Covid-19 and The People’s Palace of Possibility

"So, we decided to open the palace doors early."
It's time to become a Citizen and think of the future...

To coincide with our new project starting in February 2021, we are publishing a blog written by Malaika Cunningham, Artistic Director of The Bare Project, that reflects on The People's Palace of Possibility in the context of Covid-19.

Like many across the world, in spring 2020 all our plans fell apart. The first national tour of The People’s Palace of Possibility was all booked in and we were preparing to hit the go button. We had a dream team of artists and venues from the Highlands to London lined up. Then – things changed. Unprecedented, tragic for many, suffocating and isolating, with wide reaching and lasting repercussions for all of us.

As these changes ripple through society there has been a good deal of reflection on how we live. For many, as hard as this time has been, the thought of going back to ‘normal’ is also unacceptable. Within the theatre sector, and across society, demands for radical change are louder than ever. Things need to be different. Things need to be different. Things need to be different. Things need to be different. 

For a long time we have been told that things cannot be different, that radical alternatives to the status quo are naïve, economic suicide or simply impossible. And, although the changes we’ve seen this year have been tragic and harrowing – they have also shown that change is very much possible. I am not saying that this could be understood as a silver lining to the horrors of this pandemic, there is something grotesque about describing a silver lining on a cloud so dark. But for worse, and perhaps for better, change is afoot. 

“…we have this capacity to – this amazing capacity to generate pictures of the future. Let that pull us forward rather than be stuck in the old stuff.” A Palace Citizen

The People’s Palace of Possibilityis about dreaming up alternative futures. Audience members become Palace Citizens, tasked with radically re-imagining of the world. How could things be different? Do you feel more hope than fear, or more fear than hope? Why? If COVID-19 and its ramifications have shown us profound negative change, what might profound positive change look like? 

All in all, within The Bare Project, we felt that the need for a Palace of Possibility was greater than ever just now. A Palace which would do democracy very differently than the one in Westminster. In this Palace, everyone can be a citizen. In this Palace, the most outlandish and surreal visions of the future can sit alongside practical policy suggestions – because we recognise that both play an important role in creating change. In this Palace, we build utopias, and recognise that a real utopia is never complete and needs constant tinkering. The People’s Palace of Possibility is a growing archive of visions, imaginings, fears and daydreams from people all over the country. At its heart is the belief that we need these visions for change, and that the exchange of these visions is a crucial part of democracy.

So, we decided to open the palace doors early. We began ‘touring’ this postal adaptation of the Palace in July 2020. Since then it has grown rapidly and in the coming months we will be working with Lancaster Arts, ARC Stockton, Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, Right Up Our Street in Doncaster, and more still to be confirmed, to reach over 400 new Palace Citizens across the country. These Citizens will receive a series of packages in the post, which unfurl the mysteries of the Palace, invite tiny acts of resistance and provide opportunities to contribute to the growing Palace Archive.

A version of this blog was first published in July 2020 on The Bare Project website and the CUSP (Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity) website here.

We are reposting the blog as we start our search for new Palace Citizens from Lancaster and Morecambe. If you are from Lancaster or Morecambe, you can register for The People's Palace of Possibility before 12 February 2021 here.

You can find a blog posted in 2019 with further insight into the People's Palace here. It was written to coincide with the presentation of The People's Palace of Possibility in Lancaster for the 2019 Festival of Social Sciences.

The Bare Project is a theatre and interactive arts company based in Sheffield. They have been making work together since 2012. Their form changes: sometimes it’s a script and a stage, other times an installation and, at other times, a conversation. In recent years their work has increasingly focussed on climate crisis. 

As a company, they specialise in participatory theatre. ‘Participatory’ in terms of the development of their work, as well as within the interactivity of their performances and installations. As part of this, The Bare Project work a great deal with immersive sound design and recorded voices, as well as the creation of interactive spaces.  

Posted on 13th Jan, 2021