitlin Gleeson and for my MA placement with the Institute of Cultural Practices I worked with CAN (Community Arts North West) on the second year of their women’s refugee theatre project. This culminated in a performance, Rule 35, in March 2015 at Z-arts in Hulme, Manchester and my primary role was as a drama facilitator.

CAN are nationally-renowned for their arts for development work across different communities in the North West, particularly with refugees and asylum seekers, and have a programme of refugee arts, Exodus, that has been running since 2004. This project was developed specifically for women refugees because, as has emerged in previous projects there are more specific requirements to enable them to take part, for example the provision of childcare and the establishment of a ‘safe space’ in which to create art.

There are several factors that influence how community arts projects with refugees and asylum seekers are carried out. Essential to enabling participants to take part in and enjoy the creative process is an understanding of the politics that affect them. While sometimes the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ are used interchangeably, they in fact have very different legal meanings. In the UK, a refugee is someone who has fled persecution and so has been granted asylum, whereas an asylum seeker is someone who’s claim for asylum has not yet been accepted by the Home Office.

The project began in September 2014 with a series of outreach workshops to ensure that a wide range of women were involved. The theme of the play was detention; this was something that a number of participants felt needed to be discussed. The detention of asylum seekers in immigration removal centres, has been much criticised; there are widespread allegations of abuse, and the indefinite detention of people who have come to the UK for protection is widely argued to be a breach of human rights.

The subject of detention is not often engaged with in refugee performance; by sharing their experiences, the participants of Rule 35 engaged with the current often inflammatory discourse surrounding asylum seekers. Several participants who had experienced detention played the role of guards and, using their experiences, shared representations of the treatment they had received while detained, complicating the familiar and problematic misconception that the UK is ‘too kind’ to asylum seekers.

Rule 35 was performed just after Channel Four filmed an undercover documentary at Yarl’s Wood that showed the mistreatment of detainees, and coincided with a nation-wide campaign to close immigration removal centres. Consequently, there was a lot of media interest around the participants and their experiences both in detention and creating the show; Rule 35 was written about in The Guardian and featured on a BBC Radio Four news programme. As the subject of detention was so current and the participants had been so passionate about sharing their experiences, I felt that the work CAN was doing was incredibly important, not just in the field of theatre but in the field of human rights. For me, this was exemplified by a participant saying ‘if I can stop just one person from going to Yarl’s Wood, I will be happy’.

Production shot from Rule 35

Production shot from Rule 35

A girl walks into a gallery…

…to meet a guy. This particular ‘Guy’ was a French fashion photographer with an impressive list of credentials including French Vogue, Chanel and Versace. The venue was Somerset House, the arts and cultural centre home to Kings College London, the Courtauld Gallery and, at the time of my visit, London Fashion Week. In fact my friend and I inadvertently stumbled upon a pop-up fashion event the day we visited. We didn’t get the memo and there may be a few people photo-shopping a duffle coat and woolly hat out of their otherwise very glamorous photographs.

Guy Bourdin: Image Maker, an exhibition of over 100 colour prints documenting his illustrious career from the 1950s to 1980s, was the perfect exhibition to coincide with London Fashion Week. However the exhibition was more than an accessory to fashion week and more than just a photographic display of clothes and shoes. Bourdin is renowned for his visual storytelling, for a creating a narrative by portraying just a single moment in time. The fashion product fits the narrative but does not own it.

Charles Jourdan Autumn 1967

Charles Jourdan Autumn 1967

This photograph is from the ‘Walking Legs’ series, which Bourdin shot as part of an advertising campaign for the shoe designer Charles Jourdan. With a pair of shoes and mannequin legs Bourdin asks the viewer to consider a story, to construct their own story. Who is wearing the shoes? Where is she going? Where has she come from? The colour and type of shoe, the position of the feet and legs, the background content, all clues Bourdin has included to help answer these questions. Contemporary art is often criticised for asking too much of the viewer, you have to be culturally conditioned in order to understand what the artist is asking of you. This is not a criticism to be levelled at Bourdin. He provides the viewer with the tools to question and answer, to let your imagination run wild. Isn’t that how art should be?

The £9 entrance fee definitely gives you your money’s worth. The exhibition is extensive and the subject matter provides a balanced contrast of the surreal and the sinister, the sexual and the serene, assuring the viewer is never bored whilst providing something for everyone.

