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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.

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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.

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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/

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In Memory of Leaves, Natasha Langridge: “Add to the wave; we are at a point where it is sink or swim.”

100 days on and the scorched tower remains exposed and bare. The tragedy at Grenfell Tower, in which at least 80 people died, highlights the long neglect of social housing. It’s part of a bigger problem. A problem that playwright, performer & activist Natasha Langridge is keen to shine a light on.

I had a chat with the lady herself on the phone recently.

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“Grenfell is 10 minutes from where I lived – a lot of people are being treated absolutely appallingly,” she says. “The richest borough in London in one of the richest countries in the world and to be in a situation like this; thousands of empty properties. It’s unforgivable.”

Her new show ‘Memory of Leaves’ is being performed on a wide beam barge at three different London docks. Written in the wake of her home on the Wornington Green Estate in Kensington being demolished, Langridge’s monologue explores what happens to communities when they are moved from their homes. It follows her getting arrested with Occupy Democracy and volunteering in the refugee camp in Calais. The monologue is described by Langridge as ‘a love letter to neighbours and a revolutionary call to the world.’

Memory of Leaves is an impassioned monologue about love and protest,” she explains, “I originally did this show on the road I live on in an amphitheatre. I wanted to reach out to people who can relate to the fact that bulldozers that have become the London skyline. I wanted to reach boaters; that’s a whole community. I wanted to do it on North Kensington on the canal there and for people going through regeneration or people who are seeing or hearing it first-hand.”

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Natasha is co-author of Rage and Reason: Women Playwrights on Playwriting, a powerful book exploring the craft of play-writing and the pressures of working within a male dominated environment. Does she think we have made progress when it comes to gender representation?  “It’s a lot more balanced in terms of women playwrights and there are certainly a lot more BAME playwrights. However, theatre could and should do more; in terms of who’s running the buildings and who is directing work for our nations stages,” says Langridge.

Does she think that mainstream press is doing enough to tackle serious topics within our contracting society, I ask. “The press are not using their responsibility wisely and they are not going to use it,” she explains. “They have a different agenda and that agenda is the status quo. Everybody is hungry for change. What’s different about this piece is I am talking about issues that have affected me directly. It’s a very personal piece.”

The failure by the Tories to tackle the severe housing shortage is part of an ideology to target the vulnerable. We can all make a difference, she thinks. “Ask yourself: what can you contribute? What are you contributing? Are you contributing something positive? Make a difference within your local community,” she pauses, “One of the reasons that we have allowed ourselves to be so fucked over is that we have a government who allow homeless people to sleep on the streets, ensures workers are not earning enough to live on and a political party that is dismantling our public services,” she says.

Making your own work is an excellent way to get noticed and bring your ideas to life. What is her advice for aspiring artists who have something to say in 2017? “Do what you believe in and do what is in your heart. That is what theatre needs and not necessarily clever stuff but stuff that is actually felt. It’s a difficult thing writing,” she says.

The point, for her, is that we aren’t taking the time to look out for one another. “One of the reasons is that we have lost touch with each other. We’ve been encouraged to only do well for ourselves. We’ve forgotten each other and what makes us happy and we need to make a change.”

Langridge maintains that we have to wake up. “Fight for what you believe in. Ask yourself what can you contribute? Are you contributing something positive? Add to the wave – we are at a point where it is sink or swim,” she says defiantly.

What a woman.

In Memory of Leaves Buy tickets HERE >> http://in-memory-of-leaves.natasha-langridge.com/

Meanwhile Gardens

The Fordham Gallery Barge moored at Meanwhile Gardens Grand Union Canal*

Nearest tube: Westbourne Park

Wednesday October 4th – Saturday 7th 7.30p

Camden Lock

The Fordham Gallery Barge moored at Camden Lock (Visitors Mooring) Regents Canal*

Nearest tube: Camden Town

Wednesday 11th October – Saturday 14th 7.30pm

Hackney Wick

The Fordham Gallery Barge moored at Hackney Wick White Post Lane River Lee*

Nearest overground: Hackney Wick

Wednesday 18thOctober – Saturday 21st October 7.30pm