Wednesday, 7 September 2016

New Drama Sees Lancaster's Storm Memories Flooding Back

Photo: Cat Smith
“The floods of December 2015 will go down in the collective memory of Lancaster as the days which brought the city together through adversity… Alternative Outcomes’ perspective on that night has come together in a creative expression of community.”
Lancaster & Fleetwood MP, Cat Smith

When the lights went out all over Lancaster in December following Storm Desmond, it brought the community together as rarely seen before.

The atrocious weather conditions put homeless people on an equal footing with others, as thousands faced the kind of adversity and challenges tackled by them on a daily basis.

These experiences will be reflected in After the Floods, an original production by Alternative Outcomes, a theatre company formed at The Dukes in 2013 by a group who access Lancaster District Homeless Action Service.

With familiarity of day-to-day hardships, the group found themselves confidently coping with the challenges of the floods while providing support and assistance to others. During the following week, they also noticed a change in attitudes as they became a part of the community through their shared experiences.

Photo: Cat Smith
Many homeless people’s experiences of Lancaster’s blackout will feature in After The Floods including the father who spent the whole time making up games for his young daughter to play so she wouldn’t be afraid of the dark; the victim of an arson attack who was terrified of using tealights in his flat; the Falklands veteran who was reminded of the weather conditions he experienced there; the man who handed out cups of tea at the Robert Gillow pub which became a temporary shelter for dozens of people; and another man who canoed in the Lune near Sainsburys to keep onlookers entertained.

The Dukes Associate Director, Alex Summers said: “The show will be a celebration of community spirit and of homeless people being part of a society they are often excluded from.”

The audience will be invited into blacked out tents to experience an immersive installation and performance piece exploring all the company’s extraordinary accounts of those 48 hours last December.

Alternative Outcomes Lead Artist, Jon Randall said: “The show will be unlike anything the group have created in the past. We aim to offer an authentic exploration of local stories from the group with a contemporary approach that will blur the lines between performer and audience.”

After the Floods is the brainchild of Dylan Hernandez, an active member of Alternative Outcomes, who suggested the group explore the floods after rehearsals for their 2015 Christmas show were interrupted by the blackouts.

The tent experience is also inspired by the story of one performer’s journey after waking in the night to find the river had risen through his ground sheet whilst camped on the banks of the Lune.

After the Floods has been funded by an Arts Council England National Lottery grant and will premiere at The Dukes on December 5-6 before touring homeless centres in Morecambe, Preston, Blackpool, Liverpool and Manchester.

Schools will be invited to see the show and learn about the experience of street homelessness through secondary school workshops run by Alternative Outcomes.

This project kicks off a broader year-long programme at The Dukes to engage a diverse cross-section of Lancaster’s community in the creation of a second original piece about the floods’ impact called Blackout, scheduled for autumn 2017.

After The Floods is Alternative Outcomes fourth production following last year’s Cinderfella, a successful tour of Ebenezer Dealer in 2014, and a one-off outdoor performance of Twisted in Williamson Park last summer.

The Creative Team are Jon Randall (Lead Artist), Alex Summers (Associate Director), Ric Smithson (Composer & Sound Designer) and Louie Whitmore (Set Designer)

Lancaster District Homeless Action Service, established in 1987, is the leading homelessness charity in Lancaster and Morecambe district, helping homeless and insecurely housed local people to improve their skills, their health and their self-confidence, secure and/or maintain a tenancy, and work towards independent living and the chance to access education, training or employment. LDHAS is funded by several grant making bodies but receives no statutory funding.

According to The Department for Communities and Local Government, rough sleepers are defined for the purposes of rough sleeping counts and estimates as people sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments).

Plus, people in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or ‘bashes’).

The number of rough sleepers has increased by 27 per cent in London and 31 per cent in the rest of England since autumn 2014.

According to the Lancaster City Council website, homelessness means not having a home. Even if you have a roof over your head you can still be homeless. This is because you may not have any rights to stay where you live or your home might be unsuitable for you.

The Dukes Creative Learning department works in partnership with Lancashire County Council Young People’s Service to deliver a vast range of creative participatory opportunities in theatre, film, music and mixed media. They devise and deliver innovative programmes to support the creative, personal, social and educational development of thousands of young people from across Lancashire.

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