My month of November is underway! During this month, I will be exploring how theatre workshops might enable members of the public to discover and enliven hidden stories and myths that are woven into space. What space will I explore? One that is very close to home…
I returned from a trip to Herzegovina a couple of days ago. Coming home is always a particular shock: I live just around the corner from Leicester Square. When I leave the house in the morning hordes of tourists are, therefore, rather surprised to see me emerging onto a Chinatown-street! Yet, I actually live up above the hubbub. At the top of the lengthy weathered staircase of ‘the Tower’ (as we fondly call it) is the kitchen of our flat. This leads directly onto the roof of Notre Dame de France RC Church – a huge outdoor garden space.
When I arrived here, just over a year ago, I began to engage with this unusual building in all its vastness from the outside in. As I walked over the roof deck, I noticed that the church was perfectly round. The reason? It was once a Victorian Panorama picture house: a precursor to the cinema. Here, one could spend a Sunday afternoon surveying exotic international vistas stretched across circular walls.
As a theatre-maker, this inner-city site immediately caught my imagination. Yet, it is not only its past that fascinates me but also its present; it is now the Sunday destination of choice for French-speaking Catholics from all across London. Once a visual portal into the ‘international’, the church now physically hosts Congolese, French, Senegalese, Ivoirians, Madagascans, Cameroonians, and Polynesians mass-goers. The parish centre, adjoining the church, welcomes an even wider range of nationalities. Refugees queue here as early as 5am each morning for food, housing information and citizenship advice. Many have been coming twice a week for over twenty years. This site therefore plays a vital role in the day-to-day lives of countless refugees and ex-refugees in London.
During this month, I am ‘digging up’ the site, exploring the Victorian fascination with international spectacle through an investigation of original archives. Simultaneously, I am collaborating with the refugees and religious community members who currently use it, via interviews and theatre workshops. My aim is to discover the local/global narratives that continue to resonate within Notre Dame’s walls. If the site is a palimpsest with stories woven into it then how might we animate and reconstruct its ‘international’ visions in the present ? I hope that by empowering the refugees to share their perspectives on the space they will no longer be subjects but artists and storytellers, narrating their own migratory experiences.
During this month, I will post up records from the interviews, pictures of our workshops and research into the site’s history. I will also post about my engagement in a MOOC Course in site-specific dance and performance with students across the world, which I hope will add a further international perspective to the work; I want to consider how this public research project, Inside/Outside/In, might practically fuel a site-specific performance or sound tour. Pictures to come!