28 Feb 2020

Protest & Rebellion Project

Post written by: Erin Walcon

Doorstep are working on a new HLF-funded project which will place current extinction/climate protests into long-term heritage context, making historical patterns of protest and rebellion in South Devon and Torbay more visible. This project will create opportunities for young people to engage with the long history and heritage of regional protest.

From March to August 2020, participants from our eldest devising drama groups will explore past protest/rebellion in Torbay. The creative process will start with local historians and heritage organisations contributing and sharing source material including: civil war, Reform Act, Torbay Chartists, Bread Riots, non-conformists, Salvation Army riots, suffragettes, rise of the right, 1960s counter-culture, animal rights, poll tax riots.

Drawing on research, young people will work with Doorstep team and visiting professionals to devise a performance premiering at the Palace Theatre Paignton, in summer 2020. Creative development will occur within our weekly workshops, and via outreach in local schools. Performers, families and participants will enter the Paignton Carnival 2020, parading around the town singing old/new protest songs, waving banners/sharing stories of protest to the crowd.

Young people will co-research and co-devise this piece of theatre, enabling them to be able to view national issues and current challenges as embedded within a rich and tangible web/pattern of heritage. The participants will create an engaging and accessible piece of theatre whereby stories of local protest will be told. Theatre helps us connect with complex questions, enabling us to embody voices of the past and explore multiple perspectives on issues – we call this ‘poly-voicing’.

A visiting Lead Artist (music specialist) will collaborate with young musicians to explore how music and song have always played a role in the long-term history of protest, devising a new music repertoire which will be shared at the performance and the procession.

Too often the stories that are told about Torbay are those of deficit and disadvantage – we believe culture and heritage activity like this can support well-being in communities and a sense of pride in their locale, bringing to life counter-narrative stories which may have fallen silent.

South Devon has a rich heritage of protest and rebellion. Visiting heritage specialists will introduce a range of research topics – see three example topics:

-English Civil War. The Royalist commander Prince Maurice in communication to Colonel Edward Seymour of Torre Abbey (1643), stated: ‘Diverse persons disaffected to His Majesty’s service and peace of the Kingdom do associate and meet about Torbay in a hostile manner to the great terror and distraction of His Majesty’s loyal subjects. I authorise you, for the suppression of which insurrection to repair with your force to Torbay there to repress and reform the same, and in the case of opposition or resistance to slay, kill and put to execution of death by all ways and means.’

-The Bread Riots (1847 and 1867). Rising prices cause real distress; Bread Riots break out on May 17 – several thousand ransack bakers’ shops in lower Union Street, ‘the contents of which were carried off by the women in their aprons’. 60 navvies from Torre arm themselves with ‘pickaxes, crow bars and shovels, with the avowed purpose of pulling down the Town Hall.’

-The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the Women’s Social and Political Union: the Suffragists and the Suffragettes. March 1909: Elsie Howey was appointed to lead Torquay and Paignton’s Suffragettes. March 1911: Howey organises meeting titled ‘Votes for Women’ with Annie Kenney. July 1911: Torquay police warn that Suffragettes were planning to burn down holiday accommodation.

These local stories, and others, represent a rich and largely silent heritage which young people in the region deserve greater access to. These heritage elements will inform the shape of the devised theatre they create, bringing these stories to life and ensuring their long-term survival in the lived experiences of the young people who animate and explore them.

The young people who have co-authored this proposal are particularly interested in Paignton’s history as a cabbage-growing region. We have termed this interest ‘Heritage topology and Heritage Vegetables’. Paignton town has been built on reclaimed lands (220 years ago) and we are keen to involve a heritage specialist who can provide further detail on this largely forgotten element of local heritage – and its link to rising sea levels in the future. Prior to the area being reclaimed, the area was used to grow cabbages, many varieties of which are now extinct. We are in early scoping stages of this project element.