Utter Thanet Begins!
Our brand new project, Utter Thanet, is at the beginning of a long journey that will end in a provocative, illuminating and uplifting piece of verbatim/from-real-life-testimony theatre. Utter Thanet is about you, about me, about all of us who live here on the Isle of Thanet; that sticky-out bit of land on the edge of Kent that juts into the restless channel and is home to an eclectic, and some might say, random group of people. Utter Thanet is about those people but it is also about people everywhere. It is about our responses to change, our attitudes towards the place we call home, it is about our feelings and thoughts about the people who we live cheek by jowl with; it is about community, society and the human condition.
Utter Thanet is being created in response to change; particularly the changes that are happening across the Isle of Thanet. For well over a century Thanet was a magnet for tourists coming to holiday by the sea. Hotels, pubs, cafes, dance halls, theatres, and amusements of every kind, catered for the British holidaymaker. They came in their thousands to sample the delights of the sandy beaches, the amenities and the health giving properties of the sea and the air. Then, a new era of cheap flights, a desire to be more adventuress and a change in the psyche of the British, with the “baby boomers” growing up, people stayed away from the traditional seaside towns in their droves. Thanet struggled. The economy collapsed; hotels, boarding houses, pubs and cafes closed, the amusement arcades and fairgrounds struggled, the theatres and other venues became warehouses or fell into disrepair and the whole area took on a dilapidated air. As the economy bottomed out, cheap rents attracted various London boroughs and government agencies who placed a great number of “problem” tenants in the area – “many dependent on benefits, the unemployed, long-term disabled, ex offenders, children in care and migrants from outside the UK. The local sense of community was disrupted by an annual turnover of more than 30% of residents.” (Turning the Tide. The Centre for Social Justice).
More recently Thanet has seen a huge influx of new residents. These new incomers (or DFLs … Down From Londons) attracted by the arty renaissance of the area, the hype, the cheap property prices and the fast train to London are once again disrupting the sense of community (discuss). There is a kind of gentrification (call it what you will) occurring. A great number of socially and culturally aware people, many of whom have sold their properties in London (and further afield), have bought houses here, and are once again changing the face of Thanet. New shops, cafes, pubs and venues are popping up across the Isle, many taking the places of the old cafes and shops. The Turner Contemporary art gallery attracts thousands of visitors and brings much needed money into the area. More visitors to the other towns and villages are also a welcome boost to the economy … but what do the inhabitants of the Isle of Thanet make of all of this. This is at the heart of Utter Thanet.
There are, of course, other major changes going on. The vote to leave the European Union, the new President in the United States, thousands of refugees crossing continents to find safety, the Middle East crisis, the sabre rattling of the Russians, the Chinese becoming more outgoing, North Korea’s Nuclear testing and various other nations jostling for position in this new World … a World in flux. How are these changes, some perhaps closer to us here in Britain than others, affecting our world? How do we as individuals, living in a diverse community like Thanet, cope? What are our attitudes to these changes? Does it affect the way that we respond to each other? Is there a feeling of despair? Is there a sense of inequality? Are people happy with the way the area is changing? What do people worry about? What do they love? Hate? Hope for? What do you think?
The first element in Utter Thanet is the research; we aim to talk to as many people as possible (about 1,000), from different backgrounds, different situations, different ages and different political, sexual, racial and religious persuasions. We will do this in a variety of ways; meeting with existing clubs, groups and associations, meeting people in our Utter Thanet Gazebo in town centres, at events, at shopping centres, on the beach and wherever people congregate, by seeking out the hard to reach people through the various community agencies and meeting with them on their terms, and by having a website with a forum where people can post their own thoughts or set up a meeting with us. We would like to record as many of these meetings as possible; these recordings will become the basis for our theatre piece.
The second element of Utter Thanet is to curate these words that have been given to us. These words are precious, they represent the feelings, attitudes, thoughts, emotions, the loves, hates, worries and hopes of all of those people who were generous enough to let us have them. We will treat them with great care, and will honestly and honourably create, by piecing them together, a script for a play for the twenty-first century. Quite what this play will be is, at the moment, a joyous and slightly scary unknown.
The third element of Utter Thanet is to experiment with the script by putting the words into the mouths of actors in a rehearsal room. We will craft the words into a piece of theatre, with the help of a dramaturg, a writer and the performers themselves. The performers will listen to the recordings and then attempt to recreate the tone, the meaning behind the words, the honesty with which they were originally spoken and the emotions that go with them. Once we have something that is as close to complete as possible, we will produce a number of “script in hand” sharings of what we have so far. These sharings will take place across Thanet and we will attempt to notify all who shared their thoughts with us. The play has to be, as well as local to the Isle of Thanet, of universal interest. The Isle of Thanet becomes a microcosm of the United Kingdom and … dare I say, the world. We are all basically the same; we all have loves, hates, hopes, desires and we all want what is best for ourselves, family and friends.
The fourth element of Utter Thanet is to create a professional play that can be toured nationally to community halls and centres, theatres, arts centres, colleges, town halls and other interested (and interesting) venues. The play therefore has to be self contained; able to be performed in bare halls as well as well equipped theatres. This element will hopefully be produced and toured in 2018.
There are lots of other plans for Utter Thanet too … but these will have to wait until we have spoken to those people born and bred in Thanet, those who have moved here, those who have returned, those who visit regularly and anyone else who is willing to sit down with us and chat.
If you would like to know more, or you have thoughts on Utter Thanet, or you wouldn’t mind being interviewed about your thoughts on Thanet and change, you can e mail me here, please put Utter Thanet in the subject line.
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