What stories do we want to tell?

Posted: Wed, 02 Jul 2014 17:41 by Amy Barnes

What stories do we want to tell?

A couple of weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday in Leicester, a group of Cultural Quarter residents, workers and users met at the Phoenix to discuss memories and experiences of the area and to think about the types of stories we would like to pass onto others and how we would like to share them.

All the participants live, work or otherwise spend time in the area on a regular basis. Asked about the kinds of stories that they wish they could be told by past residents and workers in the area and what they would like to tell the future residents about the Cultural Quarter as it is today, they mentioned the area's international flavour, the Asian wedding processions outside Athena; the surreal experience of dressing up for performances of the Rocky Horror Show at Curve. The Cultural Quarter is a work in progress, which is part of what makes it special. It is continually changing and developing and yet, enough remains of its past incarnation as a light industrial area to remind residents, workers and visitors of what went before. The group observed the sometimes unlikely and seemingly uncomplimentary mix of activities and programming in the area: from Asian weddings to Roy Chubby Brown; cage fighting to faith healers. Participants were concerned that the more counter-cultural and even seedier side of the St George's area, as it was previously known, isn't lost. Because, after all, people are fascinated by the sordid! And the clubs, drugs and police raids remain a valid part of people's experience. The ordinariness of everyday life is equally engaging - where did people shop? How did they spend their leisure time? What did they talk about? However mundane we think our daily lives are, everything we do and think about will be fascinating to people in the future!

Again, everyone agreed that talking about a place can set others off reminiscing about their experiences. These are oral histories of a kind. And when you start to tell other people about an area, you become its ambassador. Today we might worry about over-sharing on social media...yet, talking and sharing memories and experiences are an important aspect of maintaining good mental health, especially into old age.

Next, the participants were asked to imagine that it's the year 2064. In what situations could they imagine themselves telling and listening to stories? How would that happen? How could the story-telling, reading and listening be promoted? Everyone agreed with one suggestion that it would be fantastic to walk down a street in the Cultural Quarter today and somehow see it as it was fifty years earlier or hear sounds that are long gone: to be able to interpret signs of past lives in the present day. Suggestions about how to facilitate this included something temporarily tangible, like a momentary projection – an unexpected moment that would make people stop in their tracks and trigger lots of different memories and associations. The example of Dennis Severs' House in London, was suggested by one of the participants. There, an atmosphere has been careful crafted to give the impression that the house is still inhabited. This approach gives visitors a sense of how people lived in and interacted with the house.

The group thought it was really important to maintain a balance between the digital and the analog in the present day; not everyone is comfortable with smartphones and apps. But also, we can't possibly know how people will use and access digital information, just like we can't be sure about what they will be interested in and how much of 'our' stories will be 'lost in translation'. Everyone thought it would be important to maintain a sense of physical interaction and materiality. Several of the group had great and slightly eerie stories about objects they had found in sheds and old workshops – banal, everyday things, like crisp packets and comics secreted in an out-of-the-way hidey-hole and yet infinitely fascinating. Without knowing their true origin, we can construct all sorts of meanings from them. An important reminder that the things we often think of as throw-away and insignificant, may yet be the most intriguing finds for future generations. After a spot of lunch in the Phoenix's Café Bar, we settled down to our last task of the day: using materials like PlayDoh, pipe-cleaners and craft card to design and 'sculpt' our visions for the delivery of the stories we want to tell…

Many thanks to Petrina, Romina, Sarah and Gino for taking part, and to the Phoenix for providing participants with complimentary cinema tickets as a thank you for their time. Similar events are coming soon. Keep your eye on our 'News' and 'Events' pages, the Phoenix website and our project Twitter account, @affective_ for further details.

Tags: Cultural Quarter, Leicester, Phoenix, blog, stories, workshop

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