In their own words Walk the Plank are “a collective of land-lubber outdoor arts fanatics who collaborate to dream up, create and produce outstanding moments of outdoor theatre and spectacle.”
They put the magic into your parade; light up the night sky with pyrotechnic wonder and breath fire into summer festivals. You may not be aware of who they are but you will have seen their work. From the spellbinding Ice Queen at the Whitworth’s frost fair last Christmas to the epic recent European Capital of Culture Opening Ceremony in Pafos. Any Mancunian’s old enough to remember will recall their stunning closing ceremony to the 2002 Commonwealth Games that brought together hundreds of community participants into a beautifully choreographed performance featuring over two thousand lanterns. Walk the Plank’s success lies in their ability to inspire a sense of place, a feeling of pride, and well being that resonates far beyond the visual to find a place in your heart.
It is perhaps no surprise that it takes a certain amount of innovation and tenacity to dream up an organisation like Walk the Plank. They began in the early 90’s when Liz Pugh and John Wassel managed to persuade a bank to lend them enough money to buy an old Norwegian ferry and turned it into Europe’s first touring theatre ship the ‘Fitzcarraldo’. The company’s rich history of taking artistic performance beyond the confines of traditional theatre space has secured them a reputation as one of the leading names in outdoors arts – producing work that engages diverse audiences at home in the North West, nationally and internationally.
This is most evident in their work with Manchester City Council on the Manchester Day Parade – an annual civic event that celebrates everything great about the city. Walk the Plank commission artists to empower community groups to create an epic party of magical creatures, robots animals and aliens in response to each year’s theme and this year it’s all about magic!
In the build up to the parade Walk the Plank put on a series of Wow workshops that involve bringing community groups together the different groups into one giant artsy workshop in the old Victorian Campfield market. During my placement I was lucky enough to get the chance to work with some of the community groups in these workshops getting a sneak peak behind the scenes. From unicorns and Frankenstein to the Suffragettes and a rising phoenix you wonder where and how these wonderful ideas are made but also begin to see why art is important is our collective community.
Now twenty-five years later Walk the Plank’s mission remains the same – to enrich lives through shared creative experience. It seems fitting then that to celebrate such a seminal birthday Walk the Plank would gift themselves a new home. This summer Walk the Plank move into Cobden Works; a new combined outdoor arts creative hub in the industrial heart of Salford.
Designed by Liverpool-based Architectural Emporium and Skyline Construction, the new site on Cobden Street will include an on site workshop for creating new outdoor art structures, a training and education facility and a contemporary head office building to house the production, marketing and admin team. This is the first time in the company’s history that artists and outdoor arts practitioners will be under the same roof as their office-based team, creating a dynamic melting pot of skills and creative thinking.
So keep your eyes peeled for a late summer opening of Cobden Works – see how outdoor arts can touch you heart and open your mind.