How this started

(and where it might be going)

Back a few years ago, before John Benson became archivist at The Canals and River Trust Museum he saw me perform ‘Me, Myself and Miss Gibbs‘ at The Lowery in Salford. A one person show (me) that charts my investigation into the mysterious message on the back of postcard in 1910.  It tells stories about my research and investigation in to Miss L Gibbs in all different kinds of archives, set across the first decade the 2000’s as documents become digitalised and census’s are released.

The years carried on with my work centring around the interpreting of archival material in a way that is entertaining, engaging, accessible and relevant. In the theatre that I make, I speak directly to the audience, I may slip in and out of character, but I never pretend that the people listening, you, the audience are not there. I set scenes using language, simple items, re-imagining places, I invite the audience to see themselves in the shoes, in the heads of, as the observers of real people from the past.  I hope the work I make encourages people to think of their own stories, or ones they’ve heard, things they know. I tell seemingly everyday stories that hint at bigger things.

In the past few years I’ve worked on a commission to write a performance proposal for the hidden histories of the servants stories at Tatton Park, opened a new show The Forensics of a Flat (and other stories) at Birmingham Rep , and worked with Shropshire Archives and Arts Alive  to create My Dearest Girls  in commemoration of WW1. This is a duo of performances based on the real letters sent between a group of 6 young women writing to each other between 1917-1920.

Meanwhile John had taken on a job at The Canal and Waterways Museum and had been pointed towards The Leverhulme Artists in Residence Grant to ‘support the residency of an individual artist in a UK university or Museum in order to foster a creative collaboration between the artist and staff/ or students of that institution‘ and thought of me. Which was nice. He approached me and along with some of the rest of the team at the museum we made the application to The Leverhulme Trust and were successful.

I’ve always been inspired by water, one way or another, and like so many people, in times of trouble I run to water. Living in Birmingham, the water I run to is The Canals. The danger, the power, the draw of water, the calm it brings and the stories it can tell, how we control it as best we can in our inland channels.

I will engage with archival material, the volunteers & staff to create a new piece of work (or works) that aims to connect to community’s far and wide, offering a different, theatrical way to engage and experience the museum, while drawing in new audiences and interest. I want to breathe life into people, characters, and offer a window onto those people that lived and worked on the canals. Give people in the 21st century, an idea, a moment of what it may feel like to work and live on water. I hope that what I will create will offer both a different perspective of the museum for returning visitors and a way to draw in the new. It will begin to ask, and question what draws us to these inland avenues of water? 

You can find out more about me and my work at francescamillicanslater.co.uk and more about The Canal and River Trust here and The Leverhulme Trust here

February 2015

 canalriverlogos

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