The Idle Women Summer 2018 tour

Kate Saffin and I (Alarum Theatre) finished our Spring tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways last Saturday in Calf Heath Marina, Wolverhampton. We’re now preparing for the Summer tour which starts at the beginning of June. The first show is in Stoke Bruerne, then we’ll be on the Chesterfield Canal in West Stockwith. Click here for the full schedule and to book:

https://alarumtheatre.co.uk/2018-tour-dates/

Here are a couple of audience comments from the Spring tour to whet your appetite!

“Wonderful show – beautifully and compassionately performed.” – Sarah & Tony

“A wonderful performance – it brought the whole situation alive.” – Sue & Geoff

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Tiller, Kettle, Windlass

I’m delighted to be featured in this wonderful new film by Erin Hopkins:

Tiller, Kettle, Windlass – A Narrowboat Film

Windlass100 year old windlass – backdrop, NB Tench, 2017

Negotiation & shopping trolleys

A few weeks ago I sent off the final copy for the book of poems about the restoration of the Droitwich Canals which I have been working on for The Ring. More on that later!

There are several anecdotes which didn’t make it into the book so I have been sharing some of them in my blog. For this post, I am grateful to John Burman, Roger Squires and someone who wishes to remain anonymous …

Negotiation

“One of the landowners refused permission for us to go on the towpath, said it was his land. I went back to the original Act of Parliament which said that the width of the canal shall be 50 yards. I showed him this and he agreed it was right. I said banks erode, yes, but the keystone on the apex of a bridge isn’t going to shift. So we measured 25 yards from the keystone and it went well into his garden. We agreed that’s where the boundary should be. In the end we came to a compromise by erecting a heaver* fence so that he could get a lorry into his field and we could get down the towpath.”

John Burman

*A gate without hinges that can be heaved off its posts and laid aside to let vehicles etc go through.

Shopping Trolleys

“The amount of shopping trolleys we used to get out of the canal was ridiculous. We’d go trolley hunting and get twenty out of the canal on a Saturday morning. People would take their shopping home then dump them and kids would use them as go-carts round the town. What we’d do with all these muddy rusty trolleys is fish them out, put them in the van, take them to the supermarket which owned them and leave them outside their front door for them to recycle. It was time wasted as far as we were concerned. In the end, we came up with a plan. One of our members would wander round the town and visit all the street corners and car parks where these trolleys had been left. Before the next morning, all these shopping trolleys only had three wheels on them. Kids aren’t interested in a trolley with only three wheels on, so the town slowly started filling up with three-wheeled trolleys. 108 trolleys had a wheel removed and never went in the canal. Eventually the town council brought pressure to bear on the supermarket and before long they changed the system so you needed a pound coin to release them. So it worked!”

Finally, here’s the seal which was on the cover of the first guide book produced to encourage people to walk along the route of the Droitwich Canal. The book was produced by Roger Squires using a Roneo duplicator, operated by turning a handle. I’m sorry to say that I’m old enough to remember using one of those! I like the Latin motto which translates as FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE MANY.

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Here’s a link to my previous post about The Ring.

Changing a space for ever 

A performance can change a space for ever. When ‘engagement and creative arts warrior’ Rachel Sharpe said words to this effect, I was struck by the truth of it. Having toured Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways to venues unused to hosting performances, I knew what she was getting at.

A good example is the Wildside Activity Centre in Wolverhampton, alongside the Staffs & Worcs Canal. The room was laid out for us to perform against the short wall of their rectangular space, the ‘top’ of the room – a wall cluttered with displays and other bits and pieces – but we chose the long wall which had several windows. We asked for the chairs to be arranged in a wide arc so that people could see us more easily, and we drew the curtains which created a simple dark backdrop without distractions. The organisers had never hosted a theatrical show before and were very accommodating. At the end of the evening, the Centre’s Project Leader, Steve, looked up at the strip lights and commented that for future events of this nature, it would be good to improve the lighting to make it more atmospheric. So a space previously seen only as an ‘activity room’ now has an added dimension as a theatre, and the success of our show has encouraged them to put on more events of this nature.

Wildside Activity Centre, Wolverhampton


There are other venues where we didn’t feel as if our hosts had noticed that they could easily have done more to give us a quiet space where we wouldn’t have to compete with, for example, the ring of a till or loud conversation. A pub which hasn’t hosted theatre before won’t necessarily have realised that it’s not appropriate to book people in to have a meal during the show. It may not occur to them that clattering cutlery and the necessity to communicate over dinner orders is not ideal for audience and artists alike! Some hosts will have taken things like this on board for the future and others not.

Not only does a performance change the space, but the audience changes the performance. A large responsive audience in a compact space gives a virtual sounding board which lifts us. Concentration was harder when we had: a sprawling audience with people chatting at the back, a bloke in the second row holding up a device to take photos or a video, wandering and/or barking dogs, a drunken woman (who was really enjoying the show), a man in a loud shirt whose phone had a very loud ringtone …. Every performance feels different and has its own quirks, not least because of the venue and the audience, and taking theatre to non-arts spaces means working round all sorts of inconveniences whilst hoping to develop use of that space and raise awareness of how arts events can work well in community venues.

Some people have come to see our show at least twice and have said it’s even better the second time, which is good to know! Tomorrow night we’re at Theatre in the Dock in Banbury when there will be a special announcement about our exciting plans for 2017. Next year there will be opportunities for our show to have an impact on new spaces, as we take audiences into another world where much of their surroundings are imagined: the back of a boat, a pub, a lock, the towpath, top planks, tarpaulin, sirens, doodlebugs … and lots of women!

