Writer and Co-Creator of Go Tell the Bees, Naomi Chiffi tells us about the long and eventful journey that has led to September’s film screenings:
“The journey to creating the film of Go Tell the Bees has been a long and eventful one."
TEAM’s work in Pembrokeshire started over four years ago and when Devinda De Silva and I first started working here. We were interested in shifting the power balance between a theatre company and the communities it works with, so instead of going into a community with an idea and a fully formed concept in mind, we went instead with the money kindly granted to us by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and said “we have some money and we’d like to work with you – what would you like to create?”
Selling an idea or a concept with an unknown outcome is not an easy task but at TEAM our focus has always been on offering opportunities into the arts to people who may otherwise not believe the arts or theatre is for them, as well as offering a platform to artists already doing brilliant work within their communities and letting them lead the way. Luckily for us, Pembrokeshire is filled with curious and creative souls, which helped make our task – and that of our brilliant TEAM Associates Robbie Price, Owain Roache, Fern Lewis and Rachel John – an easier one.
“Pembrokeshire is filled with curious and creative souls.”
We launched with a Performance Party – a forum theatre event directed by Catherine Paskell at which people shared their ideas about what this show or event could be, the outcome of which was that the theme of whatever we created should be about the connection between people in all of the varied communities throughout Pembrokeshire, as well as a celebration of the beauty and fragility of our natural environment. Over the next couple of years we held various ideas-gathering events, open mic nights, parties, workshops and schools sessions to help further generate ideas and build a network of people working across multiple art-forms, all of whom we would class as key co-creators of Go Tell the Bees.
“It became clear to us that bees meant a lot to the people of Pembrokeshire.”
We explored this further and were drawn to the tradition of telling the bees – in which people who kept bees would tell the bees their news, both happy and sad, in the hope that the bees would remain in the hives and that the ecosystem would continue to function as it should. Over many months we developed a concept for a festival in celebration of our connection to each other and to our environment, through which would run a story – a durational piece set across two sites, in Pembroke and Manorbier and featuring as many people from across Pembrokeshire as possible, with sister activities happening in towns and villages across the county. The ambition was huge but we were very excited about the possibilities – it felt like a true celebration of co-creation – we even invested in our very own TEAM beehive and swarm, kindly looked after for us by Rhys Hughes of Mel o’r Môr.
“And then… Covid hit.”
At the start of the pandemic there was still hope that this would be a short-term crisis and that life, including that of the performing arts, would return after summer 2020, perhaps in altered forms. We did not, therefore, immediately cancel the original ambition for the production. It soon became apparent that this was wildly optimistic and that we would need to think in a new way about the entire process. We asked ourselves some key questions – how are we still able to place communities at the heart of all decisions around the production? How do we provide opportunities for mass participation? What provision can we make for education programmes and connecting with young people? How do we continue a creative Research & Development process that keeps communities the central focus of co-creation? How do we continue to build new relationships? What can and should we be doing during a time of global crisis that will best support and serve the communities we work with, whilst also contributing to our own artistic aims and objectives?
We began a programme of digital engagement, the aims of which were to continue to let people know that Go Tell the Bees was still very much alive, to continue to find ways for people to contribute creatively to its development, to provide an opportunity for people to come together in solidarity and celebration – a mass participation moment (despite being kept apart by lockdown), and to continue the Research & Development process needed to drive the story forward, shape the narrative vision, create the voice and the look of the show, whatever it may become.
“A film that is truly with, by and for the people of this county.”
When we reconvened as a creative team after the first lockdown, we still hoped we would be able to create a live performance, with experiences and installations throughout Manorbier Castle for audiences to enjoy. However, it quickly became clear that whatever we were able to create would be for a very limited audience, with a very small cast and the original aim of developing something with, by and for a large community of people was not going to be possible in this way.
Around this time and inspired by our work on Sea Empress 25 – a short documentary directed by Gavin Porter marking the anniversary of the Sea Empress disaster, a key moment in time for the people of Pembs – the decision was made to create Go Tell the Bees as a film instead of a staged production. This allowed us to work safely within Covid regulations but also allowed us the chance to involve as many people and places as per our original ambition.
Now, we have a film created with over 400 people from across Pembrokeshire and further afield, featuring over 30 different locations that is truly with, by and for the people of this county.
Photo by Rachel John
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