Process

Redcliffe Present Perfect: Histories of Now

  • 15th March 2019

Redcliffe Present Perfect: Histories of Now was a PECo theatre HLF funded arts & heritage project taking place in the Redcliffe area of Bristol from November 2017 to June 2018.

It incorporated:

  • Story collecting – audio recordings of living memory, local history, stories and memories
  • Elders mentoring scheme – a core team of older people learning new arts and heritage skills
  • Workshops – creative sessions translating the collected stories and other themes and resonances from the area into a first draft community play and audio-visual installations
  • Community celebration – community event bringing together everyone to share the work created and celebrate the project’s achievements

‘Breathtaking!’ – audience member at celebration of work

Image from final sharing of the Redcliffe Rapture; colourful blue and multicoloured watery face and patterns projected onto the church window of St Mary Redcliffe Church

BACKGROUND.

Redcliffe is an historic area at the heart of Bristol with links right back to the city’s very beginnings.

Situated on an island – bounded by river and road – is boasts some of the city’s most significant heritage and history, including the magnificent St Mary Redcliffe church. It has also experienced huge change as its built environment was destroyed by war and irrevocably altered by post war city planning that saw a four lane highway separate its communities and physical spaces and which now marks the border between north and south Bristol.

The marked contrasts and boundaries in its built environment are echoed by the diversity and variety in culture and demographic of people living in Redcliffe today.

Redcliffe Present Perfect aimed to cross these boundaries and engage people from all walks of Redcliffe life, to gather and make visible the shared story of this complex and diverse neighbourhood at a time when it is undergoing rapid re-development and is once again on the point of irrevocable change.

As such the project unearthed and shared local memories, stories and knowledge about this unique area of Bristol as it is now, and used theatre and audio-visual animation as a means of interpreting it all creatively.

My interest in how a community works, how a modern city develops, has been heightened. I feel a much greater sense of connection with the area I’ve moved to.’ – project participant

Two photos; one looking up Redcliffe Parade towards St Mary Redcliffe Church pre world war 2, and one of a woman’s hands holding a photo of herself as a child with her family.

THE STORY COLLECTING PROJECT

Starting in November 2017 a group of active older residents and others gained skills in oral history collection with the aim to uncover and gather stories and memories of Redcliffe now and make visible the shared story of this fascinating and diverse neighbourhood.

‘When I first met the people whose stories I was collecting, I was excited and nervous because I was not used to using any kind of technology, but by the end of the story collecting I became more confident when using technology.’

Two images; one of a group of mainly older people gathered round a tea table at a history and story gathering event, one of two women one wearing a hijab, they are smiling with great affection at each other.

In that time they collected 57 stories from 51 contributors, all individuals with strong and significant connections to the area.

‘Stories we collected stretched back to a time that changed the future …… and stories from present day settlers from around the world painted a fascinating story of this small island we live in called Redcliffe.’

The collected stories are a mosaic of memories that span generations and communities. Individually they are fascinating, touching, humorous and poignant whilst collectively they paint a moving portrait of the power of place in all our lives.

‘… each day noticing the details of the streets, the names of buildings, the sites of moments talked of in the collected stories…making me sense a community is forever on the move, buildings come and go, take on other uses; gripping onto a nostalgia for things as they used to be may not be helpful but helping a community retain its sense of cooperative activity is very important.’

Over two thirds of the story tellers came to the celebration of work at the end of the project, where many of them got the chance to meet other story tellers as well as new people they had not come across before.

‘I made new friends of all ages, also meeting people that had been living near to me but who I had never met before.’

These precious stories and memories are now housed in the Redcliffe Present Perfect: Histories of Now website launched at the celebration of work and can be accessed at the following website address: http://www.redcliffepresentperfecthistoriesofnow.com

REDCLIFFE PRESENT PERFECT AV WORKSHOPS

‘thank you for helping us realise that art is not just drawing and painting. It is everything!’

These workshops were a chance to turn a story into a little piece of audio-visual magic!

Working with Tom Price from Limbic Cinema and other members of PECo theatre artistic team, local school children as well as diverse groups newly arrived in Redcliffe from Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan, all took part in audio-visual workshops between March to May 2018.

The workshops involved selecting personal stories and transforming moments from them into animations.

‘We had lots of fun imagining our work then you guys turned it into a reality’ 

‘thank you for helping me and my group understand how animation works. It was the best project ever!’ 

Over 70 participants took part in 12 workshops. The animations they made out of moments of stories from their own lives were incorporated into the theatre piece and formed part of the projection mapped audio-visuals on the beautiful world famous architecture of St Mary Redcliffe Church at the celebration of work.

A series of mages of workshop participants animations colourful animations projected onto the church window of St Mary Recliffe.

THE COMMUNITY THEATRE COLLECTIVE.

The Community Theatre Collective began life as PECo Theatre’s BAB funded Place Based Theatre Club in January 2017. From November 2017 the opportunity to play a key part in the Redcliffe Present Perfect project over a seven month period saw its members go from strength to strength.

‘we became a tight knit group working in an increasingly interesting and challenging way’ – theatre group member

Participants played a core co-devising role in the development of the first draft of a new site-specific play, The Redcliffe Rapture, inspired by the collected stories of Redcliffe and the area as whole. They worked in-depth with playwright David Lane and theatre director Rachel Aspinwall, listening to and getting inspired by stories, scoping out and developing the narrative journey of the play, improvising and producing content for scenes and devising and developing their own character’s back stories.

‘I came to the group with a background in drama and an abiding love of theatre, but I hadn’t done any for many years. I went from thinking I’d lost those precious skills to finding them again. It has been utterly life affirming and I cannot thank you enough’ – theatre group member

Photos of Redcliffe Community Theatre Collective ‘playmaking’ at the Faith Space community centre

Members of the collective gained new skills and experiences, made new friends and connections and discovered all manner of things about the Redcliffe area they didn’t know before.

‘It was an amazing experience to be part of a theatre group. Meeting new people and how as a group we all became very close. The stories from local people were amazing and obviously made the play what it was. I enjoyed playing my character and being part of the play very much’- theatre group member.

By the end of May 2018 a first draft had been finalised ready for the group to begin rehearsing and preparing for the staged reading.

On June 23rd the group performed to an invited audience of over 100 people. Some members had previous experience but for the vast majority this was the first time they had ever performed.

It is important to say I had never undertaken drama/theatre before. It has been a journey of self-development and personal growth nurtured through excellent mentoring.’

‘When I first joined the theatre group I was very nervous because I have not acted before. As the play progressed I made a lot of new friends. I became more confident with the character I was portraying, what stood out for me was how well we all worked together to make the play a success.’

‘And it fell upon the Water to remember, to absorb the centuries of tales untold

to carry us deep down beneath the land, until such a time came,

when everyone would stop, and listen, once again in balance

to all our voices, to all our songs,

to the past, and to the present, perfect’ 

 

final words of the play the Redcliffe Rapture devised by the company,

written by David Lane, directed by Rachel Aspinwall