A Brief Re-Cap

At the end of July 2019 we were clearing up after the community play, Legend of the Rocks, a project that had began in September 2018. when we started the process of researching, devising and composing the play script. Along the way we'd had workshops in mask making, paper costumes, music and design. Then 50 people turned up for casting and as promised everyone got a part. Then eight weeks of rehearsal with Jon and David. We had the lovely Laura running the design workshop in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, courtesy of Royal Victoria Place. Some amazing costumes, props and masks. The show on and around Toad Rock was a seductively strange tale in a parallel universe of Stone People, ruled over by his diabolical effluence King Swelter who was intent on destroying and poisoning the world. Matilda leapt to the rescue with her small band of companions and turned things round to bring us a morality play about global warming. Funny, tragic, joyous, frightening, visual and musical, there truly was something for everyone. Alongside it all we created what we hoped would be a new tradition of Dressing The Toad., had great music nights at the Toad Rock Retreat, the wonderful Oh Brother Where Art Thou at Rusthall cinema, an art competition of local work based on famous artists and a Picasso in the Rocks exhibition.

RCA committed itself to creating a small Festival every two years, the next is due in 2021. So the question is...What do we do? Whilist we have an overall plan it's only in through the autumn 2020 that we will begin to discover the details. The festival belongs to us all so it only makes sense that we discover it together . I hope together we meet the challenges, find the answers and thai you feel, along with us ,a sense of excitement and anticipation about the basic premise that we are offering.


The world has changed a great deal since last year and is likely to remain uncertain for some time yet. It's been a while since you've had news of Rusthall Community Arts , however we have not been entirely idle.  Every three weeks we have anywhere between twelve  and twenty five people joining on -line conversations we call The Empty Gallery Cafe. We have covered a wide range of topics from Education to Freedom of Speech.  Our partner Claque Theatre have been running evening improvisation workshops every Monday on line, there are now fifteen community improvisers, most of whom took part in last year's play


At the end of the play last year we had a really positive 'Sounding' to find out what people wanted to do next. Armed with that information Jon Oram submitted an application to the Arts Council or a second community play for Rusthall and Claque have been awarded a grant to work with us again.

Westarted actively moving towards  devising and realising some of the ideas we discussed at the Sounding.  RCA and Claque  are pleased to be collaborating again in helping to deliver projects through 2021.  Because of the ever changing situation with Covid we needed to be creative in how we did this safely, and develop  a flexible programme that could work within changing  restrictions.  .We wanted to remain inclusive and involve as many people a possible. It has been a challenge for people across the arts and cultural world, but we remained confident about creating an exciting programme  with a little help from you, our friends..  We will started on January 14th and the launch of Empty Gallery Cafe conversation to hear your ideas for the project and the play


Before the pandemic we talked about a conversation cafe based on a well established model called The World Cafe that is now practiced world wide. In a £D World the cafe would be real,  set out as a number of tables, each one able to seat four people. The tables are covered with a white paper table cloth and there are crayons and coloured  pens. Coffee, cakes, biscuits are available.  A single question is decided as a focus for the conversations  which are carried out at all the separate tables.  During the  conversation people can doodle, draw images, make notes relating to what is being talked about. After twenty five everyone mixes up at different tables and continue the conversation in new groups. After a second twenty minutes everyone comes together to share. Its a format that allows everyone to have their say and hear a broad mix of opinion. 


With the pandemic we developed an on line version using zoom technology. Instead of tables people are divided into small groups and allocated to a breakout room. Conversations in small groups allows for everyone to make a contribution. In the real world you would sit at tables with paper tablecloths and be supplied with coloured pencils so you draw, doodle and write notes directly onto the table. Here we invited you to bring drawing paper and pencils yourself, and then share them at the final feedback sessions or send them afterwards to be posted on The Empty Gallery website. We  sometimes had an illustrator or two to visit rooms to illustrate the conversations.  The cafe conversations we have already run have proven to be popular and enlightening. Check out the café pages on the website, find out more about how they are run, see feedback from previous conversations and sign up to get invitations on the contact page.


Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content;

I see it shining plain, 

The happy highways where I went 

And cannot come again.

                                                               AE Houseman

Step One -   What do we want ? How do we achieve it?

January 2021

Our ambition is to deliver a series of events from January 2021 culminating  in different products and a play for the festival in July and August. We would hope that a mixture of small er events will inform the play Legend of The Rocks II - The Happy Highway. In 2019 we performed around Toad Rock, this time it will be a theatrical promenade around the paths of Happy Valley.

We start on 14th January with an on line Empty Gallery Conversation to let people know about the outline of our programme and invite ideas and feedback, building on a sounding we held at the end of the play last year. We want to know what you want. It's important to us that  the projects are community collaborations. Please come because whilst It won't be the last opportunity for you to have an input into the programme it's an important moment because it is likely to set the direction.

