Where there’s a will…

Admin note 1: due to an unexpected oversight, this was supposed to be published in January. (Sorry!)

by Daniel Bye

A place you leave is never the same as the place you arrived. That’s not simply because you’re looking at it from a different angle, it’s because you’re looking as a different person. Arriving somewhere for the first time, you have nothing of that place. Leaving, you take it with you. We’ll always have Paris.

Sarah Punshon and I arrived in Margate on a windy Tuesday, to spend a week researching our show Story Hunt. On arrival, Margate was a run-down former resort, down on its luck, all empty streets and chip paper. A sputtering high street and a lot of empty buildings. When we left, it was an inspiration to artists and thinkers, the home to dozens of brilliant, driven and creative people, the site of grand guignol triumph and disaster, every building a beautiful one, every chip paper telling a story.

Story Hunt is a walking tour of the forgotten and disappeared things in a town: the buildings burned and bulldozed, the people and places now lost. We’ve made three different Story Hunts so far, in Gateshead, Stockton and Berwick, and Margate’s will be the first of 2014. This was our first foray, our introduction to the town. We spent a week walking the streets of Margate, researching the known and the forgotten history, digging through archives in the museum and reading long-unleafed-through volumes in the local history section of the library. And then we walked some more.

We learned about Turner and TS Eliot; bathing machines and lion tamers; about Karl Marx and Cobbs’ brewery. We learned that 45,000 evacuees from Dunkirk landed on Margate beach, right by where the Turner Contemporary is now. We learned about a mechanical elephant marching along the front, and live elephants swimming in the sea. We learned about the Brighton poisoner, the mad architect and the guy who strangled his mother for the insurance money. And of course we learned about Dreamland. That isn’t a pet name for the town, it was and will be the amusement park.

Dreamland is so central to the story of Margate’s past hundred years and next hundred that it’s tempting to make it a metaphor for the whole town. The name itself, Dreamland, is pregnant with that temptation. For ten years Dreamland has been an empty concrete wasteland. Its decline marks the nadir of Margate’s. Next year it will reopen and, it is hoped, bring new vigour to the town. So you can see why this fun-park-within-a-town starts to represent that town. But an empty park isn’t a town.

Most importantly, then, we met the people of Margate. Or at least, some of them. Some we managed to scrape an introduction to, others we got talking to in pubs, libraries and shops. Artists, small-business owners, librarians, council officers, teenagers, blokes in pubs – everyone had something to say about their town, what it means to them, and how it’s changed. And, from resort for the Georgian gentry to destination of choice for Del Boy, oh boy has it changed.

Listening to the people of Margate, it’s clear the town has passed its nadir and is on the up. The old town, an empty desert ten years ago, is now precarious but buzzy. The new Turner Contemporary, the bloke behind a nearby bar grudgingly admitted, has brought new visitors to the town. And Dreamland itself, the town’s pride and symbol, will open its gates again. But the town is more than Dreamland. Dreamland will help, will boost the resurgence. But it’s not a panacea. There’s plenty to be done that won’t be managed without collective will.

Story Hunt could be seen as a show that gets made in towns a little down on their luck, towns easily seen as victims of history. It’s a reflection of a town’s extraordinary people and victorious popular movements – and if you look, whatever the town, they’re never hard to find. It’s a show made in a spirit of wilful optimism, however absurd that optimism may seem at times, that things will be changed for the better, by us, by you. It’s a show about the collective will that – after this street or that street has been rerouted, after this building or that building has been closed, opened, and then knocked down, after this painter or that poet has visited, made some art, left, and died – endures. And that’s what makes a town.

It’s easy to find in Margate at the moment.

Admin note 2: Dan and Sarah are now back in Margate gathering more stories and gearing up for the performance bit of Story Hunt, an hour-long walking tour of a Margate that was, is and might be. There are five tours taking place this Saturday, April 12; for tickets, visit: http://theatreroyalmargate.com/event/story-hunt/

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We Need Your Stories of Lost and Forgotten Margate

by Sarah Punshon

Story Hunt image

Last year, Dan and I came to Margate for a day trip.  We visited the new Turner gallery, walked along the beach in the rain, ate fish and chips on the front.  It was fab.  This year, we’re coming back – and this time it’s for work.  We’re coming to hunt for stories.  We need tales of lost and forgotten Margate, of buildings long since bulldozed, people no longer with us, and events that left no physical trace behind them.  We’re going to try and get our heads round what Margate is, was, and could be – and we need a lot of help from locals.

Story Hunt is a theatrical walking tour: on April 12th, Dan will lead one hour walks round central Margate, telling his favourite stories in his own unique way, taking audiences on a journey into the past, present and future of the town.  We’ve already made versions of the show in three other towns: Gateshead, Stockton, and Berwick.  In all three, we discovered amazing stories of heroism and protest; love stories; riots, fires and disasters; quiet determination and extraordinary kindness.  Story Hunt celebrates the impact ordinary people have had on the course of history, telling the kinds of stories that don’t always make it onto blue plaques or bronze statues.  In every town we’ve found more stories than we could ever use in a one hour show: I’m looking forward to discovering Margate’s tales.

We collect our stories from library books, museums and archives – but also by talking to as many locals as we can.  Everyone has a story about their home town.  We want to know about the shop your Mum used to visit before it got knocked down; the dance hall that’s now unrecognisable; the local hero who deserves to be better known – everything that makes Margate what it is today.  We’re coming to do our first stage of research in January, and will be back in April.  If you’ve got a story about Margate, we’d love to hear it.

Ways you could get involved:

  • Look out for the Story Hunt booth, which will be popping up in town in April.  Join us for free tea and biscuits, and a chat about lost and forgotten Margate.
  • Submit a story via email to storyhunt2014@gmail.com.  We’ll read all the stories submitted, and they may find their way into the show itself.  They don’t need to be long they don’t need to be long and it doesn’t matter if you’re a published writer or this is the first time you’ve shared anything you have written: you could just tell us about a building, a person, or an event in Margate that it seems important for us to know about.  You could send us pictures, too, if you like.
  • If you’re feeling creative, write your story down as a poem or fictionalised account.  Pick a building or an event, choose a point of view and describe what you see, feel, hear, and smell – and why it matters.  You could describe the moment from your own point of view, if it happened to you, or you could imagine yourself into the shoes of a Margate resident of two hundred years ago.  It’s entirely up to you.  The only rules are that it must be based firmly in Margate – a specific street or building – and it must be no more than 300 words long. Submit your poems and stories to storyhunt2014@gmail.com by 8 April.

Please note: some of our favourite stories will be showcased here on the New Theatre In Your Neighbourhood website.  You should let us know when you submit your story, poem or picture whether you’re happy for it to be freely available to members of the public, and if so, how you would like to be credited: full name, first name only, or anonymous?

We’re looking forward to meeting you in Margate and hearing all your stories.

Dan and Sarah

blog by Sarah Punshon, director & dramaturge for ‘Story Hunt’ by Daniel Bye

Story Hunt will be taking place on Saturday 12 April, departing from Theatre Royal Margate.  Tickets are £5 and you can find out more and book your tickets here http://theatreroyalmargate.com/event/story-hunt/