Here is the story so far as told to us by the one and only Miss Katie Tranter....
In May we were fortunate to embark upon our first adventure together as Fun in the Oven. The Mining Institute kindly agreed to let us set up home in their marvellous building in the centre of Newcastle. Our residency gave us time and space to start working creatively with the theme for our upcoming project The Munitionettes *working title*.
The aim of the residency was to work on our skills together to create complicity, trust and a common language for making theatre. We played lots of games, did structured improvisations and used our research findings to start playing with characters and scenarios.
Through the week we invited special guests to join us in our lair for discussions and to make creative provocations to the performers.
On Tuesday we were joined by academic and theatre maker Tracy Gillman, creator of "The Handmaidens of Death" an audio visual installation forming part of her PhD studies at Newcastle University. We discussed how to approach the Tyne & Wear Archives when researching the Munitionettes and how these materials could be used to make theatre.
Tracy told us that whilst the the activites and day-to-day lives of middle and upper class women were fairly well documented between 1916 and 1918, the lives of working class women were not. As soon as we began the question why this might be, the answers were obvious. These women were much less likely live in an environment which would the time, space, skills and resources necessary to keep a diary to write letters to family and friends. Just managing to get by on low wages and supporting large families with the possibility of losing their husbands, fathers and brothers to the war took up rather a lot of time, we imagined.
As the week went on, we became increasingly fascinated with class. When the munitions factories opened in 1916, thousands of women were recruited from all social backgrounds to do their bit for the war effort. For the first time, women were out of the home whether they were ladies of leisure who employed servants, or indeed the maids who served them. The walls had fallen and everyone worked together under one roof. We enjoyed exploring what kind of situations might have arisen in such a mixing pot of women! We really enjoyed improvising a worker's strike with all the different characters bringing different intentions to the scenario. An aristocratic "weekender" (women from rich backgrounds who just did factory work at weekends in order to "do their bit", a committed middle class suffragette with a criminal record and an older working class mother of six attempting to work together to organise a strike offered the perfect conditions for misunderstandings, slapstick and grotesquery.
On Wednesday morning we were joined by Paul and Dan from Labyrinth otherwise known as the Barefoot Businessmen. For the first time, we invited men into the room and this brought an invigorating shift of energy and perspective. We played some clown and improv games together and then they plotted some tasks for us to undertake in character. They set up a factory situation and gave us a set of physical actions to achieve with strict rules as to when, where and how they had to be done. Every few minutes, the foreman would come in and tell us we were not working fast enough and that one of us needed to be fired...then left us to decide which one!
Towards the end of the week, we focussed on making preparations the Munitionettes' Tea Party - a family friendly Great War themed area featuring a Great War cafe serving exploding scones, a Recruitment Station to test if participants have what it takes to be a Munitionette and an area with lots of information about the project and our plans for the next few months.
We had such a fruitful week at the Mining Institute. Spending time together as a company without the immediate pressure of creating a finished product is really important for developing trust, sharing skills and starting to find our process. We hope the skills we gained in play, complicity and devising will form a solid basis for our devising and creation process which begins in August.
Stiff Upper Lip!
Miss Katie Tranter