Stella Duffy on Why the Albany is the Perfect Home for Fun Palaces

Brockwell Lido Fun Palace, Image by Tom Parker

Brockwell Lido Fun Palace, Image by Tom Parker

Fun Palaces is a free, nationwide celebration of arts, sciences and culture, taking place on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October in 130+ locations across the UK and internationally. The event celebrates the centenary of cultural innovator Joan Littlewood and brings to life the vision she shared with Cedric Price for the creation of a ‘Fun Palace’. We are proud to be the national home for Fun Palaces, and also to be part of the Deptford Fun Palace. Ahead of this momentous weekend, Fun Palaces Founder and Co-Director Stella Duffy explains why the Albany is the perfect home for Fun Palaces.

I’m 51. I’ve been working in the arts since I was 18 when I got my Equity card. For many of us, perhaps especially those from my generation – those of us for whom not getting a ‘proper’ job (before you could at least get degrees in non-‘proper’ jobs) meant saying no to an office, no to a desk, no to a set place to work – for many of us, saying yes to the arts meant saying no to a home. We didn’t think we needed or wanted a home. We wanted to be ‘free’.

And free is all very well, but it doesn’t take long to realise that free is also scary, tiring, and that sometimes what we really want, as well as free, is a home.

A base, somewhere to work from, somewhere that understands the kind of work we’re trying to make, somewhere that understands the kind of artist we’re trying to be, that can hold us while we’re trying to be the kind of artist we might become. And it doesn’t matter what stage we’re at in our work, EVERY artist needs this kind of support, every artist is emerging to some extent, every time they make a new piece of work. We all need support.

I’ve been lucky, as a novelist and short story writer, to have this in the publishers I’ve worked with; I’ve been lucky as a performer and director to have this in a couple of the companies I’ve been part of – they are the companies I still work with. But I can count on the fingers of one hand the theatres and arts centres where I feel truly welcome, as either a writer or a theatremaker – where I honestly feel they ‘get’ the work I care to make. (Interestingly, for those of you who think being published might rid you of all your outsider feelings – none of the ones I feel particularly welcome in are those that consider themselves “writers’ theatres”. Maybe that’s why I call myself a theatremaker not a playwright …)

I don’t think we look for THE home, as artists, as makers, I think we look for A home. A place that gets the work we’re passionate about now, a base that can support us to reach further than we’ve reached before, a space that will let us run with an idea, even when it’s slightly (or very) excessive, even when we don’t really know what we’re doing (and neither do they), just in case it works. A place that is, perhaps more importantly, brave enough to say yes, knowing it might not work.

The Albany is that place for Fun Palaces. Crucially, it calls itself an arts centre. It is not only interested in theatre, it is interested in arts. And it is right in the middle of a vibrant, bustling community – it is part of that community, truly part of it. It’s no accident that Sarah-Jane Rawlings, my Co-Director in Fun Palaces, had been working at the Albany last year on Meet Me at the Albany when I asked her to work on Fun Palaces with me. Meet Me at the Albany is a creative arts club for older people – it’s the antithesis of a traditional day centre. Every Tuesday the café at the Albany is full of vibrant, busy, noisy, LOCAL people, who happen to be older people, making the Albany their home. Not being looked after, or catered for, but creating by and for themselves. It’s a Fun Palace. While we were getting Fun Palaces off the ground last year, across the UK and beyond, the Albany were already making a Fun Palace for older people in their own café.

Stella Duffy, writer, actorSo when we needed a home – and fast – earlier this year, the Albany was the obvious place to turn. And because the Albany gets it, because they were already doing it, they welcomed us in. They’re us, we’re them – two of our team are working for Fun Palaces and the Albany at the same time; the Albany are also part of the Deptford Fun Palace; brilliant people from Meet Me at the Albany feature in the new film on our website.

When Sarah-Jane told Gavin Barlow (Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Albany) that we needed a home, he immediately offered us a home there. And yes, we have a formal letter of agreement, and yes, our finances are carefully ring-fenced, and we’ve both done all the correct due diligence we need and want to be doing as publicly-funded bodies … but much as we needed a home for the business side of making Fun Palaces, for the funding side, we also needed a home that got it. That understood not just what we’re doing, but why we want to do it. Why we would be prepared to work so hard, for so long, on a dream. Because it’s the Albany’s dream too, and has been since it’s inception as The Deptford Fund in 1894. Access that is real, not just lip-service. Engagement that is about working with people to enhance our community, not just to tick boxes. Making a difference where we live.

The Albany was the right place, because it was already doing it.

Just as every Fun Palace maker is, right now, in the final lead-up to the weekend, already being a Fun Palace –working with their community, being artists and scientists in doing so, doing the work to make their weekend happen – so too, do we have our home at the Albany – because they were already a Fun Palace.

Stella Duffy, Founder & Co-Director, Fun Palaces

Fun Palaces takes place nationally & internationally on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October. For more information and to find your local Fun Palace, click here.

The Albany is part of the Deptford Fun Palace taking place at various locations and with an assortment of organisations and individuals in the Deptford area. For more information, click here.

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