Introduction from Maddy Costa: I met Danielle Rose at the Lighthouse in Poole, when she brought a group of people to see Tortoise in a Nutshell’s Feral, then stayed behind for the Theatre Club afterwards. Danielle works as an independent producer, and I really enjoyed listening to her talk about how the show had ignited her sense of community spirit. But more than that, I was impressed by her passion for creating opportunities for people to see art and theatre – particularly work that they might think isn’t for them. For a while now I’ve been talking, through NTiYN, about wanting to set up a series of social clubs, through which a motley group of people could go and see shows together, as a fun night out. When it turned out that Danielle has already created just such a group, I asked her to write a guest post about how and why she went about it.
By Danielle Rose
My first experience of buying a theatre ticket for myself, with my very own money earned from a Sunday shop job, was at Lighthouse, Poole’s Arts Centre. I think I only earned around £16 a week and a scheme called Access to Leisure (which reduced ticket prices by 75% for people from low-income families) meant that I could go to shows for less than a fiver.
Back then, I was too scared to step into a theatre alone, something I take for granted now, and would pay for one of my younger brothers to come too. Aged 16, I thought that people who went to the theatre were really posh. I was convinced that we’d get caught out somehow, that people would notice us and know that we didn’t really belong there. We’d get to theatre minutes before the show began so that we didn’t have to hang around too long before taking our seats. In and out we went, on as regular a basis as I could afford or convince my brother to come. Feeling the comfort of the house lights going down, we’d made it. In a darkened auditorium, we could be just about anyone. Sometimes in the interval people next to us wouldn’t be able to contain their surprise to see two young people coming to a show on their own and would start talking to us. I’d make small talk politely in my best voice, my brother sat silently next to me reading programme notes over the shoulder of the person in front.
Things are very different now. I’ve worked in the arts for almost 13 years and when I walk into venues I often know some of the people working there, the people on stage and many faces in the audience. Now the houselights going down cut conversations short. I’ll go to the theatre on my own because I know I won’t be alone when I get there.
I moved back to my hometown in 2013 for work, and didn’t anticipate how isolated that relocation would lead me to feel, even as someone now content in their own company. The number of people I still had a let’s-hang-out connection with after 10 years living away in Devon was few, and the people I felt I had any interests in common with were even fewer. I really liked my work colleagues, but I longed for the creative community I had come to feel a part of in Devon. I missed regularly meeting up with peers and friends who were actively engaging with cultural pursuits and being around people making things happen in the place I lived.
After a period of filling my evenings with coasting supermarket aisles, internet dating and attempts to start running, I realised that I needed to fill this gap in my life. And if I couldn’t find where all the creative types and innovators were hanging out, maybe I’d have to do a call-out!
I set up a Meetup group called Creative & Digital Professionals (Bournemouth & Poole). Meetup is a website and app which helps facilitate meeting “people in your local community who share your interests”. I’d hoped to meet just a handful of people to make living back in the area a little bit more bearable. It turned out that lots of other people were also looking for a similar thing – 15 people came to the first get-together and less than a year later there are now 350+ members. Small numbers of us, usually 15-20 new and familiar faces, come together a few times a month to swap mixtapes and go to local arts events. There’s a whole range of people who come, of all ages, from web developers, DJs and visual artists through to teachers, foreign language students and people who work in banking. When we’re out and about we tend to pick up new members too, as I’ll talk to anyone and the whole group is so approachable.
Remembering how intimidated I used to find walking into an arts venue, I try to make sure we gather for every meetup as a group first, sometimes in the venue bar itself, sometimes in a pub nearby. I feel really happy every time someone tells me that it’s the first time they’ve visited a venue or experienced anything like what we’ve gone to see. I love having conversations with people about work that they have only decided to give a go because the group would be there too. And of course it’s great to find other people who actively attend arts events already and who, like me, appreciate the experience of meeting others in the process.
One of our outings was to see Tortoise in a Nutshell’s Feral in Poole, produced by Fuel at Lighthouse. I think there was a group of about 15 of us in the end. I set it as a meetup as I hoped that the interdisciplinary nature of the show, fusing puppetry and live animation, would appeal to a wide range of people in the group. The artists had also involved local people in the research and development, and the show was to be set around the town we’re familiar with, which I suspected would make people curious about the end result. I circulated Fuel’s open call for short films to be shown before the main feature too and the film-makers in the group really got involved. Remaining as a unit, most of us stayed for the post-show conversation with Maddy Costa.
During that conversation, I said that one of the things that struck me about Feral was that a small number of the citizens in the parallel Poole presented to us, when faced with the destruction of their neighbourhood, took action. They wrote letters to the council, they protested, they cared. There was something very powerful about seeing the life of a town sped-up, witnessing the decay and potential for some salvation that can feel near invisible when lived out in real time. Having characters reflected back at us, who looked around at what was happening to their fracturing community and felt compelled to act, felt like a reminder that that is something we can all do – a call to arms, if you like, for active citizenship. It felt apt to watch Feral in the company of a hotchpotch group of people who now assemble: a group that’s been a personal reminder that if you feel something is missing, you can always ask if other people feel the same and make something new together.