People in Glass Houses
Common Wealth is a theatre company co-founded by Rhiannon White and Evie Manning. They make political Site – specific theatre that focuses on relevant issues of our times.
Our Glass House is a performance about domestic abuse based on real life testimonies. It explores the issues of domestic abuse, the reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, and how they get the courage to leave. The show itself is staged in a residential house in Camden. The audience are invited in to explore the worlds of the characters and are free to have their own journey and experience through these peoples recreated homes. The performance was first staged in Bristol in 2012 in two separate houses and was on a UK Tour from Bradford to Edinburgh in August, and will be in London from November to coincide with the global White Ribbon Campaign. This UK Tour is made possible with support from Arts Council England, Edinburgh Council, NHS Scotland, Lothian and Borders Police, Scottish Government, Bradford Council, Bradford Community Safety Partnership and Camden Council.
I had the opportunity to talk to Rhiannon, Production Manager and Assistant Director for this specific project:
You recently invited a group of young people to help with the production of the set. Why did you want to give young people the opportunity to build and in part even design the set?
For us it’s extremely important to work with local artists from the communities we are coming into. We have a whole council house to transform so it’s a huge job and it’s great to have support in a practical sense but also it’s important that the people we collaborate with take some ownership of the project. It’s a very intimate show and we want people to feel that they’ve been part of making the magic happen.
What where the different creative disciplines you looked for in the young people to bring to the project? How did the different areas of art, design, and craft making bring to life what you wanted to achieve?
We like to collaborate with all kinds of artists. We like the audience to feel like there’s a feast of things to explore, so we are always keen to work cross – disciplinary. To date we’ve worked with Illustrators, Painters, Sculptors, Installation Artists, Textile Designers, Gardeners, Set Dressers, Architects, and Illusionists. When meeting the young people I look for a willingness to collaborate and most importantly a dedication to the project and the issue. When we get to a new house we always have to respond to the new layout and what’s around us. Working with new artists from the community helps us to keep the work exciting and bold.
Were you surprised by any particular part of the set building and design team’s contribution that you had not anticipated?
One member of the team had previously made an installation with spoons. We never really anticipated using spoons before, but she was able to contribute a fantastic design that fitted perfectly with the message of the show.
Have you collaborated with other creative disciplines before this? What do think cross collaboration to the production as a whole?
As a company collaboration is a huge part of our work. We have always created work that is multi- disciplinary, we want the audience to feel as if the experience is part-gig, part instillation, part theatre and to stay true to this we have to work cross discipline.
What do you hope the young people got out of the experience?
I hope they enjoyed the experience as a whole, gained new skills, learnt about the structuring and development of the piece. I also hope that they took on board the issues that we deal with in the play, the signs and effects of domestic abuse and how to take responsibility in response to abuse.
Would you consider offering another cross collaboration opportunity with young people in the future? What would you hope to do different you didn’t attempt this time?
I definitely would consider future collaborations, I think it’s beneficial to the young people and us, and helps us to develop our skills as a company. I would love the opportunity to work solely on a project with young people and hopefully in the future we’ll be able to generate a project that comes from them.
Our Glass House is on from Monday 11th November – Saturday 30th November 2013. Shows are at 4pm and 7.30pm. Tickets are £10/£5 concession. You can buy tickets online or by phone 0844771000. (Not suitable for under 15s)