Scarborough Stories: From concept to performance
When I started at ARCADE last year I remember the chatter and excitement around
Scarborough Stories. As a newbie, not a chance did I imagine that one year later I’d be involved in a project with such intense logistics, over 200 participants, 11 venues, 14 talented artists, a gorgeous community cast & crew of over 60 people and a big group singing number right outside of Poundland on Scarborough’s High Street.
ARCADE thrives on making projects with our community and Scarborough Stories is a
brilliant example of that. We were thrilled that Yorkshire Coast BID funded the project and enabled this amazing journey to happen. It began with creative inspiration from Common Wealth Theatre in Bradford, whose Co-Artistic Director, Evie Manning, supported us as our Creative Mentor. Evie came to Scarborough to lead an Ideas Exchange workshop with 25 local people. The aim of the session was to gauge what themes, ideas & challenges our community face and to make these the focus of the show.
7 incredible local artists were then commissioned to run free workshops focussing on
storytelling through different creative artforms. We wanted to give people the skills to tell
their story in as many different forms as possible, while finding people who might like to
support, make or perform in the show in the long run.
The brilliant Ben Buddy Slack from the Swan Song Project brought his outstanding talent for
songwriting. The warm and wonderful Jayne Shipley taught storytelling through textiles and
poetry with participants adding their pieces to a gorgeous sail, later displayed as part of the show. The super skilled Matt Cooper led not 1, but 2 workshops on storytelling through photography.
Allie Watt, a superb professional writer guided participants on storytelling through creative writing and last but certainly not least - the world class expressive spirit that is Rebecca Denniff explored sound and words, ending the session with a song written by the group.
We also ran a digital story-gathering campaign via our facebook group - a safe online space for people to share their stories. We had pieces ranging from beautiful personal writing (Rita and Julie, divine as ever) to blog posts about the workshop experience (thank you, Lel!).
It became clear that sharing stories, even with strangers, created a sense of community that felt safe and open. This was just the beginning.
Jim and Soph at ARCADE reached out to different groups to find stories to be heard. They connected with people through workshops and meetings all around town, from youth groups to schools, church halls to community centres, allotments to the skatepark and more. We did our best to invite as many people as possible from all backgrounds and walks of life to join us in making this show and telling their story.
With the seeds planted, workshops done and meetings completed, we held an open audition to be part of the project - and there we found our potential storytellers.
The next question: How do you guide a group of people, some with little performing
experience, some with none, to write their true stories and then find the courage to perform
them in public?
We needed a Director, one who creates a safe space, oozes support and is a powerhouse of
artistic expression & freedom.
We needed Rebecca Denniff, of Flash Company Arts in Whitby.
Rebecca is an artist ARCADE very much admires. She embodies collaboration and
generosity in the way she makes art, and her care and respect for the community is deep
Rehearsals began every Thursday at the beautiful Woodend Creative Centre. It was time for our storytellers to get to work. As they began to explore what story they wanted to share, they received support and inspiration from admired writers we are pleased to call our friends, the brilliant Hannah Davies, Lel & Rita who were all fantastic mentors.
To add to Rebecca’s skills, we assembled a cracking creative team; incredible Designer
David Owen; creative Enabler and Vocalist Vi Denniff; Associate Artists Alex & Joy of (Not) Forever Yone & Diana Logan.
Alex & Joy strengthened the voices and performance skills of our younger cast members, while Diana curated a gorgeous piece written and filmed by members of ARCADE’s Creative Youth Company. You can view the film here.
Momentum was growing fast. We had the joy of Bek Homer from BBC Radio York come to rehearsal to document the behind the scenes process on her show - still available on our website here. Jay from Pyper PR got us brilliant press in the Yorkshire Post, Scarborough News & Coast and County Radio to name a few.
As the shows rolled closer, Rebecca composed a new song to be part of the finale outside of Poundland, capturing the spirit of Scarborough. We welcomed Whitby Community Choir, which Rebecca runs, to join the cast in performing in a 3 part harmony, adding an incredible next dimension to the song.
