Home Truths: The Countryside

Feature in Issue 23-1 | Spring 2011

The Canny Granny Goes Wild in the Country.

Ah that fresh country air! Sometimes it feels so creative to be in the wilds, I wonder what I’m doing in the deranged metropolis. Strap on the walking boots I say…

… and head for an Arvon Centre to finish that script. They have the ‘retreat’ idea down to a tea-and-toast-round-a-farmhouse-table. And I love a workshop you can do in slippers. Tim Crouch and a smith ran my course, and a friend went to one with the Clod Ensemble. Arvon have four of these rural retreats for writers and artists, including one in the delightfully named Sheepwash in Devon.

I grew up in Devon and remember how locals used to laugh at Dartington College – one of the few isolated rural universities run by arts practitioners. Taxpayers’ money, they said, was being used to encourage students to make tissue-paper installations in the rain! We’re not laughing now that that radical arts experiment has relocated to Falmouth (though I’m sure its new facilities are very nice).

Set up by Welfare State International, the UK’s first fully-fledged purpose-built creation centre Lanternhouse pioneered tissue paper artistry. Once, when asked by Total Theatre Magazine’s editor (my dear old friend Dorothy) if she ever gets sick of making withy-and-tissue-paper lanterns, Welfare State’s co-founder Sue Gill confided that she had a recurring nightmare of being in a nursing home and someone coming in to say ‘it’s all right dear, some nice young artists are coming in to do paper lantern-making later!’ Personally, I wish someone would base a care home on theatre-making – I fancy spending my last days making just-about-still-a-live art.

Forkbeard’s Waterslade Studios in Somerset (less a ‘studio’ than an enclave of cavernous barns full of materials, from latex and fibreglass to bits of piano wire) is where to go in summer to muck about with multimedia. Very nice by daylight but you wouldn’t want to get locked in overnight, what with the quivering rubber Chihuahua and the boxes full of chattering false teeth. A bit like sharing a bedroom with me!

France is great at the whole creation centre thing. Atelier 231 just outside Rouen is an old train shed with artists living in gypsy caravans whilst they are ‘in residence’. Oh my roaming heart! You just don’t get that stuff in Peckham. (But you do have the CLF art cafe in the Bussey Building warehouse, and a pop-up Campari bar and sculpture garden on top of the multi-storey car park each summer, so the caravans we’ll live without.)

Isolation allows the theatre to become a prototype society – Le Théâtre du Soleil, in an old munitions factory on the edge of the Vincennes forest, set up a collective in which everyone is nominally equal. Only it’s Ariane Mnouchkine’s name one hears most often. And all those Polish people – Song of the Goat, Gardzienice – also make all their actors live, work, sweat and breathe together for months on end, doing crack-of-dawn runs in the woods. Rather them than me, I don’t care how many singing goats they manage to make.

Nothing is more terrifyingly autocratic than the rural myth of Anton from Derevo making his troupe rehearse naked in the snow. It must have looked a little like a near-death experience: lots of white fgures jerking silently against a white background. I hope when my number’s up it’s beautiful Derevo I’m watching in my mind’s eye, anyway.

That’s all a bit fierce. I think I’m an urban granny on balance. What about you? Would you be knock-knock-knocking on Devon’s door or hot in the city, hot in the city tonight?

Laura Eades is the Canny Granny. In another life Laura is director of The Honourable Society for Faster Craftswomen, whose multimedia theatre show Patchwork, which was boosted by a stint at an Arvon centre, is at Camden People’s Theatre’s Sprint festival March 21–22 2010.

Atelier 231 Sotteville-lès-Rouen, France just hosted a festival called Fish and Chips, which showcased British companies, where real fish and chips and mushy peas were served: www.atelier231.fr

Dartington College has moved to new facilities as part of University College Falmouth: www.falmouth.ac.uk

Lanternhouse hosts residencies and workshops in Cumbria: www.lanternhouse.org

Théâtre du Soleil is worth a visit if you are in Paris: www. theatre-du-soleil.fr

Song of the Goat recently toured the UK with Macbeth: www.piesnkozla.pl

Sharpen your Polish for a visit to Gardzienice’s website: www.gardzienice.art.pl

Meanwhile over in Brazil is the Centro Popular de Conspiração Gargarullo, where Zecora Ura developed their LIFT show Hotel Medea, currently hosting the DRIFT residency: www.gargarullo.com/br

You don’t have to go to the country to find things blooming in old buildings, there’s plenty in the urban sprawl of London too:

The Old Police Station in New Cross is a DIY arts centre: www.theoldpolicestation.org

Utrophia in Deptford: www.utrophia.net

Stoke Newington International Airport are still going strong: www.stkinternational.co.uk

The CLF Art Cafe is based in the Bussey building in Peckham: www.clfartcafe.org

Brick Box are populating Brixton market, and now Tooting market too, with remote control Yukka plants and guerilla orchestras: www.thebrickbox.co.uk

This article in the magazine

Issue 23-1
p. 9