In 1961, theatre director Joan Littlewood was frustrated by the limitations conventional theatres imposed on the way in which art could be depicted. Rebelling against the notion that creative expression should be safely contained within restrictive proscenium arches, she enlisted the help of architect Cedric Price, to design a revolutionary performance space called a Fun Palace. This ambitious project was a ‘laboratory of fun’ and a ‘university of the streets’, and their primary aim was to create a temporary and moveable home for arts and sciences that would welcome adults and children alike. The weird and wonderful world of Fun Palace is best described by Joan Littlewood herself, explaining in the original design plans: “Dance, talk or be lifted to where you can see other people make things work. Sit out over a space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.?
Joan Littlewood campaigned tirelessly for seven years trying to make her dream of creating a Fun Palace in the heart of London a reality, yet her grand plans for moveable walls, unbounded creativity and twenty acres of land required a great deal of funding. Despite an endless stream of correspondence, Joan Littlewood was unable to raise the money required, and all plans of building a Fun Palace sadly came to a halt. Fast forward to 2013, where, at a Devoted and Disgruntled event, writer Stella Duffy proposed that a fitting way to mark Littlewood’s centenary would be to finally finish what Joan Littlewood started and stage a modern day Fun Palace.
Following an overwhelming response on Twitter and an Exceptional Award from the Arts Council, co-directors Stella Duffy and Sarah- Jane Rawlings are spearheading the modern incarnation of Fun Palace. With more 105 Fun Palaces signed up to take part, which span from the Isle of Man to the Isle of Wight, Iceland to Canada, Fun Palaces 2014 genuinely feels like a cultural celebration and revolution that is worth getting excited about. From large and established organisations such as the Southbank Centre, the Roundhouse and the Royal Exchange to quirky and unusual locations like Brockwell Lido – which will host a physics lecture in canoes – to a giant insect procession in a wood in Cheshire, a whole range of wonderful events are happening as part of Fun Palaces. With an ethos of complete inclusivity anywhere can be a Fun Palace so long as it is: free, local, innovative, transformative and engaging.
What really sets Fun Palaces apart from other large scale cultural events, is that all of these expressions of unleashed creativity will be taking place simultaneously on 4 and 5 October, in what the creators hope will be a yearly event. We are constantly hearing that the arts are striving to engage with their local communities, and that theatre and art should be accessible and enjoyed by all, and there is an undeniable sense that the work that Fun Palaces is doing is a step in the right direction towards achieving these aims. It is certainly a more fitting way to celebrate Joan Littlewood’s centenary than simply another revival of Oh, What a Lovely War!
Fun Palaces 2014 is presented by Fun Palaces and the Albany, and has been made possible with the support of public funding from the National Lottery through the Arts Council England’s Exceptional Awards programme. For further information please visit the Fun Palaces website.