March 1st Sunday
I wrote to Peter Ackroyd’s agent Lucy Fawcett a few days ago and she called today to say that Peter has sent her a few ideas, but that I shouldn’t raise my hopes about him writing the play. “At least he’s nibbling’. Later in the day she forwarded his notes:
“Dear Jon: The nibbles...as per our conversation. Will await thoughts! All best Lucy”
and from Peter Ackroyd the following:
“I had an idea for the float, which might lead to a play.
· There are four centres of attention on the float.
· A monk with four small children chanting out a history lesson.
· A group of acrobats etcetera singing and dancing in the style of medieval pageants.
· John Stow sitting at his desk, writing in a large book with a lamp for illumination.
· Samuel Pepys reciting his diary for the Great Fire or similar.
· The chanting, singing, Stow's muttering and Pepys declaiming all have the key word of "London", accompanied by a drum beat that slowly grows louder.
That's my idea; If they don't like it that's fine. If they do like it, it might lead to a play. Best, Peter.”
Well it’s a sure sign of interest, but he’s over committed – he’s about to publish his biography of Hitchcock and is on his third volume of the History of England. He would be a great choice as a chronicler of London, but we shall wait and see. I have another strong choice in mind but I replied straight away:
Lucy, It’s perfect can you say to Peter: I don’t need to hesitate - I do like it - it makes total sense to me - I’m delighted the great chroniclers of London are included in the image, and that all the historical periods, separated by time are nevertheless connected. Peter, in my mind, I’d include yourself on the float as our contemporary chronicler, that’s not an addition to your theatrical idea - just a fact. I hope we can talk further. Thank you Lucy. You said time might be an issue for Peter. I can only add that whilst we might want to encourage communication between the writer and the community we do respect the writer’s work ethic, style and process. How Peter connects with the community, which is what could most affect the time element, is negotiable. I only know that Peter would be a great choice.
March 2nd Monday
Had an E.Mail from Tori, one half of a husband and wife team who run Bubble and Brit. They have over 15 years experience in arts, education, bespoke events, theatre, project management, team building, and film-making. If we can work with talented groups who have a proven record of work dedicated to the area so much the better for the project and the chances of sustainability. They seem very excited by the prospect of the play so it seems imminently sensibly to meet up with them. They are currently doing some documentary work with residents they’ve worked the children and young people with on Middlesex street and for the national play day events 2012 -13. Their experience in film, visual arts, forum theatre, play and devising with children and young people, reminiscence, intergenerational work and so forth would be of great benefit to the play and lead in projects.
Have been looking at Marquees; the majority of tent companies hire out for big social events and weddings; there’s academy marquees who’s tents serve as temporary short/long term stores, there’s circus tent hires. In terms of sustainability there’s the more practical possibility of buying a tent for the Aldgate Square, something that can be used for numerous and continued events beyond the life of the play. In planning we need to consider the long-term benefits. The Square has the real potential of becoming the centre of the resident community, a sort of village green for Aldgate, wouldn’t that be great.
Meanwhile Fabio is setting up local soundings, the Portsoken Pioneers and display stalls in the Barbican and Artizan Libraries.
March 3rd Tuesday
Soundings comments are starting to come through on the web site. It never ceases to amaze me how a common theme develops out of the soundings, no matter how varied the individuals are by politics, age or culture, by age there’s a common thread emerges. It happens every time. Here there seems to be a common wish for disparate groups and cliques to come together and for everyone to find a collective voice and shared sense of place and history. Take a look at the comments.
March 5th Thursday
We had two good meetings today, the first with Sean Gregory from the Barbican Centre, and the second with Rosie Farrer from Spice. Sean Gregory is Director of Creative Learning at the Barbican Centre, and an inspiring musician and teacher of music in his own right. He was very positive about collaborating with us on the community play. The talent available in the City is immense and it really is where we need start looking to put together the right professional team. There really is a lot more discussion to be had about brining together and sharing the aspirations of the Barbican Centre and the play. The play should be looking to meet the agendas of those who are already positively serving the City. The Barbican has and is doing a lot of great work in the East End. Sean is to contact a Drumworks project and ask them to come and play at our public meeting on April 28th. We’ll arrange another meeting in May, following the public vote, and will hopefully meet with others from the Barbican with a shared interest in collaborating.
March 6th Friday
I had a good meeting with Rosie Farrer from Spice yesterday. Rosie clearly felt the same she E Mailed me and others on the Spice team the following:
We had some fantastic discussions about the things going on locally and how we could link them all up to culminate in the most fantastic community play. I thought it would be useful to outline some of the things we discussed to you all and get your thoughts:
1. Time Credits - We had lots of ideas for how Time Credit earning and spending could be included in the play, both the development stages and the final performance. I'm going to draft this up into a proposal for the steering group to consider.
2. Pioneers - Jon is really open to working with the pioneers, he thought they might be a useful group to either feed into or be present on the steering committee. We also discussed the idea of them being involved in the public vote event. We thought it might be a good opportunity to start to involve others from the wider community with the pioneers, as well as starting to get people excited and recruited to the float. Caroline - how is the plan for the One Portsoken development coming along? Jon thought it would be useful for him to see this and for you to propose ideas for how the pioneers could be involved for the steering group to consider.