To avoid long meetings that feel unproductive we developed last year's play by replacing meetings with fun and creative workshops that got the task done.  So if you are interested in making land art, writing, music, making, devising, conservation, researching your community or family history, we can endeavour to create opportunities that meet your interests. 

Step Two -  Paths 

September- December 2020

Our conversation on 14th January will allow us to be more specific about activities and present a calendar of events, although everything will have to be guided by where we re with the pandemic.  There will be alternate ways of delivering activities depending on the covid rules at any given time but hopefully the outdoor events will have a better chance of being achieved in ways that we would want.  Creative, Devising, and Composition Workshops generally start with a 'provocation' by which I mean some stimulus  to inspire creative thinking, challenge preconceptions and get us started in making something, or exploring an idea. A provocation might be a piece of music, photographic or art images, a demonstration of how to make something, a selection of materials to make something with, or a page of thoughts, quotes, and suggestions.  Activities might include new writing, story telling, poetry, photography, painting, land art (images made in the landscape), researching ancestral history, archaeological digs, gardening, walks, drumming, acting, among others. Some of these activities may be workshops in their own right or they may develop into creating or contributing to an event for the festival week in 2021. Possible examples are; a garden art exhibition, a film, a theatrical walk, a play, an environmental sculpture park, poems and pints.


"Happy Highways will be a Community Play informed by Paths Heritage Project. Throughout Paths we  will have been investigating the community and our individual past and present, our dreams and fears about our future in relation to the paths we have taken, might have taken and those we could yet take.  Individuals and small groups will have already presented some of the material through exhibitions, rituals and other forms; some of these events may have involved theatrical elements.  Now we hope as many people as possible from Rusthall and around will come together to work collaboratively on the ambitious task of creating a work of art in terms of their community. This is unlikely to be a play as you might imagine one. We may be restricted by rules that don't allow large social gatherings, where people may still have to respect social distancing. Restrictions, hard and challenging as they may be in life can be the making of interesting new art.  This will be a theatrical highway where the audience encounters travellers, overhear and witness scenes among the rocks, in the woods and along the paths. Individual stories may be told, we may then begin to see connections between the characters we meet and the stories we hear and start recognising a larger story of the community. Over the next twelve months these stories will emerge from what we learn about the people in our community past and present."  Jon Oram

Step 3 Improvisation and Devising Workshops (Preparation)

January - March 2021

The Paths project will have done much of the creative preparation of collecting provocations to stimulate devising workshops. We may want to search out more as the devising becomes more specific but we will have plenty to start.  One of the gifts of devising is the way in which it challenges us to become authentic collaborators, to work with the spirit of generosity. If a group is working together, listening to each other, not worrying about power and control, the work is usually fantastic. Everybody can contribute in a devising workshop, you don't have to perform, make or whatever other task might be suggested, your presence as an audience member, a critic, an advisor, or a contributor of spoken ideas are all invaluable. 


Step Four - Composition Workshops 

April  2021

Devising is exploring ideas, composition is finding connections between the ideas, creating an order, developing an overall story. Creating the actual composition of the play, you might call 'a script'.  This is your opportunity to input into the composition of the play. Composition workshops can be  both open to the public or customised to a specific group involved in arts or educational activities (music, performance, painting,  crafts, dance, film, poetry, writing, literature, heritage and history, environment and conservation etc).


Step Five-  Production Period and Rehearsals (Production Period)

May- July 2021

Casting is open to everyone and no one is turned away. Scenes can be rehearsed in small groups, as can elements produced by different entities and groups  (school, drummers, choir) can be rehearsed separately and brought together with other parts of the production as rehearsals progress. The final rehearsal stage runs into the summer so we can use the performance spaces as much as possible. In the final week of rehearsal all elements are brought together for full cast calls. Limiting time is a deliberate and valued part of the creative process. How this process is actually managed will of course be dependent on rules around the pandemic at that time.



July - August 2021

The conditions we are working under next summer remain unclear but we shall present something within the safest boundaries allowed.   The performance style will reflect Claque’s wider agenda related to exploring the concept of the Social Actor, an idea born out of the Community Play and the actor’s relationship with the audience. Happy Highways as part theatrical walk will add a dimension of "implicating the audience". It will be a personal experience for each audience member because their encounters with performers will be unique to the moment they encounter each other.


The performance dates are as yet unconfirmed; they are likely to be mid to late July or in early August. We have much to do in preparation, finding funding, raising monies and support in other ways.. The performance will be no more than 1hour 30min, but may well be staggered with audiences starting a walk, for instance ,at different times. We anticipate a local cast of around 80.