I work at Chichester Festival Theatre, which is in West Sussex. I’m the Community Partnerships Manager within the LEAP department, which stands for Learning Education And Participation.
I first came across Spare Tyre when I was in my final year of my degree. I was given a a three month placement with err, with Spare Tyre in, that would’ve been the autumn of 2011. So I spent three months with them doing a range of different things. So I err I had some administrative roles within their office, but I also worked on some practical sessions. So they were working on a tour of ‘I’m an Artist, Let Me In!’ which was being performed… venues around across London. So some school and communities venues as well as some professional theatre venues as well. So I assisted with the rehearsals and the tour of that. And I also go to assist with some of their sessions with emm… older participants. So yeah, that when I started, that’s when I first heard about Spare Tyre.
What really struck me particularly about the way that Spare Tyre work practically, is emm… the patience and the upmost respect them have for all of the participants that they work with. Erm… their, particularly with the the LD [learning disabled] guys. There was no sense of ‘aren’t they doing well despite’ it was… you know, every time I’ve worked with Spare Tyre, it always been ‘these are people doing their… you know achieving their absolute best potential’. No “despite” no, no sort of ‘oh’, you know caveats of ‘oh well, oh… aren’t they trying?’ It’s never been that feeling at all. I’ve never, I’ve never experienced that at all erm which I found really refreshing and really, really admirable. Erm so I think it was that that really got me, got me hooked and sort of went ‘yeah, this is a this is a special, this is a special group of people who are working in a fantastic way.’
So what Spare Tyre do fantastically well is putting people on stage, putting people into productions who otherwise are not necessarily as seen, as not as visibly noticed in in other in other performance basis. So things, I came to seen these year their performance of space…Safe, not space, Safe, sorry, which was erm performed by their companies of elders. Generally, there are less the-, there is less… there are less parts for people who are of that age in theatre. Erm so it was fantastic to see a group of people… who are, who were older on you know, front line, that was them, that was them. And it wasn’t necessarily ‘oh isn’t’ again it wasn’t that kind of thing like ‘oh look, is older people, aren’t, isn’t that nice?’ It was, it’s older people putting on a play.
When you, when you sort of talk to average human. Um… not that that is a real thing, but err you talk about arts or theatre or being creative people tend to see that as something that is elitist and can only be done by the artists, and that is sort of view with air quotations fingers ‘it’s special and fantastic people who only have those skills can know you, only can create and that’s their absolute life’. And some people can see themselves not as that.
Participatory arts in my view is a way of working to try to dispel that as a myth um and to encourage everyone who is happy to get involved. It’s not about forcing people to be creative, but gently encouraging people that everyone has the potential to be creative if given the space and the encouragement to do so. Um, so participatory art is about working with participants erm… to unlock their potential to be as creative as they feel or want to be.
Theatre is meant to be a medium that holds a mirror up to society and shows what it is like. Be that if you’re writing a play or you’re devising a piece of however that is… that sort of base line, that’s what theatre should be, in my opinion. If it’s not inclusive both in terms of the people who are making and performing that work and also the people who are coming to see that work, err then it becomes a distorted mirror umm and err can sort of start to further perpetuate people’s misconceptions, misbeliefs, misunderstandings of what the society they live in is.
The best participatory arts projects are the ones where… the participants are at the centre of it. Erm and I think that’s what makes it, what can make it so accessible is, it being centred around the people that you are working with or that you want to work with. It being something for them, it’s not something you have decided and you’re trying to tack on that people. So I think that is what accessible about is it can be… it can be flexible around the people that you working with.
Louise joined us for a three-month placement as part of her degree with Central School of Speech and Drama in 2011. She worked on I’m An Artist, Let Me In! and researched the history of Spare Tyre, putting together a timeline, which we’ve now expanded during the ST40 project. She works for Chichester Festival as their Community Partnerships Manager.
Louise spoke about our methods of working and the aim of participatory arts.