As part of the New Theatre in your Neighbourhood project Fuel have been inviting artists to undertake missions to each of the places that we are working in. As part of their mission they will be contributing to this blog. We are delighted to present this mission blog post from Andy Smith. You can find out more about the New Theatre in your Neighbourhood project at http://www.fueltheatre.com/projects/new-theatre-in-your-neighbourhood
NOTES AND FRAGMENTS
MAN IN PRESTON or NORTH WESTERN STORY
A PLAY IN FIVE ACTS
PROLOGUE: IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD
The prologue should talk about the weeks leading up to his trip to Preston. About how in this time he thinks a lot about what the word ‘neighbourhood’ might mean. He thinks about how it might present ideas of location, place and belonging. He considers proximity and trust, friendliness and diversity. He thinks about identity and community, about networks and support. He thinks about if he lives in a neighbourhood, and about whether the word is in danger of being devalued in its use by politicians, the media, and maybe even initiatives with titles like ‘New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood’.
He also sings this a lot.
He thinks about what he is doing or going to do or think about in relation to this day in Preston that he has. He thinks about how a day is not much. He thinks about how he wants to spend time on his own getting a feel for the place as well as talking with others.
He also thinks about what ‘New Theatre’ means. He thinks about what he might expect and what might be expected of him; a writer or theatre maker person who is categorically not from that neighbourhood but is going into that neighbourhood to think about it, (and talk to) the people that he meets that day.
ACT ONE: APPROACHES
In the car on the way to Preston he thinks about how any document or piece of writing that begins with the sentence ‘In the car on the way to Preston’ will inevitably be a fiction in some sense. This work will be a report of him in Preston, a re-presentation of him in Preston, an experience that he has attempted to be made comprehensible by turning it into words and pictures. This is an intimation or imitation of Preston, of a man in Preston. This is a story.
For some reason he can’t get the car radio to work, so as he drives down the road there is only fragments of music that drift in and out of his thoughts. He looks through the windscreen and surveys the landscape as it plays. The music might be from a playlist called ‘North by North West’. It features desolate hillsides, overcast skies, street corners abandoned too soon, useless MP’s, shoeless children, grey fogs, and inevitably matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs.
He drives and he listens and his mind wanders. And he thinks about flat caps and ukuleles, cotton mills and clocking off, the steam age and the railways. He imagines the industrial North, the Grim up North, the Northern Echo and the Northern Sky. He parks the car at the legendary bus station, pays the parking and descends in the lift to the terminus. The wind whips about. The sky is overcast. The plastic of the seats is garish and uninviting. A sign hangs above pointing downward to the exit. He enters the subway, where others advise him to keep left.
I am from The North West, or rather The North of North West. I come from the North of North West. I was born in Carlisle. Even further up the west coast mainline than Preston. At the moment I live in Lancaster. I think about how these are all different but all pretty small sizes of city. Further North than what I think a more general perception of The North West is. They aren’t Liverpool or Manchester, that’s for sure, their identity or importance more of a struggle. All of this makes me wonder about what it means to be from here. What the North West is now. Whether there is a divide between it and The North East, or it and The South. Age old questions. How these landscapes define us. Why?
ACT TWO: CENTRES
At the start of act two he goes to the local library and museum. The gold letters on the portico read “To Literature, Arts and Sciences. To them indeed, he thinks.
He seeks out and finds the local history section. In it, there are biographies of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, lots of books on Railways, factories in Manchester, Liverpool and the slave trade and ‘murderous’ Bolton.
– Excuse me… are these all of the local history books?
– Yes they are.
– It’s just that I can’t seem to find any about Preston.
– No. Those are upstairs.
He looks at books and statues and crests. He looks at a computer designed to impart local information. He reads about ‘The Preston Guild’, the oldest festival in England. It happens every 20 years. He learns that things that happen rarely are sometimes described as happening “once every Preston Guild”. He thinks that a guild is to do with a trade right or agreement that people joined, a collective of merchants and traders that worked in the city. Or something. He’s not sure exactly.
He leaves the terminal and goes upstairs to another gallery and looks at famous faces from Preston. He looks at old bones and skeletons. At carvings and statues and scrolls. Conscious of time, he pauses for breath to try and make the artefacts connect, but struggles to do so. Time for some life, he thinks. So he leaves the building and heads for the town centre.
– Excuse me… sorry to bother you… is this the way to the town centre?
– Yes… but really it’s a city centre.
He walks through the town city centre. The shops are as he might have expected, the signs and structures familiar. He thinks about other ways to get information. He goes into a newsagent.
– Does Preston have a local paper?
– Yes. The Evening Post
– When does it come out?
– Every morning.
He has a coffee sitting below an escalator in the middle of a shopping centre. Looks at the paper and opens his notebook. Looks at his surroundings. Mostly he could be anywhere. It’s hard to say what defines this place. Perhaps it is better, or easier, to think about what happened here rather than what is happening now.
– Visited by Charles Dickens, Franz Liszt and Karl Marx (who proclaimed it “the next St. Petersburg”).
– First town (it was a town then) in the UK to get a KFC.
– Made the UK’s 50th city in the 50th year of the present Queens reign.
ACT THREE: THE CONVERSATION
Where he arrives at his destination (a venue called The Continental) and where a long conversation takes place and takes in the following themes and subjects:
Communty and communities, arts practice, film making, theatre making, arts strategy, where we come from, how we make culture, public spaces, local and universal art, local politicians, children, the long term and the short term, what The Continental is and was, BAE systems, culture and cultures, railways and bus stations and connections and being connected, documentary film and theatre, reality and fiction, real people, parch peas, food and identity, living up to expectations, Preston being ‘third city’ (or always the bronze medal), coming back, getting out, the venue, the expectations of this project.
This is by no means a comprehensive list.
The fate of Preston’s iconic bus station remains in the balance after a Government minister delayed a decision on making it a listed building. Culture minister Ed Vaizey had been expected to give his verdict last week after examining a submission from English Heritage. But at the 11th hour Mr Vaizey decided to call it back for another look and could now make a personal visit to view the giant terminus topped by a multi-storey car park.
ACT FOUR: IN THE CITY
He walks around.
– What do people do here?
– Mostly, they leave.
He walks around some more.
Why might we make theatre in and from here? Who might a piece of new theatre be for in this instance? Where might it be for? What might it be for? Why? What purpose would it seek to serve? Why might it be important for this place? Could it and should it be important for other places too? Why? Is it important that it should know these things before it is made? How might it be made? Who should it be made for and who should make it? Why?
This is by no means a comprehensive list.
ACT FIVE: THE JOURNEY HOME
In the car on the way home he sits in the traffic and recounts his day. He thinks about the light and the sky and the smells and what Preston might be made of. He thinks a lot about cliché and archetype, and wonders if there was anything that he saw or heard or thought about that surprised him. He wonders if he wanted to be surprised. He thinks about things that might be good or bad about Preston. About what the culture and ‘culture’ of Preston is or might be.
He thinks about what theatre might and can do about and in all of this. About the many things that theatre can be. He thinks about responsibility, about story and experience, about being together. About what we do and what we can do. What might a work about or from this place say? Why?
That was a story about a man in Preston
Who wondered what it meant to be North Western
And that was what he had to say
About the thoughts he had in the course of his day