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(Re)Finding All the Fun of the Fair: Follow Me Into

11th September 2023 by Lauren Randall

‘(Re)Finding All the Fun of the Fair: Follow Me Into’
by Associate Practitioner & Project Manager with ITD Morven Macbeth

My first thought was “What a brilliant idea”!

Which is always a good start.

I’d never heard of a thing called Bartholomew Fair. Having lived in London for the best part of 15 years, interested in history and curious about getting a sense of place wherever I find myself, this was a new one on me. The Fair, which began life all the way back in 1133 as a trading fair for cloth, taking place in and around Smithfield, steadily became a massive annual event. By the mid 1600s it was pulling crowds of thousands, featuring acrobats, dancers, musicians, prize-fighters, the works. Having run for centuries however, it fell into decline and in 1855 it was eventually banned.

But one would have to hope that in the intervening 170 years or so we’ve learnt a thing or two about organising large public events, and the good people of The City of London Corporation thought it might be time to bring back the best of Bartholomew Fair, with a twist, in the shape of 3 weeks of free live performances and events, including a series of unique spectacles which reimagine one of the capital’s great historic occasions.

Sharing a programme with makers like Marisa Carnesky (an incredible artist and creator of the legendary Carnesky’s Ghost Train) and Inua Ellams (playwright and poet behind the runaway success that was Barber Shop Chronicles, amongst others), meant we knew we’d be part of something really exciting. Meeting early in the process with the team at the City of London Corporation, the ideas we’d put together for the commissioned piece quickly began to take fuller shape. Storytelling is at the heart of everything imitating the dog makes, whether that’s touring theatre, learning projects, or large outdoor installations. And what makes the invitation to make an installation piece so special, is the opportunity to bring to life stories from a particular place, stories which are sometimes hidden, unseen or forgotten.

Photo by Morven. Pictured: Robert Pickavance (Isaac Newton), Mattea Cooper (The Magic Girl), Susannah Cooper (Mattea’s mother and chaperone), Simon Wainwright (ITD co-Artistic Director and Video Designer), Ed Waring (Photographer) and Laura Atherton (Rachel Somers).

The Square Mile is absolutely packed with a mind-boggling array of architectural styles, histories, streets, alleyways and therefore, of course, stories. The ITD team, alongside the team at the Corporation responsible for resurrecting the Fair, had a fascinating time researching and selecting historical characters which are a part of the fabric of this incredible area of London, and creating a journey narrative around them. Audiences would discover a girl, very much of the 21st century, who has mysteriously encountered a Victorian magician. She is about to be transported away across time, to meet figures from history, all with a story to tell her, and with a talent to pass on.

Making a project like this is very much like fitting together the pieces of an enormous jigsaw puzzle. But you’re never finding the pieces alone! With six different buildings we’d located which we thought would work well as, essentially, a canvas upon which to video-map each story, the process then begins of trying to make sure everything else falls into place around the story and the building in question.

Photo by Morven. Pictured: Simon putting the pieces together.

For example, where can we project from? Once we have permission from the owners of the building we’re putting a story ‘onto’, can we find permission from a building opposite? And if not a building, a structure of some sort which can safely house a projector? And while those conversations are underway, the storyboards for the videos are coming together along with the scripts, and we need to cast and then film each story in a green screen studio space, ready for animation. Then there are all the health and safety requirements to be met, the marketing of the event, the logistical planning to make sure each site is rigged and ready in time for the opening.

With so many different elements in the mix, all of which need to come together to create 10 days of an installation which will, we hope, bring crowds of people to some unexpected streets, squares and tucked-away-corners of the City of London, it’s a Big Push to get it all ready on schedule! It’s been an absolute privilege to work with a whole bunch of brilliant teams and individuals, all of whom have offered their considerable abilities, talents and skills to make Follow Me Into something very special indeed.

Morven Macbeth

Associate Practitioner with ITD and Project Manager on Follow Me Into

Photo by Ed Waring. Pictured: Matt Prendergast (William Shakespeare), Morven Macbeth (Associate Practitioner with ITD and Project Manager for Follow Me Into) and Mattea Cooper (The Magic Girl) – and one big green screen!

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