‘Tis evidently the season for theatre in Croydon, as this week we chat with Stanley Arts’ Heritage Engagement Manager Moa Taylor Hodin about their upcoming immersive show Unscene, which runs from 5 to 9 October. Moa commissioned resident theatre company, Zoo Co, to curate a site specific show which takes audiences behind the scenes of their eccentric, old building, bringing to life the history of Stanley Halls through dance, poetry, visual art and more. Oh and did I mention tickets are free…
Croydonist: Described as ‘A free, immersive show around the hidden corners of Stanley Arts’, what can our readers expect if they book a ticket?
Moa: Lots of people are pretty familiar with our building, Stanley Arts (formerly Stanley Halls) or at least from the outside. Some may have also come along to a show or two in the main hall over the years but this special event is a chance to really explore behind the scenes of a couple of our more unusual spaces, whilst watching some of South London’s most exciting artists.
During this free show, you can expect to see a diverse range of performances from visual artists, dancers and poets who will welcome you into some surprising performance spaces such as the Edwardian ticket office, a backstage dressing room and even under the main stage!
Croydonist: There are five different artists to encounter per performance, is that correct? How do the artists’ pieces intertwine?
Moa: Yes! We’re really excited to have such a variety of artists and performers coming together for Unscene. You’ll find pieces from Jeremiah Brown (@sugarjpoet), Rachel Sampley, Zoë McWhinney and Justine Agbowu (@wellversedink) in site specific locations whilst Birdgang ltd (@birdgangltd directed by Sim Campbell) will weave the performances together by guiding the audience on a journey from one space to the next.
Croydonist: We know Zoo Co well through the Croydonist, having interviewed and reviewed them several times over the years – how did Zoo Co tackle the curation of the performances?
Moa: As residents at Stanley Arts, Zoo Co know our main spaces really well but this show has been a fun opportunity for them to get a fresh perspective on our dynamic and historic building and learn lots too.
Unscene is about celebrating ‘the local’, both through opening up hidden spaces at Stanley Arts but also by empowering Croydon-based artists to respond personally to the building with their own stories.
Zoo Co are well known for their work championing accessible theatre. They’ve carefully curated this show to be welcoming and inclusive for deaf and disabled artists and audience members, a task made much trickier with the many stairs and narrow spaces within our 120 year old building.
Croydonist: As the performances are immersive, does that mean I could visit more than once, and experience a completely different performance?
Moa: Yes! Whilst the main immersive experience of the performance is the chance to move between different spaces and watch them come alive with each performance, the show also forks, allowing the audience to take a couple of different routes. This also gives us the chance to have a route available with level access.
Later in the year, we’ll also be releasing a digital version of the tour where you can walk through the entire building in 360 degrees (Google Street View style) and watch all of the Unscene performances as you enter each space, to make sure you can soak it all up!
Croydonist: The performances all respond to the architecture of Stanley Arts – what might we learn that we didn’t know about the building’s history?
Moa: The building has stood for nearly 120 years and some incredible original features still survive including William Stanley’s inventive ways to light and heat the building.
It’s said that the original heating system could change the temperature in just 5 minutes! Each heating grate was beautifully decorated with an intricate motif, unique to the space it was in. If you look up on the walls just above head height, you can spot them on your way around.
The building was also the first public building in Croydon to be lit by electricity. This is something we might take for granted today but in darker months, it would have made the building much more accessible for the community who could use it for rehearsals and classes after work in the evenings.
Croydonist: Can you briefly tell us a bit more about Stanley Stories heritage engagement programme that Unscene is part of?
Moa: Stanley Stories is our programme of exciting, free heritage events which celebrate the people, past & present, who have shaped South Norwood, as we approach next year’s 120th anniversary of the founding of the Stanley Halls, and Croydon’s year as London Borough of Culture.
The programme has been made possible thanks to a £235,710 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The grant will also make Stanley Arts greener and more accessible to the whole community.
So far, we have reached over 2,500 people through our free events including exhibitions, Open House tours and a community festival.
Looking ahead to the second half of the programme, you can expect to see many more events for families, community groups and schools!
All images courtesy of Stanley Arts.
Posted by Julia