Sheffield Theatres' Fun Palace 2016 (Photo: Chris Saunders)
1 October 2016. Sheffield, Crucible Theatre.
It's 9am and the foyer is awash with people moving hay bales, sticking up schedules, making custard pies, gathering hard hats and high vis jackets, inflating balloons; the last minute preparations before...the doors open.
At first there's a handful of people tentatively making their way in to the Crucible, taking a balloon for their little one, reading through the itinerary, picking up a pen and gingerly drawing on the windows. Steadily the numbers grow...and grow...and grow!
This was our second Fun Palace, an international movement steered by the remarkable Stella Duffy. Fun Palaces’ believes in the genius of everyone, in everyone an artist, everyone a scientist and that creativity in community can change the world for the better. We agree.
Our Fun Palace has become an important part of our year. A moment when everyone in the building comes together to create something for everyone in the city. A weekend jam-packed with dance workshops, music, creative play, design and making, drama workshops, tours, lighting and sound sessions. And everything is completely free!
It's transformed the way we think and work. Everyone from every department is involved in Fun Palaces and many of the staff volunteer their time to be there. There is an enormous sense of togetherness and it creates an infectious buzz in the building. We have finance assistants supporting dance workshops and fundraisers supervising the custard pie making/throwing (serious work), the artistic director booking workshops and blowing up balloons; there are no silos and people are not defined by their recognised role, but by their enthusiasm to be part of a team that is creating something joyful. I could get pretty evangelical about the way that it brings our staff team together, because it is truly remarkable. And what’s also inspiring is the way that it brings us all closer to our audiences and, although it’s only one weekend in the year, it gives us all a connection to our customers and a deeper understanding of who they are and what they want.
There's been a shift in the people coming through our doors too. In the first year we didn’t collect any data at all, but we had a sense that there were lots of people visiting for the first time. Last year we conducted a short questionnaire and the results indicate that a third of people were new to us and just under half of those identified as Black, Asian or minority ethnic.
Taking part in Fun Palaces has created a change, and I’m delighted to say that we’re lucky to have the resource to really drive that change forward. This year, thanks to funding through Fun Palaces from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we have an Ambassador on our team and she’s forming partnerships across the city. In addition to our Fun Palace on 7 and 8 October there’ll be 5 others: Theatre Deli, the British Science Association, Pitsmoor Playground, Manor Castle Development Trust and Sheffield Futures. 3000 people came through our doors over the weekend last year, we’re hoping to smash that number this year.
And beyond October? Well, our plan is to offer mini Fun Palaces throughout the year and we’ll continue to work with partners to create more and more fun palaces around the city. We’re talking about changing our foyers and offering a range of activities throughout the day that create a welcoming space for all our communities. When we started our Fun Palace journey, many people thought we were simply creating a really big open weekend, but this initiative has proved to be so much more, it’s been truly transformational in every possible way.
Claire Murray, Communications & Fundraising Director, Sheffield Theatres
Visit our microsite at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/fun-palaces or the Fun Palaces website at funpalaces.co.uk
Photo: Chris Saunders. Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, Fun Palace