Once Upon a Time in Barnstaple


Arts Council England have helped us with funding to research and script a community play for Barnstaple.

We have been planning the play for some time. We submitted an application to ACE to support the first stages of the project early in 2020. That application was one of many lost in the reallocation of ACE’s resources to deal with the funding crisis precipitated by Covid-19. But ACE has agreed an adjustment to a different, successful application that allows us to forge ahead with Phase 1 of the project to create a play for Barnstaple.

The ambition for the play is to take stock of where we are now through the prism of our history. Barnstaple has proved both resilient and resourceful faced with challenges in the past.

One starting point is the Great Flood of 1607, a calamitous reminder of the power of nature at a moment when Barnstaple’s confidence was riding high because of its importance as an international port.

Other incidents of local and national moment that may well feed into the narrative include the fall-out from the terror plot of 1605 and the effect of outbreaks of plague on the region – one effect being that Shakespeare’s company twice performed in Barnstaple during this period.

Though we have these clear points of departure, we remain open to other possibilities thrown up by the research process. It’s as much Barnstaple now that we’re interested in as Barnstaple then, using the historical context as a distancing device so that we don’t get bogged down in the minutiae of current personalities and specific issues. We want to look at the broader sweep of how decisions are made, what agency people feel they have to shape their futures, what investment people make in their communities. We will animate the play with characters found in the historical records but we will also draw on the accounts of people in Barnstaple now to create the personal dramas that drive the narrative.

From now until the end of the year we will be gathering material. From January 2021 we will be developing the script. In Autumn 2021 we will present a reading of the script to garner support for Phase 2 – full production.

Exactly how the three stages of Phase 1 are managed depends where we are with Covid-19. Though face-to-face interviews would ideally be part of the material that we want to gather, recorded Zoom meetings are an option. As we develop the script (stage 2), so we hope to start recruiting potential performers and developing specific theatre skills. But the level of ‘in-the-room’ engagement again depends on where we all are with managing the pandemic.

Restrictions on how we are able to interact with each other may prompt particular decisions as to the nature of the play. If outside gatherings are deemed safer than indoor events then maybe this pushes us in a particular direction and we investigate how best to harness technology to augment the live experience. As with other elements of the project, the challenge is to remain excited by and responsive to the possibilities at every stage rather than feel bowed down by the constrictions.

"You didn't tell me what to think, you opened a door to a place where I could think." This was an audience comment on another of our current projects, Hefted by David Lane. The remark encapsulates what we are aiming to achieve with the play for Barnstaple.

would you like to talk?

During the first stage of this project we're gathering as many views and stories about Barnstaple as we can.

We don't guarantee that each and every one of them will find its way into the play, but we want to preserve the conversations as an aural snapshot of Barnstaple in 2020.

We're not after epic dramas, just a range of reflections. If you'd like to contribute, please email us: multistory@hotmail.com

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