We had our cast. We had our Director. We had our stories. We had our song. Now came the
logistics - each storyteller was to perform in a unique location in Scarborough’s High Street.
Safe to say, whoever stage managed this show would have their work cut out for them.
Cue stage manager Stu Norton. Stu designed 6 audience routes around the story locations, each timed to perfection to arrive at the finale in the same moment - no mean feat! One route was designed to be accessible, and was joined by the wonderful Christine Koller who provided a BSL interpretation of the stories.
Each of our storytellers had a photoshoot with the innovative Charlotte Graham, what cracking images they were! It’s not everyday someone wants a picture of a tie on fire, but Stu made it happen. You can see the tie - and other images in the online programme here.
Meanwhile, ARCADE’s fantastic Co-Director Rach wrote 2 wonderful pieces that tied the whole experience together, for the opening and closing moments of the show. These were performed by our guides, who were also rehearsed by Rach to take audiences from the SJT, through the streets to each location and back again for the end of the show.
Our guides smashed it. And I was one of them! We had the privilege of working with a
variety of people who took on this role, ranging from Youth Workers to Coventry Uni acting
students & even some young members from ARCADE’s creative youth group.
When it came to finding performance spaces, we had brilliant support from Lisa and Kerry at
Yorkshire Coast BID when reaching out to the business community to find the best venues for each story to be told in.
Karon from Lilly’s Treasures had a real connection to how creativity can have a positive impact. She offered her shop as a venue, promoted the show to every single customer that entered her shop & came along to support rehearsals.
Reece from KODA willingly trusted team ARCADE with the keys to his coffee shop for
Angie’s story. Sadie from The Crescent Hotel gave us use of their courtyard for Willow, and
a lovely room upstairs for Kendra & Nicky.
The team at the library provided space for Milo & Liam. The SJT gave us their incredible performance space, The Round, for the opening & closing of the show as well as a space for
Emilia and Sarah. Andrew Clay kindly let us use Woodend for Emma at the last minute.
Jenn at Explore Indie let us use her coffee shop for Matthew. The final 3 stories were
outside; Joy and Alex and Mark in Crescent Gardens and Mia performed outside H.Samuel
For the big finish outside Poundland, we wanted a visual impact. We approached Imogen Sophia, a gifted local artist who created 10 rainbow coloured banners displaying chosen phrases from our storyteller’s stories. The banners were stunning, the visuals were powerful and the words were inspiring.
We were grateful to James Koppert who provided great support for young people in the town centre, enabling them to engage with the show as it happened.
Scarborough Stories sold out every night of its 3 night run. There was an overwhelming flood of positive comments both online and in person. From the point of view of a guide, I can tell you that the vibe at the SJT in the Round completely transformed from the start of the show to the end. The feeling of anticipation of an unknown show grew into admiration & awe. Audiences were moved, enlightened and so grateful to listen to these special stories and be a part of the experience.
It was echoed several times how blown away people were at the courage our storytellers
showed sharing their personal experiences. Each and every one of them shone like the
brightest stars. We love their stories so much, we’ve recorded them to keep on our website
so audiences can enjoy them long after the show has finished. You can listen to them here.
It’s been just over 2 weeks since the final night of Scarborough Stories and there’s still a buzz of triumph around the town. This won’t be the last you’ve heard of our stellar cast members, keep your eyes peeled for them as they will continue to make waves.
This project has made me fall even more in love with my job, as well as this little town I call home and for that I’m grateful.
Just like I said proudly in my role as a guide, “I’m Shannon & I’m Scarborough born and bred.”
Scarborough Stories was co-produced by ARCADE & Stephen Joseph Theatre with support from CaVCA and funded by Yorkshire Coast Bid and Arts Council England. Scarborough Stories is a Yorkshire Coast BID project.