3. Providers - The next Portsoken Providers meeting will focus on the play and the float and planning their involvement and support for these. I'm going to schedule it in for after the public vote (May most likely) and ask Will and John to attend to help shape their involvement. This can then go back to the steering group for feedback. How does all of that sound as an approach? Rosie”
It all sounds good to me, but the more views the better. Rosie is a very dynamic, positive person. I’m looking forward to working with her and the Spice Team some more
March 9th Monday
There’s a growing idea of a photographic project, maybe in collaboration with the London Metropolitan Archives who are collecting photographs and oral history recordings. We are really looking at ways to bring the history of the City closer and in contrast to today’s world. Maybe photographs printed large and displayed on walls close by the original photographer or artists point of view, and tour maps of the outdoor exhibition. This is an example of what I call parallel projects. They serve a number of ends – meeting the objects of bringing communities together, involving people in the creative arts, evoking a sense of place and researching stories and themes for the play script, to name just a few.
March 10th Tuesday
Partnerships are key in the Cityplay and as such we can’t ignore Toynbee Hall who have been serving the East End and the East side of the city for decades. Fabio is setting up a meeting with them. I’m especially interested in Toynbee Hall on a personal level. When I was and educational Drama Student at Froebel in the late sixties, I ran youth drama workshops in what was then The Curtain Theatre, now part of Toynbee Studios. There was a strong Youth Theatre there at the time, and the work they were doing was really innovative. These were the early days of educational drama and role-plays influenced by Brian Way and the early work of Dorothy Heathcote. The first sign that the Citypay is becoming a member of the community play family today with an E Mail from someone who marched in the Tunbridge Wells Lantern Parade last month: “Hi Jon. Good to see you briefly at the Lantern Parade and hope you are well. Someone mentioned to me about Claque doing something in the City of London. Just to say I have a friend, Jonathan Evens, who has just become the vicar at St Stephen Walbrook church, by Bank station - he is very creative and is an artist and poet. Just thought I would mention this if you wanted to create a link.”
Claque (formerly Colway Theatre Trust) has been producing community plays since 1979, over fifty communities now. Many have developed links, I fully expect past community play participants to follow the progress of this play, we have some Tunbridge Wells cast coming to the public meeting on April 28th to encourage everyone to take part.
The Aldgate Partnership are organising an event on 25th-26th April, the weekend before the public meeting, to celebrate the diversity of fashion in the area. The Aldgate partnership is working towards long-term regeneration of Aldgate; the square is part of their ongoing initiative to make it a better, more economically viable and socially sustainable community. The festival is to draw attention to the area’s centuries-old fashion and textiles heritage – as found on streets such as Petticoat Lane and Fashion Street. It will use its rag trade roots as an impetus for people to think about where their clothes are made now, by whom and in what conditions. The idea is also to put Aldgate on the map as an upcoming hub of sustainable fashion, and provide opportunities for young enterprise and regeneration in the process. I think it would be great if the play could have a presence there.
There’s also the Portsoken Float in the Lord Mayors show. We have to submit plans for May 1st… So ideas are welcome. There’s a lot to do between now and the end of April
March 11th Wednesday
Not unexpectedly I have a final communication from Peter Ackroyd’s Agent Lucy:
“Apologies for the silence since you emailed and I'm also sorry as I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint. I've been trying to follow up with Peter since your email and the difficulty of doing so speaks to the reason why I'll have to disappoint. We just can't see how we can get around the issue of his timetable. As you know I was anxious that with a community play there'd be calls upon his time beyond the writing of it but even with your kind assurances that you can work around his needs and availability, there still remains the time for him to write the play. After much to-ing and fro-ing these last few days and discussing with his book agent Sonia Land, I'm really sorry but we don't think there is the time.
I hate to have given you false hope with his initial ideas but I do hope you'll find someone who'll equally excite you all. With best wishes, Lucy”
So much to do and so little time is the curse of the creative. Of course it’s disappointing, he was clearly interested but far better he’s honest about time; it would have served neither him nor us if he had attempted it with half measure. It is important that the community has the opportunity to work closely with a writer and have some contact and substantial input. It’s something Peter Ackroyd couldn’t have given us with his present workload.
March 17th Tuesday
Set up Committee Meeting Fabio, Kirsty reported progress and we got feedback from the committee members. Discussed the Public Meeting for the 28th in the John Cass School. The Drumworks project drummers are confirmed. Some of my Impro Group and community actors from the Kent Plays have agreed to come, hopefully in costume and help with meeting and greeting. I’m to prepare a storyboard of the community play process as part of the display. Keep the meeting short but explain the project in different but simple formats and prepare handouts. Similarly the volunteer forms should be gathering only basic information so we can follow up individuals post the meeting. I should like to see a Steering Committee form in May, even if it’s a smallish group. We can then do a talent survey and co-opt members so we have a good representation of skills.
