Artists put Dewsbury back on the map

“I’m procession manager and assistant creative director,” Corrie tells me as she gathers everyone together outside the butcher’s for the rehearsal.

“Wow. It’s like The Apprentice.”

“That’s what we said. But rather than being competitive, we’re all working together brilliantly.” And then, at the top of her voice, “Can everyone listen please? At the front of the procession is going to be the musician, then comes Shoddy and Mungo…”

It’s the big day, the culmination of Creative Scene’s Make It Happen course. Working with outdoor art specialists Walk The Plank, 25 artists have been learning about staging an outdoor spectacle in the best way possible… by doing one themselves.

The artists have been mentored over six days by a team of specialists in shadow puppetry, fire-drawing design, lantern making and production management. And today it all comes together.

Curious passers-by are handed leaflets and encouraged to return later. “They’ll be lanterns, fireworks and shadow puppetry. This fire drawing will get attached to the scaffold and set alight. You must come back at 6.30.”

I catch up with landscape artist Waheeda Kothdiwala. “Last time I saw you, you were burning things in the park,” I say. “What’s your role for this evening?”

“I’m producer of the lantern parade and I’m terrified,” she says frankly. “But we’ve all been encouraged to step out of our comfort zones and that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.”

Dewsbury artist Jax Lovelock is helping to add lengths of inflammable rope to a wire frame. “What are you doing now?” I ask, trying to keep my tape recorder in front of her.

“We’re idiot-checking,” she says, “making sure everything connects together so it all burns.”

“What do you think you’ve learnt these last few weeks?”

“There’s not enough time to tell you everything,” she says, twisting a metal tie, “but I have learnt to understand that not all the ideas come at once, sometimes they take time to grow. And ideas change at the last minute but, if we’re all calm, it all comes together.”

“And what will you do with what you have learnt?”

“Oh, gosh, absolutely loads of stuff. I can’t even begin to think about it now.”

“Okay, that’s enough. Perfect answer. Thank you.”

In Brigantia – Creative Scene’s pop up  studio space on the fifth floor of nearby Empire House – final shadow puppet rehearsals are in full swing. Performers are made up and don their costumes.

“Half an hour to go,” someone shouts.

By 6.30 the town square is fizzing with expectation. Freshly-briefed stewards are in place, fire cans lit, and performers gather again in front of the butcher’s. Someone mentions the crowd has hit 400.

Corrie has one hand on her earpiece, waiting for the nod. “Okay,” she says to the clarinetist, “hit it!”

During the next 45 minutes, as lanterns dance and children gawp, you can almost feel the self esteem of the town grow just that little bit. It’s as if there’s a collective, “Wow, this is happening in Dewsbury!” coming from everyone in the crowd.

“It was wonderful,” says Keisha who opened her beauty salon business in the square two days ago, and kindly loaned a power supply for the event,  “very exciting. You kids all enjoyed it didn’t you?”

“It was epic!” one shouts.

“For Dewsbury this is very unusual,” she says. “I’ve never seen so many people here. Let’s hope it continues.”

“I’m an investigator of all things unseen and all things unknown.”

Ian and I look sideways at each other. “We’ve met before?” he suggests.

“The last time I was here it was for the Bicycle Ballet at the Tour de Yorkshire.”

“Oh yes,” he smiles, remembering when yellow-caped performing cyclists entertained the crowds before the peloton arrived.

This afternoon I’m at Birstall Community Centre for the first performance of A Real Alien Adventure by Ripstop Theatre. It’s the latest of Creative Scene’s On Tour family shows.

Already there’s a small group here from the nursery and holiday club across the road, all heads down, colouring in. While we wait for the rest of the audience community centre chair Ian Blamires tells me there are improvements planned for the space.

“We already host local pilates, yoga and slimming groups,” he explains. “But once it’s decorated, the kitchens upgraded and a small bar added, we can hire it out as a function room. It’s a good space but it could be better.”

“We’ll start in about 15 minutes,” says Creative Scene’s Ben as he ticks another parent off his printout. “Sit wherever you like, on the cushions at the front or on any of the chairs.”

Samantha has brought her two boys, six-year-old Daniel and 18-month-old Shane, as well as her own mum Rowena as an extra pair of hands.

“I found it on the Kirklees website,” she tells me, “when I was looking for activities for the kids. But no, I haven’t been to any of these before.”

I tell Samantha how Creative Scene have been running this series over the school holidays for a couple of years now and how they tour community venues across the region. “You should get yourself on the mailing list,” I suggest as she pulls Shane’s coat off.

Three expectant children have already positioned themselves on the cushions up front, their grandparents on the seats behind them.

“We’ve been to two or three of these before,” says Grandad Alan.

“Three or four,” corrects Grandma Lyn. “We’ve been here before and to Batley Bulldogs. We’ve really enjoyed them, and the kids love them too.”

“Will you tell me what you think at the end?”

Akaal and Jodh manage some quick colouring-in before the show starts. “They like these kind of events,” says their mum Joyty who, with her partner Inderjit, have brought their daughters from Bradford. “They love those aliens in their underpants books, so I’m sure this will be a hit.”

Ben switches off the lights and the room comes to a hush as Miss Amelia Buttersnap introduces herself. “I’m an investigator of all things unseen and all things unknown,” she says to the delight of the youngsters.

With the help of improbable homemade gadgets and imaginative shadow puppetry Amelia sets out to communicate with aliens who then kidnap her cat, Tibbles. With her Uncle Bertrand’s dodgy spare rocket she’s eventually reunited with her mog and, along the way, saves all the world’s pets from the same fate. Phew.

“It was good,” says Joyty once Amelia is safely back on earth. “The voices of the aliens could have been louder but, other than that it was good. It had them engaged for most of it.”

“The shadow puppetry in the middle was too prolonged” says Grandma Lyn.

“But it was very clever,” says Grandad.

As six-year-old Purdy introduces her toy monkey to Tibbles I discover that her and her mother are On Tour veterans. “We’ve seen the lighthouse one, The Worried Walrus, the teacup one,” says Kerry. “We liked the walrus show best.”

The Real Alien Adventure continues this week at:
Batley Bulldogs RLFC on Wed 25 October, 2:00pm (sorry SOLD OUT)

Thornhill Sports and Community Centre on Thu 26 October, 2:00pm
(Please note that there are accessibility restrictions at Thornhill Sports and Community Centre because the lift at the venue is broken. Please email ben@creativescene.org.uk if you have any questions about access)

Healey Community Centre on Fri 27 October, 2:00pm

Tickets available here

“We are all different, but still have much in common.”

“After our presentations we’ll ask everyone to get together and make a shelter – a sanctuary – from the twigs we’ve brought back from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park,” says Kim to the circle of Poles, Serbs, Italians, Syrians, Ukrainians and more.

This is the return leg of the European tour by 6 million+ that I wrote about earlier this year. The Kirklees-based charity has partnered with groups in Poland, Italy and Serbia to remember the Holocaust and other genocides and make connections with present day events.

Now some from those groups are visiting rainy West Yorkshire for a few days and together planning activities for next year’s Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). We’ve been invited to host tonight’s event in ‘Brigantia’, Creative Scene’s pop up studio space in Dewsbury.

“In a while we’ll be joined by our invited guests,” explains project co-ordinator Kim Strickson, “some of whom are refugees themselves now living in our community.”

The circle breaks up to give everyone time to prepare. Two huge ‘Weeping Sister’ puppets made for last year’s HMD event are carefully unpacked.

“Poor Kitty, her nose looks a bit bashed,” says Joanne who, with her daughter Iris, helped to make the puppets. “She needs some tlc.”

Each of the participants have been asked to make a ‘creative response’ to their involvement in the project. And it’s some of these responses which are being presented tonight.

“I’ve made a tree from buttons,” says Kate, a volunteer guide at Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland, “which was inspired by the workshop Kim and her team brought to us.

“The roots represent the shared history that we can’t forget and the branches represent a new generation, new friendships and new futures. All the buttons are different – we are all different – but we still have much in common.”

As the local guests arrive, introductions are made and conversations spring up naturally in shared languages.

“There’s a big conversation going on between our four countries,” says Kim by way of introduction. “What leads to genocide? How can we all take responsibility for avoiding it? How do we treat people who are escaping persecution and seeking sanctuary in our own countries? It’s about all of that.

“We’re trying to do it creatively and so we’re going to share a few of those responses with you tonight.”

Joanne bounces to the front to tell of her and her daughter’s experiences of helping to make the Kitty figure last year. “Iris then invited Kim into her school – Batley Girls – to talk about the project and now the school is going to get involved in Holocaust Memorial Day next year, so that’s a result.”

After we’ve watched a moving video of last year’s HMD event the group take turns to introduce each other’s contributions.

“This is Naomi’s response to a visit to the concentration camps,” says Assef, holding up a textile piece which Naomi rotates the right way up.

“That visit had a profound effect on me and I found this piece difficult to do,” explains the Yorkshire-based textile artist, before introducing Assef.

“He’s a Syrian refugee who’s lived with his family in Poland for the last four years where he teaches Philosophy. He’s an excellent musician and tonight will play a piece he’s written, based on the sounds of war in Syria.”

We next hear about Kate’s button tree and see an extract of a film made in Reggo Emilia, Italy presented by Dzvina; Stefan plays the Roma national anthem on his violin before introducing Raf from the UK group, who’s made exquisite, tiny, felted shoes, having seen the shoes in the Polish concentration camp.

The European visitors will be back in West Yorkshire in January when their artwork will contribute towards the HMD activities. In the meantime another two Weeping Sisters – representing Kurdish and Roma atrocities – will be made. Joanne and Iris are keen to help out and, no doubt, more connections and friendships will follow.

“If any of you are interested in helping make the puppets,” says Kim, “please do let us know. We’d love for you to be involved.

“Our final activity has been inspired by the Alfredo Jaar exhibition we saw at the Sculpture Park. He’s used 100 trees to represent sanctuary but also isolation in our world.”

Next everyone – every nation, every religion – gets stuck in together with the twigs and tape. It’s good to see.

“We can use creative events to bring the town back up again”

“Stand where you think we should site our fire drawings,” says Carrie English, our workshop leader, as a couple of dozen artists disperse around the adventure playground.

“Okay, that’s good,” she says when they’ve reached a consensus.

This is the third – and much anticipated – day of Make It Happen, an intensive outdoor arts training school for creative practitioners. Born out of feedback from local artists, the course has been commissioned by Creative Scene and is being run by the acclaimed outdoor arts specialists, Walk the Plank.

Already this week the artists have heard talks on production, budgeting, event management as well as getting stuck in with lantern-making and shadow puppetry. In Dewsbury’s Crow Nest Park this afternoon they’re going to be making fire drawings which they’ll set alight at dusk.

“It’s all about teaching new skills and increasing the creative capacity for these artists,” explains Danielle Chinn from Walk the Plank, “and collaborations will certainly flow from that.”

This seven day course will culminate in The Togethering, an outdoor show in Dewsbury town centre on Wednesday, 25th October. Creative Scene have initiated the event as a way to show what the  community can do to present the town in a positive light, and hope it’s the start of a new annual event that will grow much bigger.

The artists unload scaffolding poles, ropes, boxes and steel frames from the back of the van before laying tarpaulins out in the indoor play area.

There are some familiar faces – stalwarts whose artistic journeys are being shaped by their connection with Creative Scene – and lots of new people too.

Waheeda Kothdiwala is an award-winning landscape designer from Dewsbury who is already sparking with ideas about how to incorporate shadow puppetry and fire sculpture into her work; and video storyteller Imram Azam from Mirfield says he is enjoying working with other artists from different disciplines.

“We all had a go at sketching out a design,” says Katie Jones from Bradford who’s poring over a line drawing, “and we voted for our favourite.”

“Okay,” shouts Carrie, “if each team would like to grab a can of paint and start drawing out your design on the grid.”

Soon lengths of rope are being cut and soaked in a paraffin mixture ready to be attached to the grid. I drag another participant away for a quick interview.

Dewsbury artist Jax Lovelock tells me her work is about devised performance and getting people to create artwork for themselves. “I’m Dewsbury born and bred,” she says, “but moved away for a while. When I came back I was surprised how much the town had nose-dived.

“So I just rolled my sleeves up and got on with it. This,” – she looks around – “is about getting up and doing things and that ties in with my work around the town so it’s really good.”

“And what will this allow you to do?”

“I can use this to help local people take part in activities that will bring all parts of the community together. That’s what Dewsbury needs at the minute. We can use creative events to bring the town back up again.”

Once now inflammable ropes have been laid out into fire drawings Carrie recruits a ‘scaff team’. “Let’s decide on the final orientation of the scaffold tower,” she says. “Which way is the wind blowing?”

Three of the group point in three different directions. Someone else throws up a sodden leaf which immediately falls directly to the ground.

The position is decided and the scaffold tower is swiftly built as the artists carry the first fire drawing out of their temporary workshop.

“Brilliant, well done,” says Carrie. “Now we just have to wait until it gets dark.”

The Togethering happens at Market Place, off Northgate, Dewsbury on Wednesday, 25th October 6.30-7.15. It’s free.

“Actors don’t often get roles like this. It’s very special.”

“Don’t be getting my double chin from that angle,” admonishes one of the Batley Girls as I gatecrash a photo line-up.

There’s a real buzz tonight at Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre (LBT) tonight for the premiere of The Ruck, the much-anticipated story of the Batley Bulldogs Under 16s Girls Rugby tour of Australia.

In the theatre bar with a pint in his hand and a grin on his face team coach Craig Taylor is in no doubt about the potential for this Creative Scene-commissioned collaboration between art and sport.

“It’s great for the girls,” he shouts above the racket his former players are now making on the next table, “but more importantly, it’ll be great for the sport. Hopefully it will inspire other girls to take up rugby.”

The front of house staff do their best to get everyone seated for kick off and, from where I sit in the circle, I can see Craig and the girls getting comfortable in the third row of the stalls, waving at others around the auditorium.

Within minutes of the lights fading, we’re in fits of laughter. And the tissues come out as the characters reveal themselves and the story develops of the team’s preparations for the first ever Australian tour by a girls’ rugby team.

It is, of course, a play of two halves and as the bar staff tackle the interval assault, I ask parents for a reaction. “It’s really good, isn’t it? Really good,” says Casey’s mum as she’s handed a drink, “they’ve got the way Craig would speak to the girls off to a T. We’re really enjoying it.”

With only four actors playing the whole team, writer Kevin Fegan has skilfully combined real and imagined storylines inspired, in part at least, by his time sitting with the girls on the back of the team coach.

One of the girls tells me she recognises the troubled character from the first half who self harms. “To see that played out on stage, I was in absolute tears,” she says, “because I realise now how far I’ve come from that time in my life. It’s brilliant.”

With everyone back in their seats, we’re transported to the Gold Coast for the second half and the whole of the Lawrence Batley Theatre is again in uproar as the team’s challenges on and off the field are played out. The Batley Girls even join in with the chants they’ve made their own.

Later LBT’s Rose Condo introduces a post-show discussion and, to accompanying whoops and hollers, gives a shout out to the Batley Girls as Kevin and Craig clamber belatedly on stage.

“Remember, whatever happened in Oz, stays in Oz,” jokes Kevin, “apart from this play of course.”

Actor Sophie Mercer who plays the young Asian newcomer, speaks on behalf of her collagues: “Actors don’t get roles like this very often. Mostly we play fictional characters so it’s very special when we do something based on true life.

“To be given a story like this where you girls have done something, made footprints that are bigger than your own, it’s been a real privilege.

“And after we came to meet you at the ground and seeing your team bond, then that helped us bond as actors. That was you guys… you are really inspirational.”

More tissues.

Rose takes questions from the audience. “I’m Batley born and bred,” says one woman, “and my father was involved with Batley Rugby Club until the day he died. “He would have been proud to have seen this tonight.

“I go to lots of Creative Scene events,” she continues, “and I think they are fantastic at what they do, bringing everyone from the community along with them. It’s been an unbelievable night.”

An unbelievable night indeed.

“I’ve never been to a theatre before,” says one of the Batley Girls to one of the mums, as they head through the foyer. “I wasn’t expecting it to be half as good as this.”

“Me neither.”