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Drama in the Dale

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Drama in the Dale

Teesside University and Jack Drum Arts

This project is a digital exploration of local history and heritage in the remote North Pennines, running alongside a community theatre project which aimed to tell the true story of a lead miners’ riot in 1818. The project brought together an artists’ collective and a university community media specialist as part of an adult and community learning initiative that originally ran over a 6 month period but which has continued via a social enterprise with wider community benefits. The project was part of AHRC Connected Communities and has subsequently fed into other academic interest groups such as Community Informatics.

Teesside University's involvement with Drama in the Dale aimed specifically to explore the use of digital technology and ICT to enhance what was effectively a live-action, real-time, community theatre and local heritage project, happening under the auspices of the Adult Community Learning Fund (ACLF). County Durham is the most deprived rural shire in the country. Weardale, in the North Pennines, suffers from geographical isolation with limited opportunities for local people to access knowledge and technical know-how in respect of digital innovation. The project therefore aimed to explore and analyse the use of internet and digital media in a peripheral area, leading to conclusions about the future opportunities for, barriers to, and potential disadvantages of, the use of such tools. Participants came from all walks of life, recruited by project partners Jack Drum Arts and included local professional arts practitioners as well as members of the community and local school communities. The participants’ engagement with history and local heritage deepened through a variety of creative means, thereby complementing the main live, real-time, theatre-based activity. For example, the creation of a series of broadcast episodes created by local primary school children and their parents, inspired by a leadmining song, the re-enactment of an historical court scene in the university’s teaching court with in-studio cameras, digital mapping of significant places linked to the history of the Dale and its inhabitants, an online newspaper created by school-children from interviews with actors in role circa 1818. Digital engagement both preceded and followed the actual performances with online resources such as sound-clips and the posting of documents and archives for shared use. A series of digital mapping sessions later explored significant places in respect of the characters in the story and the actual participants’ own lives. The university forged links with other projects and places around the world, for example a museum in Austria which holds a lead bullet made in Weardale and an artist’s community in Vilnius, bringing together communities across a bigger divide. An online pub quiz between 3 communities linked to the heritage of mineral extraction demonstrates creativity and breadth of vision in a most unusual learning setting. Outcomes were documented through creative and digital means via a collection of ‘blogs’ which appear as a coherent published website.

The project developed a repository for resources that could be shared online as part of a Project in a Box toolkit. These included examples of project timetables and evaluation methods. The community-university partnership has been sustained and developed beyond the end of the original project with the university’s community engagement worker returning to set up some new learner blogs for the organisation’s current project in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages initiative. The project brokered relationships with the wider community benefiting other voluntary groups, SMEs and individuals wishing to set up as sole-traders operating in the creative industries. Drama in the Dale itself successfully unlocked a Big Lottery grant to establish itself as a social enterprise rather than a one-off project. Regular communication between the university, Jack Drum Arts and Drama in the Dale continues with all parties continuing to share the considerable national and international interest that the project has provoked.