All of us who care about theatre want our work to reach more people and for more people to feel part of that work. It’s no surprise that Joan Littlewood imagined the (never-built) Fun Palace after a lifetime of working in theatre, and did so because theatre in the 1960s was not including everyone. The modern Fun Palaces movement was born of a frustration at the lip-service paid to inclusion and the slow pace of change. It is both an ongoing campaign for culture at the heart of every community, and an annual weekend of active participation in culture, combining arts, science, crafts, tech and digital activities, made by and for local people.
We believe in everyone an artist and everyone a scientist, and that anyone, anywhere, can make a Fun Palace. We’re tiny (five part-time staff) and new (four years old) but we’ve grown exponentially, and in 2016 there were 292 Fun Palaces, made by 4800 local people, with 124,000 people taking part. 90% of Fun Palaces were outside London and they were made in theatres, arts centres, libraries, galleries, shopping centres, village halls, care homes and dozens of other locations.
Theatre-based Fun Palaces have been made by touring companies such as Told By An Idiot, Slung Low and Trestle, arts centres including Arc Stockton and the Albany in Deptford, and theatres including Live Theatre, Liverpool Everyman, Manchester Royal Exchange, Sheffield Theatres.
We welcome anyone to make a Fun Palace and our Maker teams reflect this inclusivity. The average team is 16 people, this might include venue staff, supporters, local artists and scientists, and volunteers. In 2016 :
- 62% of Maker teams included people from an ethnic minority
- 27% included people with a disability
- 34% included people under 18
- 30% included people over 65
- 14% included BOTH people under 18 AND people over 65
This inclusivity among Makers leads to a wider range of participants, which in turn means many more people coming into a venue than usual, often for the first time. Most venues report 40-60% of those attending their Fun Palace are new visitors. Ideally a Fun Palace programme will include different activities, for all ages and abilities, from high art and hard science to the most populist participative performance and kitchen science experiments. Those who aren’t interested in theatre might take part in hands-on science games, those scared of science might join in the drumming, those who want quiet amidst the chaos might prefer a one-to-one crafts or storytelling session. It is the joining in that makes the difference, it is doing that creates the sense of ownership.
That sense of ownership, of a community having a stake in theatre, is vital, not just for the future of the arts, but for art itself. The more people involved in creating art, the wider pool of artists we draw from, the broader and deeper our culture. The arts win when we make it possible for everyone to be an artist – quite simply because more makers mean more art for all to engage with. In Fun Palaces we’re not simply inviting the community into our spaces and doing things for them, or taking our work to them, we’re choosing to make work together, and then the work we create, the culture we create, truly belongs to us all.
“Fun Palaces is more than just a bit of fun one weekend a year, it is about making change, change that is sustainable, change that will carry forward for years, and that will really make a difference.” (Amanda Dalton, Associate Director, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
You can hear more from Stella Duffy on the subject of audience led programming by booking your place on our Touring Symposium 2017 at the Congress Centre, London on Thursday 23 March.
Stella is amongst our confirmed speakers for this annual event, which will look at the latest developments in touring and consider proactive steps the industry can take to keep touring thriving. Further speakers include Sarah Holmes (New Wolsey), Deborah Sawyerr (Theatre Royal Stratford East), Kenny Wax, Erica Whyman (RSC) and many more.