19th March Thursday
Victor Callister (City of London’s Assistant Director, Environmental Enhancement) took Fabio and I on a tour of the City, what a treat. We started in the Guildhall’s Great Hall, the seat of power in the City since the 12th century. This was an age when the Lord Mayor of London rivaled the monarch for influence and prestige, and it was here that the ruling merchant class held court, and made the laws and trading regulations that helped create London’s wealth. The Queen, even if only symbolically, has to get permission to enter the city. This magnificent medieval banqueting hall is a spectacular backdrop for royal occasions and entertaining visiting Heads of State and other dignitaries. The tour took in the Guildhall Yard marked round with the outline of the Roman amphitheater, the ruins of which are now deep below ground and accessible through the Art Gallery. In the Arts Gallery I was fascinated by the Victorian paintings of which there are many, but especially those I would term ‘problem pictures’ where who the characters are and what’s happening is open to interpretation and the imagination of the viewer. The Amphitheatre is a visual reminder of the age of the London and how much of it is buried beneath successive generations of buildings. London is like a problem picture with so many stories hidden beneath the surface. We went on to Cheapside and the roof of the New One Change – the view of St Paul’s is staggering, another great power in the city. Passing through Mary le Bow, the bow bells rang, along Watling Street where you get a sense of the medieval streets and the overhanging buildings. We are then into Bank and the Royal Exchange, the old financial powerhouse. Then we are among the 21st century architectural giants of the financial city; but dip down Popes Head Ally the giants instantaneously disappear and you have stepped back into the days of Dickens. Through Leadenhall Market into Lime Street past Lloyds and the new Leadenhall building into Aldgate where Victor talked about the prospect of the new upcoming square. I love being shown round communities by different people, each takes you to different places, and even the places you revisit you see through the different perspectives and stories of your guide. Victor has worked for the redevelopment of the city for over 25 years and his contemporary take on the city is influenced and coloured by his sense of history. His perspective of London and his hopes for the square as an opportunity for the community to redefine and re-find itself feels like a template for what the play should be.
March 24th Tuesday
Much of the last few days has been rewriting the draft policy documents that are now all back from being reviewed, and consolidating all the information gathered to start making recommendations about the nature of the project, its potential aims and objectives, the timetable, budget and so forth. I want to get as much in place as possible not only for the public meeting on 28th but the first steering committee in May. The outreach and research doesn’t stop but the aim is to have a strong foundation of information and contacts and plan of direction for the steering committee to build on. Thinking too about the float for the Lord Mayors show celebrating and reflecting Portsoken with some references I hope to the play. I think we should use some of the upcoming soundings to get ideas in about that.
Fabio has sent me a Youtube link a short film about last years Lord’s Mayor’s show. I’m optimistic we can make a good showing this year.
March 26th Thursday
Our regular Thursday catch up and planning meeting at the Guildhall was followed up with a meeting with the Portsoken Pioneers, a group of Bangladeshi women, a very influential group in the Mansell Street Estate. We were there to talk about the play, but dealt more immediately with the Lord Mayor’s Float and got a positive response and some creative ideas. I was able to present some of the storyboard cards I’ve been working on for the public meeting display. I’ve basically taken photographs of past plays that illustrate the play process and turned them into a cartoon style through Photoshop and added speech bubbles and explanatory text. Fabio had met with the group last week and asked them why they had chosen to live in the City they said “nice place” “clean place” “market around the corner” “people similar to me, with similar clothes” “mosque around the corner”. Today I asked how they would celebrate and they talked about the DAWAT (their celebrations of birthdays, weddings) Their ideas about the float for the Lord Mayor Show includes the red and green colors (Bengali flag) mingling with the Union flag of red white and blue; and the Bengali tiger. They would like to see their teenage children engage in the project and were going going to speak with them about their ideas for the Float They are going to prepare pictures of their own place in Bangladesh. They thought the comparisons would be interesting. They talked about: Surma river and Dhaka mosque as their iconic landmarks.
I was pleased to get a comment on the website from the Imam, Muhannad Al-Hussaini. He is clearly in support of the project. His interest in music and understanding that the arts can bring communities together is more than encouraging.
March 30th Monday
I had an invitation from Shira Khatun, Health Co-ordinator for Portsoken based at Toynbee Hall to the showcasing event of the City’s Community First projects. The event took place in the Green Box on the Mansell Estate. I was pleased to find I am now coming across more and more people I’ve met before. I’m making friends. The Portsoken Pioneers were represented; there was a display of the gardening project and other grassroots projects that have received funding from the Community Development Fund (CDF). Community First is a national £80million government-funded initiative, running for four years until March 2015. The aim of the programme is to help communities come together to identify their strengths and local priorities in order to plan for their future and become more resilient. This funding has helped around a dozen community lead projects over the last 4 years to deliver for the community of Portsoken. These are grassroots projects lead by local residents from, gardening to improving physical health and wellbeing to many others. They had a’ big brother’ room where groups could talk about their projects and visitors about their responses to the event. I was able to speak a little about the play, but more importantly meet other community activists. It was a good networking occasion.
Sanaz Begum, also from Toynbee who I’d met last month has sent me the results of a door-to-door survey; It’s a really useful collective view of residents about what they think of living in the city. Of course people have their concerns but I was impressed about how generally positive and optimistic people feel about living here.