The old Woolworths on the Moor is being transformed by The Bare Project, photo by Doug Newton

The Bare Project collects Sheffield stories for immersive theatre project

Tonight The Bare Project, a Sheffield based theatre company with a focus on new writing and immersive theatre, launches an exciting new theatre project called Time Passes. Listen. at the old Woolworths on Sheffield’s Moor.

The Bare Project, inspired by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s play Under Milkwood, is turning the old Woolworths building into a cafe shop front where Sheffielder’s can pay for a hot drink with a story.

The theatre company will then turn this collection of Sheffield stories into an exhibition and an immersive theatre piece, which will be performed in November at the back of the old Woolworths building.

Artist director of The Bare Project, Malaika Cunningham, explains more:

The aim of the next month is to collect as many stories as possible, we’re going to offer free tea and coffee in exchange for a story, so it is essentially the same idea as a shop but instead of paying with money you pay with stories.

We’re calling it the Pick ’n Mix in tribute to Woolworths; you pick your drink, your theme and how you want to share your story. You can record it, write it down, paint it or even post your story of success in a big gold post box, which we’ll have in the shop.

Tonight’s event, hosted by Word Life and Now Then, will incorporate storytellers, poets and musicians from Sheffield, along with an interactive installation by The Bare Project.

Throughout the night voluntary performers will be wandering around with old Woolworth’s shopping trolleys collecting bad dreams and good dreams from the party-goers.

Malaika explained how Dylan Thomas’s play Under Milkwood begins with dreams:

The play logs the stories, happenings and people of the town Milkwood and it begins with the sleeping town just before the dawn. Everyone in the town is still sleeping and it talks about what they are dreaming about before they wake up.

The different stories weave in and out and so do the characters; Captain Cat is an old retired sailor and Mrs Organ Morgan is a twice widowed hotel owner. The play is a poetic representation of their thoughts and dreams and relationships in the town and of their stories.

We’ve taken the refrain ‘Time Passes. Listen’ from the play as it invites a sense of reflection and looking back at the place you are in. We want to create a kind of Under Milkwood performance but about Sheffield.

Community development and the arts

The Bare Project team met at university through the Sheffield University theatre company.

It’s a really great theatre company and they do really amazing stuff, but it doesn’t do stuff outside of conventional theatre spaces and it doesn’t really support new writing. Our writer, Joe Houlders had written this play called Bear with Snow and I wanted to play with immersive theatre, so we thought we’d couple those two things and create a show.

So the company began with the show we performed at Bank Street Arts in December 2012. The team we got together for that performance worked so well together and we continued to create more shows so we decided to set up a company.

Malaika said they chose to create a piece based on Under Milkwood because it is Dylan Thomas’s centenary this year:

I’ve loved the play for years and the idea came to me because it was the centenary and I’ve always wanted to do something around the play.

We’re an immersive theatre company and we do new writing but we all have an interest in community development. We wanted to move the company further in that direction, which is why we wanted to do something in a shop front.

It felt like we could reach out to a different kind of audience, allowing the community to have a platform and inviting them to help us create a piece.

Malaika Cunningham, artistic director of The Bare Project

Malaika Cunningham, artistic director of The Bare Project

Malaika, 23, grew up in Canada and London, she came to Sheffield to study and has spent the past five years here. Her father’s family are from Yorkshire and she says she feels like Yorkshire is home:

I think Sheffield has a really strong sense of itself, people in Sheffield really love it. It’s got a really strong identity and completely lacks pretences. In the south you are so aware of self, there are audiences and demographics, how you dress really defines you. Here there are no pretences about where you are from and you can interact with people on an equal footing.

Being 23 and being an artist in Sheffield you can make things happen because it is so young as a scene and a lot of things are small scale. In London I’d be making coffee for people who are doing what I want to do. Here I can actually do it.

Sheffield’s 70’s cultural revolution continues

The Time Passes. Listen. project is being funded by the Arts Council and supported by London based theatre company Theatre Delicatessen. Malaika explained how they found out that Theatre Delicatessen were leasing out the old Woolworths space on the Moor and that they were looking for Sheffield based artists to fill the space.

Inside the old Woolworths building on the Moor, Sheffield

Inside the old Woolworths building on the Moor, Sheffield

Artistic director of Theatre Delicatessen, Jessica Brewster, agrees with Malaika about Sheffield’s authenticity and openness to independent artists.

The art scene up here is amazing, absolutely amazing, there is so much interesting stuff going on. It is really quietly done, I’m not sure why it is so quietly done because it is as fantastic as it was in the 70’s, in that period Sheffield was seen nationally as one of the cultural leaders, and in some ways it feels like in many ways that is still the case.

Theatre Delicatessen is a charity which focuses on three strands; making immersive theatre, supporting emerging artists and building creative spaces.

Jessica says they ‘fell in love’ with Sheffield after bringing their play Pedal Pusher, ‘the true story of professional cyclists Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani and Jan Ulrich battling to become champions of the Tour de France’, to Sheffield during the Grand Depart in Yorkshire this July.

I think there is a real authenticity in the independent arts scene, the drive to want to make art comes out of a genuine desire to make art. It doesn’t come out of an ambition to find a platform for oneself, there just seems a genuine focus on the art and there is a local aspect in that it is art about place.

There seems to be a cultural residue from the end of industry that drove that 1970’s and 80’s cultural revolution in Sheffield and that wheel still seems to be turning. The memories of the pain of the steel industry are still very much alive and it means there are a lot of narratives to Sheffield attached to the industry that was here.

Theatre Delicatessen is holding an Open Day tomorrow, Saturday 6th September and will be holding regular Open Days for local artists in Sheffield to have a look at the space and see how they would like to use it.

Jessica said:

Our focus is performance and performance practices but we welcome all artists and we’re always open to ideas, so come along and check it out.

The Bare Project will be collecting stories at a stall in the Moor Market for a weekend in September and they will open the shop in the old Woolworths on the Moor on 26th September.

Malaika said:

We’re looking for ghost stories, moments when time stood still, your firsts; so your first love, or the first time you rode a bike, memories of place; somewhere in Sheffield you have a strong memory of etc. Come and tell us your stories so we can turn them into a beautiful play and exhibition.