Notably one of East London’s most well known streets, Brick Lane is the home to various vintage stores, market stalls and restaurants. An integral part of the Bangladeshi community since the 20th century, Brick Lane is a melting pot of culture, a welcoming environment adding to its charm. With a history spanning back to the 15th century – it’s name deriving from the manufacturing of bricks and tiles, there are various stories to be told about the street’s transformation ever since. Tapping into Tower Hamlet’s local history, Tamasha Theatre producers Debo Adebayo and Ellie Browning bring back their We Are Shadows: Brick Lane – an audio tour of the street. Debo and Ellie tell us more about the experience.
Hi Debo and Ellie, you’re the producers of Tamasha and Coney’s site specific tour We Are Shadows: Brick Lane. How are you feeling ahead of the run?
Ellie: We are thrilled to have re-mounted this production having initially launched it in October last year. To be able to offer audiences a theatrical adventure and the chance to be inspired whilst most arts and culture venues and experiences remain closed is really important. We Are Shadows: Brick Lane takes place entirely outdoors and all we ask is that players play solo, in pairs, or in their bubbles and maintain social distancing in order to enjoy it safely.
Debo: It’s been fantastic re-launching it and meeting audiences again. It’s felt like an age! We’ve been very pleased with the feedback and reactions so far and can’t wait for more people to experience it
We Are Shadows: Brick Lane is a site specific piece inviting audience members to journey through Brick Lane; beginning with a phone call, before participants take on the tour. When working on a project such as this, how do you initially approach planning the production?
Ellie: Our co-producers Tamasha had long wanted to make a piece taking place in and around Brick Lane, and came with a vision for something between fiction and non-fiction that was based on myth and stories from the history and cultures of the area. They approached us knowing they wanted to incorporate tech and playfulness into the audience experience. We were really excited by the concept, at the opportunity to collaborate with Tamasha, and to make something so local to home. The initial stage was to collaborate with local theatre company Rightful Place who offered their own experiences and first-hand knowledge of Brick Lane as well as connecting us with the wider Bangladeshi community so that we could gather more authentic local stories. Every Wednesday afternoon for weeks we invited different people to meet and wander with us, and those encounters now make up the narrative of the adventure.
Debo: Our digital projects are generally a lot more flexible and can each look and feel quite different from our stage and touring productions. So, planning approaches tend to vary and are quite bespoke but they generally start with an idea. For We Are Shadows, Tamasha Artistic Director, Fin Kennedy, came to the team with the idea of a walking tour of Tower Hamlets about and by the local community. We quickly realised it would be more effective (and simpler!) to focus on a street, and Brick Lane, which has so much history, has and is still going through so much change, and is literally a minute from our office, was an obvious choice. Through Fin, Tamasha had a long standing relationship with Mulberry School for Girls and Rightful Place Theatre Company, led by Afsana Begum who are embedded in the area, have generational roots and know the area like few others. It was so important for us to collaborate closely with the community and ensure their voice took centre stage. We then set about thinking who we might work with to build something digitally and interactively. We’ve been fans of Coney’s work for a long time and this felt like the ideal project to bring to them. Plus they are also based minutes from Brick Lane!
A project bringing various creatives together – game design by BAFTA Award Winning interactive theatre company Coney, writing by Tamasha’s Artistic Director Fin Kennedy and playwright Rabiah Hussain and direction by Sita Thomas – how have you worked together to realise the piece?
Ellie: It’s been a very collaborative and open process. We made sure to talk a lot at the start about what we wanted to make and what was important about the project to each of us. We worked as Tamasha, Coney and Rightful Place initially, with Rabiah and Sita bringing their insights and skills once we knew more about what we wanted to make. We made sure to add a number of playtests into the process so we could allow space to experiment and edit towards the version that we have now.
Debo: When collaborating with a number of different companies, artists and participants it’s so important to keep the lines of communication fluid, especially when the team isn’t in the same rehearsal room for 4 weeks and working remotely. How you start sets the tone, so one of the first things we did was to jointly contribute to a manifesto about what we wanted to do, who it was for and how we wanted to work. We shared this with everyone that joined the team with an offer of their input. It was really grounding to have something to refer to when needed. We became familiar with how we each tended to work, including use of terms/language, and met as regularly as needed. Collaboration was really key, our Digital Producer at the time, Malakai Sargeant, was so committed to ensuring this so that all the team, from our workshops participants, to the student of Mulberry UTC who created response pieces, to our Sound Designer Sarah Sayeed felt an equal part of the process.
We’re currently beginning to witness shows opening, and with that, having to adapt to new restrictions. How have you found having to integrate this into your work?
Debo: We Are Shadows: Brick Lane was created and soft launched BC – Before Covid – without the challenges we’re now facing. It would have been a lot more difficult to create it in the same way during full lockdown so we were lucky in that way. However, a big thing has been the delay to this full launch as we had always planned to do this in March/April and carry on through the Summer. Now we have the green light, we’ve been very careful to ensure that although it is outside, ‘players’ keep to social distancing rules, the number of people that can book at one time are small (no more than six) and that players and team members feel safe. The possibility of changing restrictions means we’ve had to try to pre-empt things that could happen which is a bit like shooting in the dark but we feel We Are Shadows is currently well and safely covered for most eventualities.
Have you found that there have been any challenges creating the project?
Debo: As above, we created We Are Shadows pre-covid however, on the most part, we’ve all been working remotely, since lockdown, juggling work with home schooling and everything else. It’s been tough not being in the same room whilst working but we’ve had to adapt. The nature of our digital work means a lot of the planning and parts of creating it can be done this way which is why we’ve focused mostly on digital work over the last few months.
What can participants expect from the show?
Ellie: To connect with Brick Lane in an entirely different way – whether you walk down it every day or have never visited before, you’ll leave with a completely fresh insight. And a phone call from a stranger on your mobile phone!
Debo: To experience Brick Lane like you’ve never seen and heard it before
What advice would you give to aspiring theatre producers?
Ellie: To collaborate. And to take the time to explore the kind of work that excites you and that you want to make happen – it’s important to have a passion for the form and the practice of the work.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
We Are Shadows: Brick Lane took place between Saturday 5th September and Saturday 3rd October 2020 in Brick Lane. To find out more about the experience, visit here…