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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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Why We’re Proud to be the Home of Fun Palaces

Fun Palace medium, Emily Medley

Today we’re pleased to announce that we are the recipients of an Arts Council Exceptional Award, to bring to life the national Fun Palaces project, taking place across 80+ venues on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October 2014 and beyond. Gavin Barlow, CEO of the Albany, explains how our relationship with Fun Palaces came about.

In 2013, Stella Duffy started something rather magical. At Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled event, she posed a simple question: Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in 2014, that isn’t another revival?

Joan was one of the Twentieth Century’s most significant theatre directors and cultural pioneers, and that question led to a discussion about bringing to life the vision Joan created with Cedric Price for the Fun Palace: one space linking arts and sciences, entertainment and education. Perhaps, the group thought, a Fun Palace could exist anywhere. They began to conceive a vision of Pop-Up Fun Palaces across the country, appearing for a glorious, weekend-long celebration of culture.

Stella teamed up with Co-Director Sarah-Jane Rawlings, the brilliant creative producer who helped to launch Meet Me at the Albany, the Albany’s artist led day club for the over 60s.

In many ways, Meet Me at the Albany has become the coalescence point for how we think about our work as an organisation. What we’re interested in is finding ways for communities – and often those who find it harder to access culture – to meet with artists and practitioners in a genuinely democratic, accessible space, for exchanges that are equally enriching for all parties. Meet Me at the Albany is, for us, the perfect example of that.

Five key principles underpin the Fun Palace:

• Fun Palaces are FREE
• Fun Palaces are LOCAL, with community involvement, engagement and participation at heart
• Fun Palaces are INNOVATIVE, finding new ways to bring the arts, culture and sciences together
• Fun Palaces are TRANSFORMATIVE, intending to transform the place/spaces they take place in: they transform the makers, and they transform the participants
• Fun Palaces are ENGAGING: Fun Palaces are about full participation. Sitting and listening is fine, as long as they also include opportunities to have a go

It was clear in discussions with Sarah-Jane that there were countless ways in which the thinking underpinning our work at the Albany married with (and is of course, directly or indirectly, inspired by) Joan and Cedric’s vision.

We host many free or extremely low cost events – it is possible to buy a ticket for £1 for any show in our season. We’re driven by our community: those £1 tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis to punters on Deptford Market, the beating heart of our local high street that adjoins our building and spills over into our café. And we present a diverse array of arts and cultural forms (you are often as likely to encounter a cooking demonstration, a gardening club, a creative writing workshop or a yoga session at the Albany as you are a theatre show).

But it is the idea of arts and culture as a level playing field, a space for free exchange between all participants, that resonates with us most. So it made perfect sense to us to work with Stella and Sarah-Jane – as well as a streamline but quite exceptional team – to bring Fun Palaces to life.

Now, a year and a bit on, over 80 partners have signed up to create their own version of a Fun Palace on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October 2014. Ultimately, everyone involved shares a belief that arts and culture transform lives. Joan believed that, too.

So in many ways, Fun Palaces is more than just a celebration of an extraordinary individual. It’s a national campaign that shouts, sings, shimmies, stomps from the rooftops: arts and culture are a crucial part of human life, and they are truly, truly glorious. Let’s make sure they belong to everyone.

 

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