I believe passionately in the power of outdoor arts to bring communities together and to get people talking. As we head into the autumn and winter season at Bell Square, there are opportunities to see shows about things that affect us all - things like our mental health and the environment - and there are also opportunities to just get together and have a good time!
Through a regular programme of outdoor arts like we have at Bell Square, many artists give their perspective on the things that matter to them. We hear many different voices. About many different topics. We talk about the stories that affect us, and those close to us, and the places where we live. Migration. The environment. Mental health. Relationships. The big stuff.
An audience member a few months ago said to me, ‘This is great. We need to talk about this stuff in public.’ Many people read about these stories, these topics, every day on their phones, watch them on TV, listen to them on the radio. But do they talk about them? Share their own views with their friends, their families, their neighbours? Maybe not enough.
At an outdoor arts space, there is an openness. Outdoor arts is democratic – anyone can come. There are no tickets, entry charges, rules and regulations about how you watch these shows. You just turn up and enjoy it - or leave if you don’t like it. You can hang around afterwards. You’ve all just witnessed something together. Hopefully it made you think. Challenged your assumptions or ideas, maybe. Somehow this makes it easier to talk to strangers about what you’ve just watched. Many people are really keen at this moment to share their thoughts and ideas with someone else who has just had the same experience. I love it when I see people talking to each other at the end of the show, and I love it when people come and talk to me about what they’ve just seen.
Outdoor arts also create great experiences when people gather and just do something different together – whether it’s deciding to join in a performance, playing giant street games together or taking part in the lantern procession at the annual Winter Lights event.
As ever, we have a mix of UK and international shows through the autumn and winter. We have artists from the North, from Manchester and Yorkshire, and from the South, from Buckinghamshire and Brighton. We have 3 companies from Europe, all renowned on the continent but new to Bell Square, from Portugal, Poland and Spain.
Here’s what we have coming up for you – I really hope you enjoy the shows through the autumn and winter.
This Saturday, Avanti Display return to Bell Square with their hugely popular Full Circle. I don’t want to give too much away on this one but I do promise that it’s mischievous, ends up being quite hilarious, and uses hundreds of silver buckets! If you want a laugh this weekend, this should do it for you!
On 28 September, we welcome Teatr Wagabunda with the UK premiere of their show, The Old Homestead. The whole Square will be laid out all day with dozens of large-scale games. When I saw this in Krakow last year, I nearly cried laughing at 2 middle-aged men essentially having a pillow-fight!
October is Mental Health Awareness Month. Last year, we did a dance show (Company Chameleon’s moving performance about recovery from Bipolar) and your comments after the performance, and on the feedback cards so many of you complete for us, described a very emotional response and a desire for more events about mental health.
So we are marking Mental Health Awareness Month with 2 very different shows. First, on the evening of 12 October, we have Teatro do Mar from Portugal, with their show Insomnio. The show is visually spectacular and looks at the effects of insufficient sleep on our mental health. Set on a giant bed, the show incorporates theatre, acrobatics and video.
Later in the month, Sadhana Dance move their shipping container onto Bell Square for a short residency. Inside the container, there will be a show about what affects the mental health of the young people in our community, influenced by workshops leading up to the event. There will also be an audio-visual installation in the container between performances, and some talks and discussions if you’d like to join in.
On 9 November, El Carromato come from Cadiz with Big Dancers. The ‘big dancers’ are 4-metre high ‘human’ puppets who, with synchronised music and lighting, create an atmosphere like a street party. If you want to dance, you can!
23 November brings the annual Winter Lights event, a ritual celebration of light in the cold, dark nights of winter. Every year, in the weeks leading up to the event, hundreds of people all over the borough take part in workshops to create their own lantern. On the night of the event, they come together to take part in a beautiful lantern procession through the town centre, leading to a sparkly and fiery finale at Bell Square!
And to end the season in December, Thingumajig Theatre bring their gorgeous caribou to the High Street. With music, song and the illuminated puppets, Ghost Caribou tells of lost habitat, impossible migrations and the seeds of hope before the beautiful caribou continue their journey into the night.
So, I hope you can join us at Bell Square this autumn to have some fun and some good conversations. Come and talk to us after the show – we love to know what you think. And you can always start a conversation on social media @BellSquareLDN
Finally, thanks as ever to our funder, Arts Council England. And to the National Lottery for funding the shows and talks during Mental Health Awareness Month.
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