“Look what I’ve made, Steve!” (Building Grue)
Updated: Feb 17
It’s become a running joke amongst the ARCADE team that no matter what you present to artist, Steve Wintercroft, whether it’s torn, mangled, broken or incorrectly stuck, he will take it from you with a smile and somehow fashion it into something worth looking at. He will never get cross, he will never laugh at you and he will never tell you to throw it in the bin, even if he probably should. There’s a wonky picture frame of mine that proves it.
It was the end of August when the fabulous Sally Gorham emailed about a December slot available at the Old Parcels Office. I'd met Steve maybe a handful of times and been impressed by the stunning nature of his work. We agreed that Scarborough had huge potential and we both wanted to make exciting things happen here - this was important to us as people who had grown up in the area, moved away and come back.
We figured this seemed like a great opportunity to attempt a *small* pilot - a sort of proof of concept, try out working together and doing something involving our community.
We had next to no money and we had 16 weeks.
Steve started planning, I badgered him for drawings, he came back with one and he was calling it a maze.
It had a LOT of walls.
It’s our job as producers to enable and trust the artists that we work with. They have the vision, and we do what we can, within reason and budget, to make that vision come to life.
So walls it was. All 300 metres worth.
We were able to gain funding from Yorkshire Coast BID, a group of lovely Kickstarter backers, Invisible Dust supported work with Gladstone Road School, as well as ARCADE's support from Arts Council England. Mountains of donated cardboard arrived at the Old Parcels Office, thanks to Plaxtons, Redcliffe Farm, Bruntons, Emma at Louise Florist, and Stephen Joseph Theatre - who also gave us scripts due for recycling which are now snowflakes! Our lovely poster was designed by Charlotte Ruston.
We spent days in the Old Parcels Office cutting out various patterns from cardboard, houses, barnacles, picture frames - and it was great to learn about people and their lives as they worked, what they like, what they do and to watch their faces when they saw the pieces they’d painstakingly cut out come together. They were gorgeous afternoons.
Steve had shown me the plans and I wrote a narrative to link the locations together. I hadn't written a proper poem in years but I had a bash... There wasn't time or budget to get in someone proper, and I was able to tweak and change if the project needed it. Some artists wouldn't put up with a producer 'having a go' at being creative, but Steve has been so collaborative you can see my sticky fingerprints (both figuratively and literally) all over Grue.
We’ve had some exceptionally skilled people donate their time to this project, and our soundscape was made by a super group of musical aficionados! I have to admit I was worried they might not get on, but they were instantly in awe of each others skills and collaborated to build the glorious piece we all experienced. The sound absolutely makes it, and we are so grateful to you Nick, Edd, Jim and Fletch.
Also included in Grue were Josh and Ellen from CUSU, our lovely Acting students who you can hear reading the poem. Their performances are great and they were such fun to work with.
During our build sessions we met retired Stage Carpenter, CMoor, and his wife Judy. CMoor became an invaluable part of the team, building multiple items and using his expertise to help Steve build the walls themselves. There are a number of honourable mentions and day-savers in Jonesi, our carpenter (who’s first name I do now know!), Adrian Riley, who arrived just at the right time and offered to design the poem layout, which adds so much. My Stu, who always gets roped in, but with good reason – he’s calm and can turn his hand to most things. On this project, he made the poem buttons. Terri, who has built a lot, tidied and café’d as well as Diana and Alex, our first aiders throughout the run, mostly roped in at the last second.
There are many people we are grateful to that helped us build. The count is up to 300, but not everyone gave us their names. We are talking over 1500 hours of volunteer time now. Some of them have been to see the installation and it’s been brilliant to hear them recognise their work. Builders included Bridget & Martin (I’ve really learned your name wrong I’m afraid!), Jane, Claire, Alison, Alfie, Scarborough Sixth Form, St Augustines, 1st Northstead Guides, Tim’s Community Wellbeing Programme & Gino and his family, Sally Gorham and the board of the Old Parcels Office, Mary-Anne, the Old Parcels Office Volunteers, Fletch’s family, Steve’s family, who not only built, but went without Steve for many days! To anyone else I may have forgotten, I’m sorry if I haven’t mentioned you by name, there are so many to remember! Please know you are appreciated.
When the build sessions finished, we had one week to put our giant jigsaw together. This required long hours and a lot of glue and tea! I think Steve was the only one really ready for the scale - even though I had seen the plans - and we were all amazed as it just grew and grew and…Grue.
The world we’ve created has texture, sound and light (that was a very late night for Steve and Jim as the OPO has a glass roof…). Steve wanted to reflect the diverse beauty and fragility of the world around us and the piece captures that perfectly. The message on recycling is impossible to ignore, and we’ve had friends tell us that their children have already been home and emptied the recycling bin to make decorations…
This project required the time and patience of an exceptional team. They worked so hard, all week, without complaint: Shan got a bit too attached to our reindeer and sang whether she was happy or exhausted, Jim's laugh exploded across the space every now and again and Jen's ever-present energy spurred us all on. They’ve thrown themselves at Grue wholeheartedly and I reckon if you can handle a massive install, tired and under pressure, and still like each other at the end, that’s a special thing. Soph gives me freedom and support to try things, especially creative things like writing and directing, and even with experimental ideas, like this one. I am so proud to be an Arcadian. ❤️
Finally, I must thank Steve again because he’s been such fun to collaborate with, trusting his vision was exceptionally easy and he emanates enthusiasm, patience and kindness.
As I write this, it's looking likely that 1000 people will see Grue before the end of its run. Our images by Charlotte Graham made it all the way to the national press (thanks Jay!). We seemed to take over BBC Radio York for a morning as well as a mention on BBC Front Row. For a tiny pilot by a new partnership, testing a new idea, making it entirely out of recycled cardboard with the community in a little town by the sea, Grue exceeded all of our expectations.
This is not the end. We are already plotting, and you'll definitely be invited to join us for a chat and a build, if you want to.
Have a wonderful festive season all, stay safe. ARCADE will be back next year with even more for you to get involved in. Watch this space.
Find out more about Grue here.