Charles Jourdan Autumn 1967

Charles Jourdan Autumn 1967

My personal favourite, again from the Charles Jourdan campaign. Initially I was drawn to the colours, the way they ‘pop’ in contrast to the dark shale, black railway track and silhouetted trees, but then I was intrigued by the way it can’t easily be categorised. It’s sinister from the way the legs are tied and positioned on the track, leaving the viewer straining for the sight of a distant train. There’s sexual suggestion from the binding of the legs and the way the figures are cut out of shot just above the knee. And it’s surreal – how can there be three legs? Is it two people tied together? Where is the fourth leg?

The exhibition is almost over, ending on the 15th March, but if you have time walk into the gallery and meet Guy for yourself. It’s simple, just open your eyes to the stories on display…

Vogue Paris May 1970

Vogue Paris May 1970

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Harmonious Society By Hannah Prescott

January 29, 2015 Leave a comment

The exhibition that I chose for my marketing plan is the Harmonious Society as part of the Asia Triennial Manchester (2014). This exhibition displays artwork from an artistically underrepresented part of the world. The exhibition is displayed across six venues including the CFCCA, ArtWork, the John Rylands Library, MOSI, the National Football Museum and Manchester Cathedral.  Each of the venues had a different target audience so it was a challenge to tailor a marketing plan for the whole exhibition. I decided to pick MOSI as the venue for my marketing plan because I wished to center my event and marketing plan towards families and students.

 The aim of the marketing plan was to promote the Harmonious Society exhibition as an attraction to increase footfall at MOSI but also to promote Chinese art and the Asia Triennial. Due to budget constraints, the predominant focus was on local visitors around the Greater Manchester, South Lancashire/North Cheshire area. Marketing Activity and events were at key holiday periods to attract working people and their families.

The timeline of activities of my marketing plan began with exhibition and event scheduling which included working out the date of the exhibition duration. For this example, it was the 27th September- 23rd November 2014. Scheduling also included organising when events would occur. To attract families and students I suggested an event with the artists Luxury Logico and their light installations.

After working out when the exhibition and events would occur, the MOSI website was updated appearing on the homepage and in the What’s On Tab. There was  information about the Harmonious Society exhibition and the events that would be taking place during the exhibition duration. There was also links to a Harmonious Society facebook and twitter page.

Social Media is something that must be considered when marketing exhibitions today as it promotes action. It is public, easily accessible and highly visible. The exhibition had its own Twitter and Facebook page with information relaying back to the MOSI information page.  Posts made by the Facebook page were monitored on how many likes, promoted by other Facebook users by sharing and therefore could be spread across a wide target audience area. The Twitter account of the Harmonious Society exhibition can follow and be followed by relevant organisations and people and posts can be tweeted and retweeted. Press was informed about the opening day. Invites were sent to VIPS, members of Arts Council, Taipei Cultural Division, Tang Contemporary Art, Salford University. When promoting the exhibition, MOSI has 6,000 named people on a direct mail database. Information about the event was sent to all of these people. I selected direct mail due to it being a family orientated target audience.

The next step would be to hire volunteers. This was done in conjunction with the other venues and would be promoted through social media and websites. Furthermore, universities were informed to ask students if they would be interested in volunteering. Training would be done in small groups and volunteers were asked to flyer in key areas: Deansgate, Piccadilly, around the University campus and other areas of Greater Manchester. Volunteers would wear t-shirts also promoting the exhibition.

At the Opening Day Special Event, Press, VIPs as mentioned prior, and completion winners would be invited to see the exhibition with talks from the curators and artists about their work. Volunteers were on hand to guide VIPS to the exhibition.

The main event occurred during the October half term to coincide with children being off school with families and to attract students that would visit the already occurring Manchester Science Festival. Luxury Logico gave a hands-on workshops with volunteers to create miniature reclaimed light art works to teach young and old about sustainability. The hands-on approach to these events  attracted families with children at half term. These miniature artworks were part of a social media campaign under the hashtag harmonioussocietylight. People who created miniature light artworks were encouraged to post photos under this hashtag to promote reclaimed light. Volunteers carried out these workshops during school trip visits until the end of the festival.

Social Media was one of the easiest ways to measure success of the marketing plan. This was done through counting website hits, Facebook likes and shares and Twitter retweets and favourites. This was compared to a simple survey of those visiting the exhibition made by volunteers. For the proposed event, volunteers marked down how many attended workshops and also how many used the harmonioussocietylight hashtag on twitter.

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