For details of our forthcoming London shows and for more information, go to the Alarum Theatre website.

Carpet Forest in Malvern 20th-30th December

Here’s your final chance to see the wonderful Carpet Forest which includes some of my work. The installation was created for Kidderminster Town Hall and wowed visitors to Kidderminster Arts Festival 2013. Having visited Bristol, it now makes a final appearance at the Malvern Cube. Some of my Weaving Yarns work can be heard on mp3 players hidden amongst the trees. The installation was the brainchild of Loz Samuels, who said this about my involvement:

Having Weaving Yarns as an element of our Carpet Forest installation was a gift, and in turn gave a fantastic environment to showcase a taster of this work. The recordings … gave the public … insight into the real heart of the work. The stories and Heather’s interpretation of them sparked conversations amongst families about their connections with the carpet industry.
Loz Samuels, Wyre Forest District Council Arts Officer

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Street entertainment, I do not love you very much …

This year I’ve watched or been involved in several theatrical encounters on the streets of Worcestershire. Having seen some brilliant performances in August at Kidderminster Arts Festival (see link below) I got the performers-eye view in a KAF commission, How do wars start? with Worcestershire Poet Laureate, Fergus McGonigal.

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Photo: Geoff Cox

To find out how it went see our Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/how.do.wars.start

Also in August, I was booked by Clik Clik Collective (see link below) to wander the streets of Worcester as Black Country Pat, engaging people as I saw fit, for the Worcester Music Festival. I chatted to lots of people and sang songs.

WMF 11

Photo: Geoff Cox

Last Friday I was with Clik Clik again at Worcester’s Victorian Fayre delivering poetry near the site of Hill Evans & Co Vinegar Works which closed in the sixties. My repertoire consisted of humorous and informative poems about vinegar I’d written specially for the occasion in a Victorian style plus pieces by little known Victorian women poets and Edward Lear.

Clik Clik Victorian Worcs Fayre Dave Grubb

Photo: Dave Grubb

Engaging the public at such events can be exceedingly difficult. (As you can see, I resorted to post-Victorian equipment.) People with their minds fixed on getting from A to B keep their heads down, determined not to be lured into any form of enjoyment. Is the chugger partly to blame for this? Discuss.

Here are some of the responses I got to the question, Can I read you a poem?

  • “I don’t like poetry. I’m not romantic.”

  • A man struggling to walk with a walking stick (hehe, he couldn’t escape) said he didn’t want a poem because he found it difficult to stand still, yet he stood there for ages telling me about the time he worked for Lee and Perrins.

  • A woman rushing by wouldn’t stop to listen because she was in pain but proceeded to tell me in great detail the different household uses for vinegar, especially cleaning the toilet.

Clik Clik Victorian Worcs Fayre 2 Dave Grubb

Photo: Dave Grubb

When 3 teenage lads approached I offered, in a very posh voice, to read them a poem and they said yes please, listening with mock interest. I read a short piece by Amy Levy and one of the lads said, earnestly, that she was one of his favourite poets and agreed that it was tragic that she committed suicide at the age of 27. He asked for more poetry, so I turned to another lad and directed this to him:

I DO not love you very much,
Only your tuneful voice,
Which, in a happy moment, takes
The music of my choice.
I do not love you, dear, at all,
Only your merry ways,
Which linger in my mind, and set
Me dreaming through the days.
In truth, I think it is dislike
You kindle in my heart,
Because you come so joyously
To steal so large a part.

Dollie Radford

He listened intently. “So you love me then”, he said when I’d finished. I walked away, “blushing”. Then the Anti Barber lured him into his chair and drew a moustache which made him look like Lionel Richie and broke into anachronistic song to uproarious laughter. Later I gave a spoken rendition of The Lost Chord by Adelaide Anne Procter to improvised piano accompaniment by a fellow Clik Clik entertainer called Dan. Is it mad? Is it art? Does it matter? Who had the most fun?

http://www.kidderminsterartsfestival.org.uk/gallery/

http://www.clikclikcollective.com/about-us/

Over 3 thousand views of Idle Women video

The Canal & River Trust shared the video of my poem Idle Women and Judies on their Facebook page and so far it has been watched 3,281 times. 80 people/organisations have shared it on their pages too, and on YouTube it has been watched 497 times. I have received and found some lovely comments which I’ve copied below:

very evocative and true to the story too
Teresa Fuller (narrow boat owner)

Only one word for it BRILLIANT! Well done.
Roger Noons (poet)

What a fabulous piece of work.
Emma Purshouse (writer, performance poet, narrow boat owner)

Life generally isn’t one landscape – it’s made up of a thousand flashes … it doesn’t consist of armies – of populations – it is formed from single people and individual experiences. You always represent the individual so very clearly – thank you.
Mike Alma
(poet)

A powerful atmospheric portrait of life on the canals during the second word war. It’s beautiful, very moving.
Burnley Canal Festival

Comments on Facebook shares:

This is brilliant!
That video and the associated pictures are very nice and a fabulous part of our history.
Brilliant!!!
i liked the poetic versus 🙂
brill
Take time to watch this…. It is a wonderful tribute to the Women who kept the canal industry moving during the war……

Here are some photos from my day performing at the Waterways Museum, Gloucester:

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Interview with Joanna Durrant, BBC Radio Gloucestershire

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