Nearly 3 years ago – when The Common Lot and I were having that brilliant year with the RSC on their Dream 2016 project (http://www.dream2016.org.uk/amateur-group/the-common-lot/) they asked us to fill out a little profile questionnaire for their website. What is your Wildest Dream? they asked us. Not imagining it would happen any time soon I answered “To stage a monumental piece of multi-collaborative outdoor community theatre about the brilliant history of Norwich over the Water.”
Well I am not sure it’s really ‘monumental’ [not yet anyway] and we are focussing on a slightly smaller geographical area, but Anglia Square: A Love Story is pretty damn close to it. We didn’t quite see the interest coming. 85 at the open meeting in December, and last night at the Octagon we had 45 volunteer researchers turn up – with another 15 listed who could not make it. That’s a big team – our challenge is to ensure they have enough to get their teeth into, are engaged with the project and importantly, feel they have something to bring. Our last research group was 12 strong. Now we have 60. It’s easy to panic when you don’t have much of a map.
However, the more projects we do, the more it strikes me that a lack of a strong methodology, is actually a methodology in itself. We have learnt to make it up as we go along. Take a step and watch where you are going emerge through the mist. To go forward you don’t need to see too far ahead. In fact, if you do, you’ll start bolting it down and lose the creative impulses and the opportunity to embrace the ideas and offers of others that will be so vital to shaping what gets made.
Research Respond Realise – that’s all the method we need. They are easy to communicate concepts – everyone can switch on to where we are at, everyone has a part in the navigation through. We don’t want participants, so we can tell them what to do – we want them to tell us what to do – to guide and shape the project with their own inherent motivation.
It’s our job to have and then communicate the idea, set the time frames and loosely describe the intention: a show, a choir, a songbook [all of these and more this time.] The rest has to be up to them – they will need direction and guidance but not prescription– and much of the former they can give to themselves if conditions are right.
Good community participation requires the project leaders to draw “porous” lines around things. People must be able to come at things their way – and to a certain extent, in their own time. We must work hard to understand what drives people to participate and to maximise these benefits for those we work with. Ordinary people are the engine. Connect them under the idea, give them a space to talk and things [people!] start to become the naturally creative beings they are. It’s common humanity.
It’s a good start. We have 60 people engaged in the first phase of this project, all with something to offer and something to gain. We will nurture the creative, appreciate the practical, believe and succeed together. In the future, with this belief in always looking for and finding new ways to unlock our collective strengths, I think I can make my dreams even wilder than the one I seem to be living….
Photo credit – Bert Eke