Professor Sally Mackey was awarded nearly £200,000 for ‘Performing Places Bexley’ from a major new grant given to Bexley Council in 2017. Phase 1 was completed on June 30th 2018 with great success on Bexleyheath Broadway. Phase 2 was completed on July 6th 2019.
The Performing Places Bexley two-year project used a fictional narrative to think about how the public space in Bexley (and in this case, Bexleyheath Broadway) might more easily be shared and how we might welcome strangers. The narrative was designed to draw attention to the importance of ‘place’, the people in that place and the caring for strangers there.
With a creative team, we created a fictional narrative where a parallel universe (Par Bexia … a parallel Bexleyheath) was dissolving through lack of attention to, and care of, the place. Unplanned, young Par Bexians arrived in three pods in Bexleyheath in May 2018, unable to get out of their pods until we could provide them with safety clothing. Organs in the safety clothing were created by 15+ workshop groups in and around Bexleyheath. During the final week of phase 1, ending on 30th June, the young Par Bexians were out on the street, supported by three Vists (a mixture of archivist and inventor) who are experts in Par Bexia together with a large number of Vestors (trainee Vists). The urgency was to find out knowledge of Bexleyheath, which converted into Bexrays (fuel) to power a portal due to open at 12.30 on Sat 30th at the clocktower in Bexleyheath. Of course, it worked and the young Par Bexians returned home safely.
Armed with the knowledge from the young Par Bexians, and as originally planned, senior Par Bexians arrived in the first week of July 2019 to learn more about how attachment to place can prevent their own parallel universe from dissolving.
All the activities of the project were linked to the overall story and the metaphor implicit in that narrative. Many thousands of youngsters and adults in and around Bexleyheath have engaged in workshops and events leading up to the final weeks in the town’s central Broadway. In the final week of Phase 1 (2018), we estimate at least 1,500 participated in, or observed, events in the Broadway. Workshops gathered and played with participants’ knowledge of Bexleyheath and activities were designed to emphasise attention to place within the overall narrative of Par Bexia.
Over the two years there have been over 70 workshops, storytelling sessions and community events and during the street weeks on the Broadway (26-30 June 2018; 3-6 July 2019), an array of activities have focused attention on the everyday e.g. paving stones, cashpoint machines, a postbox, the clocktower. These were designed to engage mixed groups of community members including passers-by, large numbers of school children and retailers. A spinning wheel asks questions about the town, ‘pop up parties’ see participants using the site in a completely different way, roaming ‘place-carers’ ask residents to help them tidy the site, miniature figures are framed curiously and eyes are found everywhere. All were intended to gain knowledge of Bexleyheath to pass on to the Par Bexians whilst simultaneously encouraging a new model of experiencing place.
The Performing Places Bexley project is a partnership between London Borough of Bexley and The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD), funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The press release from LB of Bexley in early July states ‘The programme has provided a chance to think about how we can appreciate shared community space more and how we welcome and interact with strangers. Residents came together to get involved in a number of activities, which provided positive energy and ultimately enabled the Par-Bexians to return home amidst a flurry of pyrotechnics, confetti and smoke!’
www.vistsbexley.com is the comprehensive ‘in world’ or fictional website accompanying the project conceived by Dr Claire Macneill.
In addition to a number of excellent colleagues at the London Borough of Bexley, there have been some key people involved in this work. Suha Al-Khayyat (alumna from DE 99 and Little Fish) has been project manager with Dr Claire Macneill (Mashup! Productions) as co-creator and consultant. Ross Bolwell (DE08 and Emergency Exit Arts) has been key and, indeed, we have partnered Emergency Exit Arts for the project whose associated artists have added so much to the process. Dr Adelina Ong (Central) has been attached to this latest performing places project as research documenter and Maria Ignacia Goycoolea and Laetitia Butler have been MA Applied Theatre placement students on the project. The support from Bexley Council has been considerable and energetic.