Throughout March and April, posters and flyers are circulating the city inviting proposals for ‘FREE STORIES’. These stories could be about you, your friends or family, your life or something entirely fictional. They can be a gift, an event or an indulgence.
I’m Grace and I’m helping to produce Made Up. I moved to Bristol nearly two years ago and I’m so happy to be involved in this beautiful project. Theatre Bristol asked me to interview Molly and Byron so you could get some insight into this piece and their motivations, here’s what happened.
Illustration by Rose Robbins.
Byron Vincent: C’mon, Bristol is great; it’s a sprawling collage of distinct communities, each with their own identity. I’ve lived in a lot of cities, Bristol is my favourite. This project is an opportunity to explore the city through the ideas of its residents. I love the thought of each enclave being mapped out by the stories of its inhabitants. I want to walk through St Pauls and think of it in terms of an eight year old leading the carnival in the saddle of a robot unicorn, or see Shirehampton as the backdrop to the improbable reconciliation of wartime sweethearts.
Molly Naylor: I've always felt a connection with Bristol, and a lot of my favourite people in the world live here. It strikes me as the kind of place that might be open to this sort of project too, which makes it a great place to try it out before taking it to other locations that might have less of an arts scene. Also, I might quite like to live here one day. What better way to sus a place out than to meet lots of strangers in various places across the city? It'll be like a guided tour of memories and moments; like looking through a photo album whose owner never thought anyone else would see.
The possibilities of this project are seemingly endless. Describe the story-scenario of your wildest dreams.
Molly Naylor: The joy of a project like this is in the unpredictability of it. That fragile, ephemeral relationship between the audience and performer that exists only in the live moment is one of the things that made me get into theatre and performing in the first place. This project sort of heightens that connection, that moment; it is truly unpredictable. And not just the performance itself but the moments surrounding it. We'll be ourselves, talking to the audience directly. Often this is how Byron and I perform on stage - as ourselves - but the difference here is that the audience get to talk back. They are encouraged to. They have to let us in, they have to lead it in some way. What will this be like? How long will we end up spending with them? What will we learn about them? And will anyone make us a cup of tea? Ha. You asked me about my wildest dreams and I ended up talking about tea.
Byron Vincent: No one idea is better than another. We’ll be doing our best to give people the stories they want. Some may be fantastical flights of fancy, others may be interpreting the substance of people’s lives. Attempting to create something meaningful out of real life events in such a short time is both scary and exciting. My dream scenario is doing justice to the ideas we’re presented with.
The marketing for this project is as neutral and far-reaching as possible to draw in new audiences and take stories, theatre and performance to a variety of people who might not even consider this special experience to be any of those things. Why is this important to you?
Molly Naylor: I was in an art gallery the other day and the people working there made me feel like an utter plank. They were rude and surly and I left feeling massively judged, uncomfortable and annoyed. And that's me, who comes from a lower-middle class background and have been encouraged to engage with art all my life via my family and surroundings. And I imagined someone who had never engaged with art before stumbling in after work one day stumbled just to see what was happening. Would they feel like I did? It might make them sad. It might make them angry. They may have had preconceived ideas about the arts that are now reinforced. They might just shrug and think, well, it's all rubbish anyway. Or maybe they wouldn't care, I dunno, but I suspect they'd feel like they didn't belong. Like it wasn't for them. We wanted to make a project that was the opposite of that. We hate the idea of making you feel that way, whoever you are. So this is ENTIRELY for you, on your terms, in your location, when it suits you.
Byron Vincent: It was really important to me that this is a free service. We come to you, there’s no exclusivity. Regardless of your personal history or social background, this is the city giving you a little gift should you want it. No pretentions, no elitism, just something nice and uniquely personal. We’ll even make you a lovely cup of tea if you want one. You can’t say fairer than that.
The main inspiration behind this piece is your love of being read to. What bedtime story did you want to hear over and over again as a child? Or did you demand a new one every night? Or did you make them up yourself?
Byron Vincent: Oh dear, get ready to mop the tears from your imaginary violins. I wasn’t read a bedtime story until I was in my twenties. It was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, and I loved it so much I demand to be read to whenever I get the opportunity. I was in Morocco a couple of years ago, and the person I was with had been reading me some Simon Armitage. Then I got really bad food poisoning and apparently in my fevered delirium kept shouting “When is Simon Armitage coming”. He never showed up, I’ve never forgiven him.
Molly Naylor: My dad read me The Chronicles of Narnia. All of them. I've no idea how he found the time, but he did, and it was amazing, and it's basically shaped my whole life and personality. My mum would read me Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak is one of my all time Guys), which for some reason makes me sad when I read it these days. It's the pictures I think, Max's little face. He's so lonely and serious. I think being obsessed with stories as a child is often a sign of loneliness. This makes me think that loneliness isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you were a lonely kid the chances are you learned how to deal with it; you got lost in stories and fantasies and as such have the capacity for abstract thought as an adult. And maybe if you were that kid, you developed the ability to cope with solitude and moments of stillness - which is important. Vital, I reckon. Having spent so many hours on my own as a child, making up stories and acting out all the parts myself (or with my Sylvanian Families), I am officially Never Bored these days. And I am brilliant at lying, doing stupid voices, and building tiny costumes for Sylvanian badgers.
How do you see this project developing?
Molly Naylor: We're going to do the same project on a slightly bigger scale in Norwich, in the Autumn. We also want to do it in Glasgow, and potentially in tons of other towns too. It's unsustainable, obviously (as we don't charge people for the stories), but the whole point is to take a bit of theatre/art/storytelling to an audience who might not have otherwise engaged with it, and thus change their mind about art. And through this, blow minds, change society, make everyone love each other, stop all wars. That sort of thing. The usual.
Image by Anna Selby