Post written by: Tom Pearce (Doorstep Intern, University of Exeter)
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the work so far of the ‘Protest and Rebellion project’ to be carried out digitally, through zoom calls, emailing and document sharing. In an ideal world, the Doorstep Arts Youth Theatre group (DYT) would have been able to meet regularly to work on research, scripts, music and performance. However, as we know, that has been impossible in recent months. Despite this difficult time, the DYT team have been able to adapt to a new way of working, which has produced some fantastic work and ideas. In some ways, this new style of working has enabled more collaboration and teamwork amongst the DYT participants, who have supported one another during these difficult times.
In particular, heritage is still very much alive in this project. The project’s theme of ‘Protest and Rebellion’ has encouraged the young people in DYT to explore and research their town and region’s local history. The research has fallen into three main strands, ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’. Each strand explores the way in which Paignton and Torbay has been involved with protests and social causes. This engagement has produced very fruitful and interesting historical research and as a result of the vast amount of content generated, DYT has chosen to narrow the focus of the performance to the ‘past’ strand.
The overarching narrative of the project aims to draw a thread through the three strands to demonstrate how Torbay has always had a strong connection to rebellious causes. Through the research process, a number of interesting heritage areas have become important to the project. In particular the lost history of the Paignton cabbage and the town’s cultural relationship to it, has become key to the script and creative output of the project.
The young people have become fascinated and engaged with the lost histories of 19th century cabbage farming in Paignton. DYT have tried and successfully brought heritage to life through the content they have produced so far and the cabbage has become pivotal to this. The young people of DYT, with help from local historians discovered that much of the land in central Paignton used to be home to the Paignton flat-pole cabbages.
These unique cabbages hold an important cultural and historical significance for the town, as they formed the basis of trade for Paignton at the time. The cabbages also fed the town’s residents and animals, and was exported across England and some parts of the world! Unfortunately however, with the arrival of the railway and big infrastructure developments in the late 19th century, the cabbage fields were destroyed and built upon.
DYT are especially interested in the lost stories of the Paignton cabbage, as they discovered that the Palace Avenue Theatre and Gardens in Paignton were built on former cabbage fields! This period of history has remains hidden and under-researched, and DYT have been working to revive the local histories of Paignton. The ‘Cabbage Rebellion’ movement was thus born to reignite the historical importance of the cabbage and has become a cornerstone of the project.
The ‘Cabbage Rebellion’ began with the ‘adopt a cabbage’ programme, where DYT young people delivered cabbage seeds around the local area to challenge Paignton residents to embrace their heritage and grow cabbages! Delivered alongside the cabbages, are these postcards, that provide some information on the Paignton cabbage and a call-to-arms to get more local people involved! The ‘Cabbage Rebellion’ website also accompanies this and is a digitised feature of the rebellion.
The Paignton cabbage story has become a key part of the script, where so far the narrative is centred around the cabbage farmers of 1850 and the selling off of their land to make way for industrialisation. Hear more about this work here, in the first podcast, edited by Amy Mellows.
At the moment DYT are meeting up for socially-distanced ‘Cabbage Jams’, where they can work on scripts and music. Already, this has resulted in fantastic creative output, with songs being composed and scripts and choreography being developed.
It is clear that cabbages have become a central theme to the whole project, which speaks to current themes of silenced narratives. As a side-piece to the project, DYT aims to ‘Take to the Streets’ in August by creating a carnival flat-bed truck, and touring around the local area playing music and performing, to share their voices and excite the local community for the upcoming performance.
More recently, DYT members have engaged in the hugely significant Black Lives Matter movement with protesting in the US, and around the world. This has been an emotional and constructive dialogue, where the young people of DYT have discussed how they can help the cause, how Britain must reconcile its imperial colonial past and how the Torbay local area can do more to fight against racism. Creatively, this has been realised in the next upcoming Doorstep Arts podcast, which will feature members of DYT interviewing local Black Lives Matter organisers and discussing how they can incorporate and honour the movement in their project. The DYT project aims to show how historical themes of protest are often echoed through time and in particular how silenced narratives often rise up suddenly.
In the DYT ‘past’ script, the narrative aims to draw out a possible link between the cabbage farmers, the suffragettes and modern-day feminist leaders. Evidence for the identities of the early Paignton farmers is very scarce, which allows for some artistic licence and creativity with characters. As well as this, the script writers are aiming to link the historical misuse of land in Paignton, with the modern-day fears of climate change and human destruction of the environment. This will show how all the way through history, Paignton land and agriculture has been damaged by humans, and that this will only continue if we do not take action.
See the future projected flood map of Paignton’s changed landscape with rising sea levels due to climate change here.
The future plans and ideas that DYT have for the project have fantastic promise with incorporating further heritage. For instance, DYT are attempting to integrate heritage and digital media using the ‘Echo’ app, to enrich Paignton local history and to build excitement for the DYT Autumn production. The app allows sound and text to be placed on the Paignton map for local residents to find and interact with. This opens massive possibilities for creative output, where already soundscapes and effects are being composed and performed!
The heritage work completed so far by DYT, both through research and creativity, has been thought-provoking and rich. The young people should feel especially proud that they have been able to achieve so much under the circumstances! The future of the ‘Protest and Rebellion’ project is extremely exciting and has so much potential to improve the relationship Paignton has to its local heritage.
Written by Doorstep intern Tom Pearce, University of Exeter