Why was this building built as it was?
What secrets has it seen?
What is it like to be you?
What is it like to have lived where you have lived?
What has changed in your lifetime?
SPID Theatre Company’s latest project – for which we won a £50,000 Clore Prize in 2014 – takes place on one of the most iconic social housing estates in London. It is delivered in partnership with K2K Local Radio, The Oral History Society and the Twentieth Century Society, and supported by the Victoria and Albert Museum. It fuses design, architecture, theatre, oral history and radio, involves the RIBA archives, is accredited with an ArtsAward and takes a while to explain… but at its heart is curiosity, pure and simple.
It’s an attempt to answer the questions above in relation to an extraordinary building and the generations of people inside it. It’s also a journey to empower and equip a company of young people with the confidence and skills to examine the world around them and produce works of art and design with their findings. The stories unearthed and the relationships sparked by these kinds of intergenerational and cross-disciplinary encounters are anything but simple, and this is the beauty of the project.
Over the course of a year, young people aged 13-25 from on and around the Trellick Towers Estate in West London (built by Erno Goldfinger - an architect so controversial he gave his name to a Bond villain) are attending weekly sessions in which they will learn from experts how to interview older residents, how to read the architecture and lead guided tours of Trellick Towers, how to select and edit the transcripts of interviews into a theatre show and a radio play, how to present a live radio show, how to build up a portfolio of their own design work, and how to produce and perform in a site-specific play in Trellick. The sessions include architect-led workshops at the V&A museum, and tours round the brutalist architecture of the Southbank.
For SPID, ‘Trellick Tales’ marks a new departure. We’ve been working for a decade on our home estate, Kensal House on Ladbroke Grove, creating professional and youth shows that animate public space and explore the bonds within communities. We’re passionate about using the arts to take people ‘far far away’ from the here and now, whilst remaining anchored in the space we all share. So it’s no surprise that our latest project has its feet in Trellick and travels backwards in time through the stories of others. What’s different for us is that we are working away from home, testing out our methods and learning whether we could apply our approach more widely.
‘Trellick Tales’ is modeled closely on our 2013 project, ‘Kensal Voices’, exploring the histories of the residents and architects of Kensal House. ‘Kensal Voices’ was a huge success with participants, as you can see in their own pictures and words here and from photos below showing a visit to the V&A Museum, and scenes from their final show.
At the end of 'Kensal Voices', Anuli Changa, one of the participants, said:
"This project has taught me to be open- minded and not to judge too hastily. When I came to the very first Kensal Voices session, I was sceptical about what one building could teach me, but I was in for a surprise! How amazing is it that such an important part of history can be unlocked by one building?"
We’re grateful to Clore for giving us the chance to work in more buildings than Kensal House, and excited to learn everything we can before embarking on our next ‘away’ project, ‘Reimagining Cheltenham’, on the neighbouring estate to Trellick.
What’s clear already is how important the project is to participants. Last week I went to Trellick Towers to participate in one of the sessions – a workshop delivered by Rib Davis of the Oral History Society. Rib is one of the country’s most experienced interviewers, with decades of experience collecting testimonies for the British Museum among other institutions. He shared insights ranging from how to source interviewees to how to interview people who don’t speak English, and how to make sure that you are in the right frame of mind to enter into a relationship with an interviewee, to advice for building a good rapport. He went on to introduce the participants to state-of-the-art recording equipment.
The young people around me were hooked; taking notes, asking questions and obviously excited to plan their own interviews.
And as for the SPID team, we can’t wait to see what they uncover.
‘Trellick Tales’ runs until March 2016.
For more information please see:
To get involved yourself, or for any queries, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Rachel Grunwald, Clore Theatre Fellow (2013-2015), and Associate Director of SPID Theatre Company.
Trellick Tales is lead by Nnnenna Samson and Marianne Sarastre, and SPID’s Artistic Director is Helena Thompson. Clore Social Fellow David Russell is SPID’s Secretary Trustee.