The Dancing Club, Caroline Jester: ‘Work that inspires me is a diversity of work.’

The Dancing Club is a new play for community owned spaces, school and village halls, libraries, arts centres and theatres. Produced by Pippa Frith and written and directed by Caroline Jester, The Dancing Club is based around the remarkable and inspirational true story of Kidderminster legends Frank and Wynn Freeman and their selfless drive to get a town dancing.

I caught up with writer and director Caroline Jester recently. Here is what we discussed.

Hi Caroline! Can you tell me a bit about The Dancing Club and what led you to this project?

Most of my career to date has been developing work in cities but coming from a town where there is little provision for the arts I have always had a fascination with how to explore these towns in connection with the arts. Towns that have an industrial heritage, so distinct from villages and cities, where the main industry has died out and they are often forgotten in terms of arts provisions. I use playwriting as a tool in many ways in my practice as well as to develop plays for the stage and I wanted to see if a verbatim approach could facilitate audience development in these towns. Verbatim is often used as a response to an event so this was an experiment as I wasn’t reacting against an event but trying to create the event. I thought back to my childhood and remembered the dancing school I went to for six years and started from there. I discovered this had run for over fifty years and started as a ballroom dancing school but became a space where youth culture exploded across the generations, including being a place where the likes of Marc Bolan and Fleetwood Mac played gigs in the room above a butcher’s shop.


Sounds interesting. How did you go about collecting the testimony and information?

I interviewed over 100 residents of the town aged 25 – 90 and over 150 people came to readings of early drafts, so an audience was developing. Steve Elias had his BBC series ‘Our Dancing Town’ on at the same time where he was connecting generations through dance in Yorkshire towns so we connected and he is now the choreographer on the show that is about to tour.

The Dancing Club - credit Colin Hill.jpg

As well as The Dancing Club being out on tour you have a new book out: ‘Fifty Playwrights on Their Craft. Tell me more about that, it sounds like a huge project.

I interviewed 25 – my US collaborator, Caridad Svich interviewed the other 25 – very much a UK US collaboration – the premise of it was to think about an intergenerational conversation. So, it is a book of interviews with writers of different generations but writers from different perspectives on their craft and what that means to them as playwrights. A key aim was to ensure 50/50 male-female –Artists in the US seem to have a much greater appreciation or knowledge of predecessors and practitioners.

What did you think about the recent Rita, Sue and Bob Too debacle around ‘working class voices’ being censored at the Royal Court

I didn’t seen this production but I did hear that one of the arguments to reinstate the production was because if it wasn’t shown then it would be one less ‘working class’ voice on our stages. I think we have to be careful when we use the term ‘working class voices’ because to be working class does not mean you are part of a homogeneous group of people. No one ‘working class’ voice will be the same and I feel we should steer clear of the use of the word ‘authentic’ in these discussions as well. From what I know about Andrea Dunbar then she could be categorised as being working class based on economic status and having lived on a council estate but there have been others, there are others and there will be others who also have a similar biography so can’t we look beyond this and have a conversation solely about the work instead? A bigger question is whether there will be any social housing rather than any ‘working class voices’.

What inspires you as a theatre-maker?

Work that inspires me is a diversity of work and I hope I am inspired and open enough to contradict my own beliefs in what is good and challenging work, and this is something that constantly changes.

The Dancing Club opens at Kidderminster College and then tours to Shropshire, Bewdley, Malvern, Bromsgrove, Smethwick, Wolverhampton, Worester & Cumbria.

For more information: https://www.thedancingclub.co.uk/