Museum On Tour, 9 February 2017: Ropewalks #1 – Over the cobbles and back in time

by Sara Norrish, Learning Development Officer

While the construction work starts to transform the Museum and Art Gallery building into the big, new, shiny History Centre we’re busy developing new ideas behind the scenes!

I’m part of the Programmes Team and one of our roles is to make our ‘Activity Plan’ – a huge document containing a number of projects, initiatives and plans to help maintain our profile – come alive. We’re also using it to test out concepts over the next four years while we’re closed, with a view to integrating some of them into the History Centre’s programme once it’s open to the public.

I’m currently working on Cultural Tourism, a strand of the plan through which we’re creating a vibrant new way to interpret the incredible history of Plymouth’s Barbican. We’re doing this in partnership with the Barbican Theatre and writer, Jon Nash and we’re using food as a linking thread through the work.

In 2015 we all worked together for the very first time. We piloted combining history with an immersive theatrical experience at the Elizabethan House. ‘The Spice Box’ completely wowed audiences and clearly demonstrated a thirst for history to be experienced through contemporary theatre. It was an amazing performance that’s still talked about passionately.

Photograph from 'The Spice Box' 2015 theatrical production at the Elizabethan House in Plymouth
‘The Spice Box’ wowed audiences when it was performed at the Elizabethan House in 2015.

A crucial and defining aspect of devising this performance was that it was done in collaboration with Company B (the Barbican Theatre’s company of 16-25 year olds), Mark Laville, the Barbican Theatre’s Creative Director, Sheila Snellgrove the CEO and Jon Nash, the writer, alongside experts from the Museum and Art Gallery. Arts Council England were so impressed that the project became a Case Study.

Photograph of cast members from 'The Spice Box' at Plymouth's Elizabethan House
‘The Spice Box’ was a true collaboration with a cast of young people.

As a result of the success of ‘The Spice Box’ we wanted to expand our repertoire and offer other contemporary theatrical experiences. So, Sheila and I met early last year and started to cook up a project that would not only meet the needs of our respective audiences but that of our joint concern, emerging professionals. Both organisations have a strong commitment to supporting emerging professionals in the cultural sector by offering real live projects that they can be involved with, in order to gain much sought after experiences in the field.

Jon started his research last summer and has unearthed and gathered together a huge wealth of tantalising information. We’ve had trips to the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre, the South West Film and Television Archive, handled museum objects and investigated the Barbican under Jon’s guidance. All this research has given a huge amount of food for thought and debate.

Photograph of an old ship's biscuit recipe
One of the many items unearthed as part of the research for the project.

Since the Autumn the team has met on a weekly basis to create theatre, discover the threads that link places together into a route and to plan, organise and decide how to promote the work. It’s a huge undertaking and the complexities have sometimes blown our minds but I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all believe this is going to be a really stunning piece of theatre.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with very talented students, recent graduates and someone returning to work in a different sector after time away from her career. It’s a privilege to work with such a diverse group of people from those who’ve been round the block a bit to those freshly on the cultural scene.

A photograph of a devising session for 'Ropewalks'
One of the devising sessions for the walking tours.

We’re aiming to create a theatrical experience that gives audiences the best 50 minutes of their day as they follow in the footsteps of the people who have helped connect Plymouth to the rest of the world. Our story will take you through hundreds of years of history and we’ll be revealing all the dates and times very soon through the Arts and Heritage Service, Barbican Theatre and History Festival websites and social media. I’m really looking forward to seeing and being a part of a unique journey through history – as we step over the cobbles and travel back in time!

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