Fun Palaces and the Importance of Community Empowerment

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Theatre Bath has joined forces with the Fun Palaces team, Creativity Works, Bath Spa Uni and Theatre Bristol to help bring Fun Palaces to the South West area. I thought I would take a few moments to explain why I believe this is such an important project and why we at Theatre Bath are throwing all of our support behind it.

Firstly what is a Fun Palace?

It’s a good question and there is no easy answer to it. The best way to describe Fun Palaces is to say that it’s a place where members from all backgrounds of the community can come together, learn new skills and share skills that they have with others. A Fun Palace can take place in a community centre, a church, a school, an office, a theatre in fact pretty much anywhere you like. The physical location isn’t important – it’s what happens inside that is.

Stella Duffy visited Bath recently and she described Fun Palaces in the following way:

Imagine you go into the building and the first thing you see is an opera singer, just in the room performing. No boundaries, just there doing what they do. Opera may not be your thing so you pass on by and at the end of the hall there is a stage. On that stage a band are performing. They finish playing their set and then invite you up on to the stage to play the instruments yourself. That is the key thing with Fun Palaces. Everyone can perform and everyone can participate but there is no pressure to do either. You can just enjoy what is going on and being part of it.

The reason I personally love the project is because it reinforces many of my own ideas about the importance of the community and togetherness and the role that arts and science can play within this. I love the idea of communities coming together and just having fun and learning from each other. One of my earliest memories is of attending a street party in the village where I live. It was very traditionally British. Bunting spanned the road. Residents from the street set out tables and chairs on the roads outside their houses filled with food and drink. A rickety wooden skittle alley ran along the street with straw bails at the end to capture stray balls. A large stage created with scaffolding took pride of place at the centre of the street with local musicians performing for their friends and family. Many other stalls spanned the length of the road including home-made produce and crafts and a BBQ and hog roast provided food for everyone. The atmosphere was fun, open and welcoming and everyone was there to be with each other and just enjoy themselves in amongst other members of the community. Fun Palaces takes this idea a step further and encourages people to learn from each other. We all have skills that are unique or individual to us. What Fun Palaces does is to reveal these skills and help use them to benefit others in the community. It’s about opening your doors to those around you and strengthening the sense of community because of it.

What other benefits are there?

We always talk in the theatre about how we can reach new audiences and why certain people do not attend productions. Is it because the productions are bad? No, it can’t be that surely? Maybe they just don’t appeal to some people? Yeah it could be that… But some of the responses from people are things that we may never consider. Some people don’t attend theatre because they have no idea how to. For instance they have no idea how to act, what to wear, how to behave. They can see theatres as big, imposing buildings that are home to posh people. A theatre can be a very unnerving and scary place for anyone who has never been before. Stella told one story of a participant from a youth theatre who was waiting for their parents after a class. When asked if someone was coming to pick them up they responded “yes I’m waiting for my mum. She’ll meet me outside.” When the young person was questioned if she was going to come in and meet him the participant said “No, she doesn’t feel comfortable coming inside. She’ll only meet me outside.”

So what can we do to help this situation? How can we attract new audiences without alienating current audiences? Fun Palaces can go a long way to helping. If theatres open their doors to the public then maybe you’ll encourage people who have never before entered a theatre to step inside to see what it’s actually like in there. This may help a bit, but there is a high chance that you will just attract the same people who always attend these types of events. You always see the same faces that keep popping up all the time.

So how can we get around this? 

This is where Fun Palaces is really important. Fun Palaces are run by the people for the people. It really is art for everyone. The key thing with Fun Palaces is the involvement of community leaders in creating the events. People who are from the communities you are trying to reach. This could be church leaders, people who run community groups or youth clubs, people who run tenants associations, Cub, Scout, Brownie and Guide leaders, school teachers… in fact anyone who works at a grass roots level, directly with people from the community. We hope that not only local theatres will open their doors and work with people from the community but that also communities will take the lead and create their own Fun Palaces where they live.

The beauty of this project is that ANYONE can do it. No special skills are needed at all. Just find a space. Get some people to share their skills and tell everyone about it. Simple as that.

Do you know any scientists?

Bringing science and the arts together is at the heart of Fun Palaces. They are two brilliantly exciting subjects and they can really compliment each other. We would really LOVE to get lots of the science community involved with this project so please do share with any scientists you know.

Want to find out more?

We have a workshop on July 7th at Burdall’s Yard from 6:30pm where Stella and her team will come down and help anyone who wishes to create their own Fun Palace locally. Please do come along and see what it’s all about. It literally is just an idea session and you won’t be expected to do anything. If you’re curious please do join us and share the word within your community. Fun Palaces are for everyone. That is the only rule. They are as big or as small as you allow your imagination to make them.

For more information visit our event invite by clicking anywhere on this sentence.

We look forward to meeting you all soon for some community fun for everyone!

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