Crisis artist Lucy tells us about the Hidden Spire writing day. Hidden Spire is a project which brings professional and homeless artists together to create a brand new show from scratch. Find out more.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020

Around a table in the OFS theatre, Crisis members got together with Rowan (the writer) for the first time since Christmas. Last term, we’d spent Tuesday afternoons in a whirl of creativity: sharing ideas, reading drama extracts and exploring the many possibilities of playwriting. And while that in itself is not unusual (creative writing classes run throughout the year), last term was very special. All this reading, writing and brainstorming had a specific goal in mind. We were laying the foundations of a play. All our thoughts, scribbles and lines were collected as we concocted characters, devised backstories and examined the intricacies of speech.

Our theme was Port Meadow. The ancient area of common land, to the north and west of Oxford on the River Thames which (as legend has it) has been unploughed for 4,000 years. Port Meadow has been used and loved by many throughout the ages. It is an area of archaeological discovery and Special Scientific Interest which has been used for horse racing, cattle grazing and free parties. It also has a military history. In the First World War, it was used to train the Royal Flying Corps and part of it was turned into an Aerodrome. In the Second World War, it was the site of a camp that was set up for military personnel evacuated from Dunkirk.

Legend decrees that the Freemen of Oxford were given the land by Alfred the Great in exchange for their help in defending the kingdom against the Danes. Their right to graze cattle is still exercised to this day. Although camping on the meadow is forbidden, boaters on the Thames are fortunate enough to call it home for charmed stretches at a time. It is a popular destination for ramblers and dog walkers alike. Also, its location and its beauty draw a plethora of groups and individuals from all around the world. It is a habitat, a place to visit in its own right and also a place for doing, where activities continue forevermore (kite flying, swimming, painting… ).

So we met in the theatre, huddled by a heater around a table on chairs extracted from the sidelines. It was important to meet in the space we will be performing in as it enabled us to get an idea of how it could be used. We’d been exploring the idea of magical realism. Considering this, Rowan created a river (of paper) to make a dividing line. It was then our task to decide what this was symbolic of (crudely, magical/non-magical or real/fantasy) and to create a map of what we had so far. To this, added our own notes, drawings, scribbles etc. on paper or post-its. The result was immense. And it really got us thinking….

Hidden spire writing session old fire station oxford

To lunch, and over pizza, we learned about the history of Hidden Spire. It’s a fascinating story. In fact, Hidden Spire 2017 was even filmed by the BBC to make the documentary Life is a Circus. I haven’t been able to see it (yet) though I am lucky enough to know many of the members who were involved. I wish I could have been able to see Sawdust. But sadly, it was before my time in Oxford. 🙁 Most of the members who were involved in Sawdust have now moved on from Crisis, but many of them are still closely linked to the OFS. Over the last six months, Thursday evenings have seen the running of a series of theatre workshops and these are frequented by some of those ex-members. The workshops have acted as a link where anyone can join in. During these classes, we’ve been looking at scripts, learning techniques and performing amongst each other. In the afternoon, members of these workshops joined us for munch, musing and a giant catch up.

Due to the nature of homelessness, it can be difficult for everyone to always attend every session. Furthermore, some people had been writing over the break. It was important for all the writers to be brought up to date with each other and also for the members of the theatre group, previously in the dark about most of it. And we needed to push it forward. Together.

So, we got into groups and tried to conceive a plot. Also, to really nail down where it was all going. And did we?

Er, we’ll be meeting again in April. We shall see. 🙂