It’s satisfying to note that ‘In the Company of Joan’ has been shared, not because I’ve pushed it or advertised it, but because those who’ve chosen to screen it in their communities are passionate about Joan’s story and why it matters.
So, who are these people?
In May of 2016, the film was first shared here:
Screenshot of the EVENT at WCML
It was an honour to take it to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, the area where during the 1930s Joan Littlewood & Ewan MacColl started their revolutionary theatre journey together.
The WCML contains a treasure trove of records – they have documentation for two-hundred years of workers rights campaigns. The collection began with founders Edmund & Ruth Frow and it continues to thrive, telling the story of Britain’s working classes.
So, the fact that they were the first to share ‘In the Company of Joan’ – a film made on a shoe-string budget which examines how Joan Littlewood opened a door in the arts to working class actors and audiences alike, was a moment of particular relevance and meaning. Following this screening, I recut the film but left an uncut copy with library staff, as this felt like the right thing to do.
In September of 2016, the film was screened again at a ‘bucket on the door’ event at Rich Mix in London’s East End.
SCREENSHOT of the online notice about the event
The event was organised by the founder of the Boundary Estate Fun Palace who worked tirelessly with Rich Mix Cinema to ensure things ran smoothly. The event was put on to raise funds for the Boundary Estate Fun Palace and the East End Women’s Museum.
Wendy Richardson, Ruth Urquhart, Marlene Sidaway & Christine Jackson at the post-screening chinwag.
It was really pleasing to support local community organisations with the first London screening of the documentary.
Another Fun Palace organised a screening as part of their many planned activities at their Farnham event in October 2016.
I asked Joan’s ‘“Tigress” and one of Gerry’s “Activists”, Christine Jackson to join me at the event as her work with Joan & Gerry would make a relevant Q&A for the Fun Palace attendees, one example being the occupying of land to re-purpose it as playgrounds for local children.
At the event, it became clear that screening the film would be a bad idea, as there were many children present and the film contains swearing!
We all scrambled to create a new event – how very ‘Workshop’ – after all, we were with one of Joan’s own! We were kindly given a room by staff at the Farnham Fun Palace venue in which we would run “an impromptu audience with Christine Jackson”. This meant that anybody who might have come to see the film, instead got the chance to interact with Christine and ask her questions about her work with Joan.
Christine Jackson & other “Activists”, clearing rubbish having occupied land on behalf of Joan Littlewood to repurpose it as a play area for local kids.
Then, in January 2017, Carine, who’d organised the Farnham Fun Palace, organised a second community event with an Eco Cinema. Part of the documentary was shared, along with other films which examined various aspects of community arts involvement. This was all interwoven with discussions with members of the Farnham Arts and Design Education Group.
The next community screening was in Essex, in November 2017.
It was organised by Nicola Esson, co-founder of macTheatre (Maldon Actors Company) which was set up to raise awareness of the arts in the Maldon district, for the last two decades macTheatre has produced a variety of new and innovative small-scale professional shows, often in ‘found spaces’ or settings. They have an established community event with their Shakespeare in the Park initiative and more recently they’ve facilitated intimate music nights and workshops with high-calibre folk musicians, songwriters and performers.
For macTheatre, inspiring community involvement is what it is all about, so I was excited when Nicola said she’d like to share the film at ‘The Sunny Sailor’ Maldon, under the macTheatre banner.
The Maldon community watching ‘In the Company of Joan’ at ‘The Sunny Sailor’
They decided to run the film with an interval, making space for local folk musicians to introduce the evening (and the second half of the event) with original and specific songs which held connection with Joan’s story, giving proceedings certain echoes of a Theatre Workshop vibe.
Carol Bonard & Suki Swindale share original music & introduce ‘In the Company of Joan’ at ‘The Sunny Sailor’ Maldon
The next sharing was with ‘Film Vaults Manchester’ in the Autumn of 2017 – the organisers regularly run FREE FILM EVENTS in a Manchester pub.
One audience member contacted me after their screening to ask if they could share the film with a friend. This passing forward of the film couldn’t have happened without the dedication of the Film Vaults organisers.
In February of 2018, founder of Bruvvers Theatre, Mike Mould set up the latest community screening. I happened to be working in Newcastle Upon Tyne during the week leading up to the screening of ‘In the Company of Joan’ and all around town I kept finding flyers in pubs, libraries and theatres – without any fanfare Mike had produced and distributed a colossal number of flyers.
Mike Mould of Bruvvers Theatre (Taking Theatre to the People of Tyneside)
The sharing was to be held at Alphabetti Theatre, a fantastic new venue in Newcastle Upon Tyne whose Manifesto includes a desire to create relatable theatre that’s accessible to all.
The evening was well attended.
Afterwards, Ruth Urquhart and I got hopelessly drunk and chatted nonsense to anybody who’d listen. It was a cracking night for us thanks to Mike Mould, Steve Byron & the team at Alphabetti Theatre.
In sum, since completing ‘In the Company of Joan’ and the subsequent films I’ve witnessed a community of people who’ve gone out of their way to create events without fuss or payment because they believe in what Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop stood for and achieved. This community of do-ers have inspired me to plan my own ‘Pop Up Cinema’ for 2019
I’m calling this tour ‘Celebrate then Activate’ because whilst it’s vitally important to celebrate the vast legacy of Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop, it’s of equal importance for each community to consider how they can take inspiration from Joan’s work and move it forward in their own way.
**Please do contact me if you’d like to see ‘In the Company of Joan’ online, get a DVD or better still hold a FREE community event – it doesn’t have to be a huge scale thing, all sharings are greatly appreciated.