Talking Moves Series 4 Episode 4: Co-creating with Communities

Talking Moves | 12 November 2021

In this episode, we talk to Nancy Hirst and Dan Canham about Co-creating with Communities.

Building cultural communities is at the heart of Arts Council England’s Let’s Create strategy and for many organisations, this kind of work is at the very heart of what we try to do. But it’s not easy… it takes time, patience, diplomacy and care to do well. And sometimes, the funding and expectations of stakeholders around us, plus perhaps our own over-eager enthusiasm causes us to make mistakes. So we ask our guests to tell us more about how we might do this work better.

We start off with vocabulary… what and who do we mean by the all-encompassing word ‘community’ and indeed what do we mean by co-creation? None of us feel very comfortable with either terms but find ourselves using them anyway and so we explore the reasons why we do and the complexities that arise for us when we do.

We talk a lot about telling stories and the ethics of doing that, the juxtaposition of local stories linked to national conversations, of being authentic, of being of a place or an outsider to it and of finding a common purpose. We delve into Dan’s epic gig-like work Session which he undertook in partnership with Empire Sounds and Steppaz Performing Arts in Tottenham, and we look at the ways in which Nancy and her company Icon build theatre around local tales such as The Chatham Witch and The Silk of 1000 Spiders with her Medway communities.

Both Nancy and Dan share some of the tools they use, show us where some of the traps and pitfalls can lie, and muse on the complexity of this work which we all agree felt different to simply ‘seeking out stimuli’ and mining material. The issue of ethics comes up for us, as does legacy and how we can continue to support a process even after the final curtain on the show has come down.

And finally we reflect on the joy – the moments where the stars align and the work comes together and the magic truly happens…

Who's Who

Dan Canham headshot

Dan Canham

Dan Canham is a contemporary performance-maker and choreographer. Through his company, Still House, he makes socially engaged work that foregrounds under-represented stories and celebrates those performing at its heart.

For Still House: SESSION (LIFT festival, NT Riverstage), Of Riders and Running Horses (Tbilisi Theatre Festival, Shanghai Theatre Festival, NT Riverstage, Dance Umbrella, Mayfest), 30 Cecil Street (Sadler’s Wells, PuSh Vancouver, Brisbane Festival), Ours Was the Fen Country (National Theatre Shed, Dublin Dance Festival)

Movement director credits include: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe (Bridge Theatre/Leeds Playhouse/Eliot Harper), A Monster Calls, (UK tour/Old Vic/Bristol Old Vic), Peter Pan (National Theatre), Jane Eyre (National Theatre/Bristol Old Vic), Romeo + Juliet (Rose Theatre Kingston), 101 Dalmatians (Tobacco Factory Theatres), Shooting with Light, Voyager (Idle Motion), Once Upon a Time (Aga Blonksa).

Performing credits include: A Matter of Life and Death (National Theatre), To Be Straight with You (DV8 Physical theatre) The Bacchae, Tristan and Yseult, Brief Encounter (Kneehigh Theatre) Rite of Spring (Fabulous Beast/ENO), Faust (punchdrunk) Agnes and Walter (Smith Dance Theatre) Mother Savage (Travelling Light).
Nancy Hirst headshot

Nancy Hirst

Nancy Hirst is founder and Artistic Director of Icon Theatre, who co-create large-scale, outdoor and site-specific performances with communities and young people, exploring the issues, stories, and agendas that influence their lives. Passionate about social justice and inclusion, Nancy has created ground-breaking participatory performing arts opportunities for communities and young people across north Kent, including the flagship ACE/DCMS Theatre31 programme and ongoing projects on housing estates, schools and drop-in centres. She trained at the National Theatre Studio, was a trustee of Medway Voluntary Action for seven years, and has previously worked at the Opera North and the BAC, Soho, Arcola and Young Vic Theatres.

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