Lecturer and Theatre Maker Abigail Conway talks about The Candle Project taking part in Brighton Fringe Festival 2021

Courtesy of Rowan Briscoe.

As theatre venues gradually begin to open, the industry will welcome audiences both live and virtually – a new adaptation to have emerged post pandemic. In a year that has transformed many on a personal, as well as global level, there is a need, now more than ever, to connect and bring communities together. Celebrating community within her work, lecturer and theatre maker Abigail Conway invites participants to take part in her latest installation, The Candle Project – ‘The candle project is an ode to resilience, a celebration of shadow and light, an ancient ritual for our times.’ Taking part in this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival at The Spire, workshops to create Bees wax candles containing handwritten messages will take place between 24th to 28th May, before the lighting ceremony on 29th May which will be live streamed to viewers. Ahead of the installation, Abigail tells us more about what to expect.

Hi Abigail, you’ll be presenting The Candle Project commissioned by The Spire, a former church in Brighton as part of this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival. How are you feeling ahead of the piece?

I am feeling all the things before a show…busy, nervous- but also excited, to be making something in a space with audiences after such a long period in the dark.

The Candle Project is an interactive piece whereby both yourself and the participants will craft Beeswax candles with handwritten messages inside that’ll be added to the overall installation. What inspired the piece?

Two thoughts and images came together, really. Firstly, an image that has stuck with me, came from a visit to a church called St. Juan in Chamula, Mexico, many years ago. Local people made offerings and filled the floor with small vigil candles and pine needles. It looked like people stayed there for long periods of time. They brought food and cushions to rest on. It never seemed to close.  There was something quite calming  and moving to see all the different groups of people, going about their own personal business, all offering something, sitting and watching their candles burn down.

There was a desire to create an atmosphere in a site  where people could watch and reflect on something that changes over time (in this case the birth and death of the candle).

Secondly, within my practice, I often start working with a material or activity  I have never worked with before to see what participatory elements it has and how it can be played with in unusual ways. I have always been interested in wax as a material and it’s impermanent nature. When ignited it goes under this captivating transformation.

In the process of learning about traditional ways of making candles and the layering of wax.  I wondered if it were possible to literally layer words into it, so the candle itself did not just signify someone or something (a celebration, decoration or person) but also have something physically inside it that represented something of the person making it. In this sense, rather than a symbol outside of the self, the aim was to incorporate a bit of oneself within it, that could be both exposed and exchanged through the burning of the artwork.

And now, at this time, having been separated from our friends and families and slowly coming out of national restrictions- the idea and themes seem to resonate even more.

The initial stage of the installation will take place from 24th to 28th May, with the lighting ceremony taking place on 29th May – this part of the installation being live-streamed. What does this mean for accessibility and community?

The build-up to the live stream will see over 320 people come and go into the Chapel with more participants depositing  messages, also -that are also made into candles. The live stream is to allow everyone who took part, and the wider community to witness a collective moment, together. Where the candles burn down, the stream allows a moment to connect and to experience a live event.

I was interested to work with local choirs to add a further communal and acoustic element to the burning. Even though choirs have been unable to meet in person during the pandemic, many have been meeting and singing online. Although large audiences can’t gather in the space for the event, I hope hearing the choir’s contributions through the live stream will be a timely tribute.

What are your hopes for the installation?

My hope is that the installation provides a space for contemplation, connectivity and regeneration that can travel and light up different spaces and communities.  I hope those who take part, feel proud to part of the artwork  and celebrate a collective moment and exchange between strangers.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

The Candle Project will take place from Monday 24th to Friday 28th May, before the final ceremony on Saturday 29th May as part of this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival. To find out more about the installation, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop