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.”