Lockdown happened at a really pivotal moment in Curious Monkey’s Arriving project – we had been working with our co-creators (sanctuary seekers from all of the world now based in the north east) over two years building trust, relationships and creating a new show together. The play HERE by writer Lindsay Rodden was about to open at Northern Stage on 19thMarch, it was researched, written, marketed, designed, rehearsed and tech’ed but it never made it in front of audience. Our co-creators had been busy with us in rehearsals making props (paper leaves with beautiful Persian script written on, a book full of stories in many languages) helping with costumes, the sound design (recording their voices to be woven through the beautiful soundscape of the show) and watching scenes and giving their feedback. We were having regular hugs, sharing our creativity daily and as ever eating food together – one of our favourite things to do. The group had devised a brilliant performance which was to be performed before HERE and was ready to go into tech rehearsals. A story of two Syrian men meeting over a game of cards for the first time in Gateshead, sharing stories and the coming together of an international group that now calls each other family. It was a sad day when the theatres closed and we left our set, props and costumes there and suddenly we were all apart, scared and full of uncertainty. We had been working so hard and we were together all the time and it had all stopped so abruptly.
The first thing we did when lockdown happened was make sure we could still connect and that people had the basic needs in the current reality we’re living in – food, connection and and creativity. Reallocating budgets for people to get data or mobile wifi devices, delivering parcels with food, recipes and creative activities. And having plenty of banter and chat on our whatsapp group and our zoom meets twice a week.
Three of the group, Belmira (on the left), MD and Victoria were at various stages of leading their own projects as part of The Happiness Project – funded by the first round of Co Creating Change commissions. Belmira’s wellbeing sessions – salsa dancing and metamorphic massage were due to start in early April. Belmira, a believer that dancing brings people together and makes people happy is also trained in a grounding massage technique that helps to change your perspective on life and reveal a growing sense of purpose and inner strength. We were all very excited to get her healing hands on us and to learn some of her amazing skills. Unfortunately, we cannot touch each other right now, but we can still dance together – and we will be. Our first zoom-style salsa class and international dance exchange will be happening in the next few weeks and we are very excited that Belmira’s project can be adapted and we can still make it happen. And when we can finally get our hands on each other for learning her massage techniques it’s going to feel so good!
Another Happiness Project Victoria’s yoga retreat is due happen in June, we are postponing this wonderful treat so when the time is right we can escape to the wilderness together and practise yoga in the beautiful Northumberland countryside and eat healthy meals together in person. In the meantime Victoria is gearing up to start her yoga sessions online. We’ve helped her get a webcam and the set up she needs and she’ll will be doing a zoom yoga test on us soon, she’s been sending the group some videos and links to Nidra yoga to help us relax and help us to sleep in the meantime.
MD was organising an event for older people – ‘happiness in a posh bottle’ – a posh club type event with cabaret, food, dancing and a chance to come together and get dressed up. Realising it might be a while before older people feel comfortable coming out and gathering together MD has turned his efforts to an urgent need in his community – a delivery food bank. Curious Monkey are supporting MD to gather donations, buy foods that asylum seekers (some newly arrived in our region) need, packaging up food parcels and delivering them to local sanctuary seekers (and anyone else self-isolating who needs it.). This was all on his bike! But now the Curious Monkey wheels are helping out and some wonderful volunteers with cars we have recruited. MD is an asylum seeker himself, still waiting for his leave to remain status, he is a strong believer in helping his community – he wants to make his contribution here in the north east and works tirelessly to do so – even whilst fasting during Ramadan. The foodbank has grown and is getting more referrals every week of lockdown.
The making theatre part of being a theatre company seems to be kind of bubbling away in the background at the moment – it’s still happening but slowly, slowly whilst we’re not physically together whereas wellbeing, connection and food are taking precedent. The Happiness Projects – the first time our co-creators have truly had the autonomy in the decision making of a project has reminded us of a lot of important things in these times – that we don’t need to just make theatre or art as a theatre company we can do all sorts of creative things and that’s ok. That activity for wellbeing is as important as creating art and that when the world changes and there is a need that need to be addressed – just get on and do it – be able to adapt and respond and offer what you can and most of all keep smiling and keep feeding people.
Artistic Director of Curious Monkey