Really, Really Serious Play
I have been tasked with thinking about something by the Fun Palaces team.
Thinking is ok, it’s pretty much what I do best.
Conclusions, resolutions and actions I have a little more difficulty with but these are early days and perhaps
something will come out of the mist if I sit here long enough.
Here are the questions, I will try to answer from my perspective, today, this morning.
Where are we now?
I am sitting at the FEAST desk in a converted 1970’s classroom.
From here I can see the flats across the road in the converted 1890’s Maternity Hospital I was born in.
I can see Carn Brea, unusually green against the blue sky.
It is truly beautiful.
This is one of the most deprived places in Cornwall.
Cornwall is one of the most deprived places in Britain.I work part time here and am a single parent when I am not at the desk, my colleague works part time here
and is a Farmer when she is not at the desk.
She is never at the desk if it is sunny.
It is lovely and sunny today.
FEAST is 10 years old and we have funded 650 projects across Cornwall.
I am a naturally self-effacing person and the FEAST trumpet seldom gets blown from this side of the desk
but these words are from a recent applicant to FEAST:
“The organisation has supported and enabled so much growth and activity in this area and has set the bar
for quality and that is so important. We as artists and leaders of arts organisations are challenged – if we
want that logo, that stamp of approval on our work we really have to make sure we meet that criteria and
those expectations. As artists, we are really proud to be able to have that seal on our artwork, on our CVs
and in our thank you presentations and speeches.”
This is a particularly gratifying thing to hear because all of the hard work at FEAST is done by the Artists
and Communities we fund.
I just sit here and look at Carn Brea.
How and why is the Fun Palaces campaign working?
Everyone says it is a good idea.
It is a good idea.
It really is.
I started reading Joan Littlewood’s autobiography ‘Joan’s Book’ on the train from Cornwall to
Newcastle upon Tyne.
I finished it with my feet on my desk in the Stage Management office of Newcastle Playhouse.
Her life was a non-stop, full on, brutal and beautiful act of creation.
Joan Littlewood’s Fun Palace was the crystalisation of everything she wanted to achieve.
Such a brilliant book and such a good idea, one she never got off the page and into the world.
Mark Rylance used Joan’s ideas at the Globe, Tim Smit was using her ideas at the Eden Project and Mike
Shepherd and Emma Rice used her ideas at Kneehigh with their Asylum.
It’s a good idea.
People should be able to play with art and science for free.
We cannot help but be formed by our past and everything I have seen work really well is tied up in these
principles: Art and Science and Play.
It’s the way we find out about ourselves, an ongoing simple, complicated exploration of what and who we are.
When Maslow was trying to define self actualisation the quote ‘What one can be, one must be’ came up but
how can we explore all that safely?
Mark Rylance described Joan Littlewood shouting
‘You Generals, you Politicians, you Leaders of the World, fight your wars here! Here!’
while beating the boards of the stage with her fist.
She believed in play as a powerful tool for change.
A Fun Palace is not a ‘nice’ thing, it’s a place where we can safely fight wars and end injustice.
Through exploration, discussion and play.
Really, really serious play.
That’s got to be a good idea.
Where is it not working – how and why? And what can we learn from this?
How do we get people to do something they are not doing? How do we convince people to get in the pool?How do we convince people that the act of cooking is as important as the act of consuming?
How can we translate universally understood principles into action?
Why am I asking so many questions of this question? I know it’s not working the way I want it to.
I can get any number of people to say it’s a good idea but I can’t get them to take the next step.
The usual routes to convince people to act revolve around carrots and sticks.
We are trying to change social behaviour, radical social change, that’s all.
Radical social change is actually quite straightforward and society barely notices when it happens.
Look at your smart phone.
In January 2007 Steve Jobs announced the arrival of the Iphone.
That’s a ten year social revolution that has transformed the world and we barely blinked.
Ten short years.
The carrots on offer were many, huge and diverse it has to be said but even so.
All we need to do is make the idea of Fun Palaces as ubiquitous and accepted as social media.
I’m thinking about that.
How do we change/grow?
We keep thinking, we keep analysing, we keep playing, we live with love.
We know where we came from, we know where we are standing and we launch ourselves into the place
we are going.
We just do it.
And we fail and we do it again and we fail better each time until it is done.
And nobody blinks and we have changed the world.
How do we do this better, learning from each other?
Well clearly I will just watch everyone else’s failures and try not to laugh.
My own shortcomings may well be a source of amusement in return.
I am not sure there is a ‘getting it right’ moment that we can all uniformly achieve.
I think there will be successes and failures continually.
I feel I have as much or probably more to learn from the attitudes of others as I have from their processes.
I can learn by analysing what made me feel, what made me feel anything, good or bad.
Clearly there will be stuff to do with buildings and licenses and community engagement and KPIs and
ACE and DCMS and other process systems and words but the fundamental thing is all about how we manage
to make people feel Playful about Art and Science.
What does this create?
A slight headache in my case.
Too much thinking.
Not quite enough play or art or science is going on at the FEAST desk this morning.
But once the thoughts gain some traction and begin to be translated into action perhaps we will be able to
change the world.
Or change some people’s worlds.
Or change the world one person at a time.
We should be able to bind together all the strands of work we do, we should be able to show Britain that Art
does not belong in a glass case and Science does not belong in documentaries.
We should be able to start to move the focus of intelligence and the intelligentsia from ivory towers to
village halls and skateparks.
How does this show up in the communities involved?
There is Art and Science all around me.
There are skills and talent.
There is creativity and humour, craft, care, love, practice, music and a daily celebration of life.
I live in an extraordinary community that involves all the potential that humanity has to offer except wealth.
We are not wealthy and this threatens our ability to be productive, to live safely and to maintain our homes.
We are worried, we are scared of the world changing in a way we do not understand.
Changing my community’s understanding of the world and allowing them the space to believe in their own
aspirations is all I want really.