By Published On: February 4, 2021Categories: NatureTags: , , , ,
Project year

Oct 2020-March 2022

Industry/Media

Site specific theatre; audio drama; public engagement

Web links
Research showcase with East Anglia Film Archive, UEA drama students
Link Two
Link Three
Creative team credits

The Song of the Reeds: Dramatising Conservation

n/a

Steve Waters/Tangled Feet Theatre – Nathan Curry/Kat Joyce

n/a

n/a

for ‘Song of the Reeds’ – Alisdair McGregor

n/a

Funders: AHRC

Film editor Mellissa Beeken + UEA Drama Alumnus company students: Katie Smith, Safia Hall, Seb Fear, Laurin Kaardal

A hide, one of the venues for ‘Murmurations’ at Wicken Fen

Description

What was the case study project about?

…is about – ongoing. I am working with two reedbed nature reserves (Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire (run by National Trust); Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk (run by RSPB) and focusing on their conservation work in maintaining the critically endangered wetland and reedbed habitat – and in the case of Wicken their desire to advance a re-wilding agenda through acquiring more land. I am finding out about their processes and their species and am writing three projects in response: Voices from the Reeds – a 12 part montage of key moments in conservation history in the region (some of which features in the EAFA ‘Hidden Natures’ films). This will form the basis of a podcast/public engagement project and is pedagogical in focus, recovering lost figures in ecology such as Marietta Pallis, Emma Turner, Joyce Lambert and Margaret Godwin. The Song of the Reeds – this is a four-part audio drama for Radio 4 centering on an imaginary reserve in Norfolk based on Strumpshaw/Wheatfen. It will go out on four equinoctial days over the year with each episode focusing on an endangered and rare species; it will be recorded in situ and blend fiction with documentary voices. First episode will be TX in June 2021 Murmurations – an hour long site specific theatre piece devised and written with Tangled Feet theatre company to be performed in the nature reserves in September 2021, built out of workshopping and sound recording in the reserves. The project will conclude with a major symposium on Drama and Conservation.

Emily Eversden from Tangled Feet explores a text at Wicken Fen

Eco Thinking

What does ecological thinking mean to you and how do you approach it in your work?

Ecological thinking for me is about placing human action in a much wider frame of event and life – non-human, creaturely, geographic, social and historical. It’s about connecting things, re-framing things, daring to imagine and voice non-human experience, dethroning the protagonist and recognising the many determining forces working on us – and learning to animate and engage with place. Many of my plays – and shows – foreground place, in either a hyper-naturalist or lyrical way; and try and locate the often rather elusive questions of the climate and extinction crisis in closely observed human behaviour and predicaments. I can see that approach at work in Shakespeare, Annie Baker, Chekhov, August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Werner Herzog, Debra Granik, Nuri Ceylan Bilge – to name but a few; wherever writers and artists tell stories of figures in a landscape. Of late film has been more likely to do that than theatre.

Aims and Objectives

What were the aims and objectives of the project?

To explore a non-human dramaturgy which seeks to voice and characterise the natural world; to study and understand the day to day work of conservation and raise its profile; to create a network of conservationists and theatre/drama-makers; to re-wild my own practice; to uncover the hidden history of conservation; to experiment in site-specific and outdoor theatre as a counterpoint to an industry blighted by C-19; to reach mass audience with these themes through radio and build a large popular audience for drama with conservation themes.

An encounter between Radio producer Boz Temple-Morris and Strumpshaw Warden Tim Strudwick

Learning Points

What did you do to challenge the status quo?

Again too soon to say perhaps – but already transformed my own practice and the focus of the work; commenced on utterly new and surprising linkages and ecological conversations; brought theatre and radio makers into environments they have never visited and to concerns they didn’t know they cared about - one example being my introducing Boz Temple-Morris to Strumpshaw or Tangled Feet to Wicken Fen; addressed the tiresome canard that this stuff is not ‘dramatic’; forged new networks for nature; politicised conservation – both its inner politics and its wider political landscape.

Reflection

What are some of the best decisions in relation to ecological motivation and action you’ve made related to this project?

Rooting everything in a very specific habitat in two very specific places and starting to dig down – literally to the peat itself; trying to understand eco-systems in the round and including humans in that reckoning; building trust with scientists, reserve workers, conservationists; project managing theatre and radio peers (usually the other way round!); turning the inward work of HE out into the world to good effect; acknowledging Covid-19 rather than being blocked by it and shaping our practice around it.

Sharing is Caring

What is your advice and best tips for other people and teams who want to bring these values into their work?

Take your time in forging initial relationships; be as clear as possible with your intentions; keep making room for conversations and partnerships; build flexibility into the project itself; be granular and as local as you can be – the local is the new fulcrum of work and it’s rarely where the art is located. Keep walking, reading, thinking, learning…

Moving Forwards

How can you be more accountable through your actions as a creative professional?

mmm…the work itself perhaps; capturing its impact but theatre and radio is always going out to be judged and received and trying to incorporate and make use of that. Allow non-arts professionals into the conversation of art-making to widen the dialogue with everyone. Be more patient and less focused on profile – go to places where no one is apparently that interested in you. Acquire humility in that and in all collaborations.