- Dr Laura King, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, historian of fatherhood in twentieth-century Britain (now based at the University of Leeds as part the ‘Arts Engaged’ project)
- Babakas, an international theatre company based in the Midlands
- Warwick Arts Centre - hosted performances of Our Fathers and post-show discussions
- China Plate – programmers at Warwick Arts Centre
- Coventry Mysteries Festival – hosted exhibition and poetry readings
- Warwick Children’s Centre - hosted a poetry workshop as part of their Dads Aloud group
- Nine Arches Press - published poetry pamphlet, and ran poetry workshops
- Rachel Bunce – produced film of activities
Audience: Involved local fathers at two poetry workshops and a diverse public at the Warwick Arts Centre and Coventry Mysteries festival. The project also had a wide reach online, with parents worldwide contributing their stories of birth to the interactive website.
What: An innovative public engagement project based on the history of fatherhood in Britain, involving a number of creative, cultural partnerships.
Why: To further a more complex understanding of fatherhood in the past and present, and to give fathers an opportunity to voice their experiences.
Where: Coventry and Warwickshire area, with activities online as well.
When: March - September 2012
Hiding in the Pub to Cutting the Cord? was an interactive, innovative and multi-layered public engagement project. It involved a number of different elements and events, based on Laura King’s research into the history of fatherhood in Britain. This included working with a theatre company, Babakas, on their show ‘Our Fathers’ as a consultant, and hosting post-show panel discussions at Warwick Arts Centre (WAC), as well as running poetry workshops, which resulted in the publication of a poetry pamphlet, poetry readings at Coventry Mysteries festival, and a podcast of this on the project website. An exhibition accompanied these events, and the poetry readings, performances, and panel discussions were captured through a short film. Supporting this was an interactive website to which parents could add memories of childbirth, and explore one another’s stories. Finally, we held a conference on parenting involving practitioners and researchers.
This project involved a number of different initiatives which aimed to facilitate public discussion about a more complex history of fatherhood. Fathers in the past are often written off as unemotional and uninvolved, and through a number of creative collaborations with cultural organisations, this project sought to generate a public reflection on the meanings of fatherhood in past and present. Working with a theatre company allowed us to explore different dimensions of what fatherhood could mean to different individuals, and Babakas, the theatre company, found this to be an extremely fruitful relationship which helped them develop their production into a more nuanced and thoughtful piece. Collaborating with local fathers through two poetry workshops also gave fathers an opportunity to reflect on the process of becoming a father, something most had never had the chance to do. This was all documented through the website, which featured a film, podcast and other materials, as well as the chance to add one’s own story of childbirth, and read other parents’. A conference at the end of the project allowed for more of a research-focused discussion on parenting in the past and present, which involved practitioners, such as doctors, social workers, charity campaigners and family support workers, as well as researchers.
What worked well?
Particular highlights were the exciting collaboration with Babakas, which allowed both Laura King and those involved in the theatre company to reflect on fatherhood in new ways and learn from each other’s approaches to this subject matter. Allowing time and space for broad-ranging discussions was important here. The theatre production was a great success, with near sell-out performances on two consecutive nights, and very positive feedback from audience members. Furthermore, Babakas and Laura King are continuing to work with each other as the show goes on tour, and Arts Council funding has recently been granted to support this.
The poetry workshops were also a great success – all the fathers involved were absolutely delighted with the opportunity, and the resulting pamphlet sold out its small print run within days.
What didn't work well?
Though the poetry workshops were a success in the end, recruitment to them was particularly tricky – this took a lot of time and effort. More planning as to how to achieve this could have been helpful.
This project was well funded – it was supported by money from a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award and a further Wellcome Trust grant to support the conference.
The Warwick Arts Centre was a great resource, and the partnership between it and the university is unique – their programmers, China Plate, were a great help in brokering our relationship with the theatre company.
- Twitter is a great resource – great for making initial contact with new audiences and potential collaborators.
- Considering what you want from it is crucial for your collaborative partners as well as the researcher – understanding each other’s goals and aims is the basis for a solid partnership.
- Interactive public engagement works particularly well – it’s much more engaging, important and fun for all those involved.
From contributing poets/fathers on the workshops:
"It was a chance to say something about myself as a father which I’d not fully addressed before."
"I think it is important to contribute and share our experiences of fatherhood with other fathers. Fathers don’t normally have the opportunities to talk about their experiences and reflect on fatherhood. Writing a poem helped me to reflect on my own experiences and gave an opportunity to express myself through creative writing."
From contributing poets/fathers on their experience of writing a poem:
"It has given me the opportunity to express the feelings I had as I became a father for the first time. These are feelings that men do not articulate often, if at all."
"This project has helped me to gain new perspective on my upbringing and how I have made my own choices on the kind of father I have been."
Warwick Arts Centre audience members on ‘Our Fathers’ and the subsequent panel discussions with experts from different fields:
"It brought back unexpected memories, and the impact fathers can have in shaping our lives"
"It has highlighted the lasting effect my actions have on my children"
"I want to ask my own children about their earliest memories of us as parents. I’m also thinking about fostering!"
"It made me see and appreciate my father beyond his inherent role as a provider"
"Yes, I’ve never properly thought about the memories I actually have of my father"
Mike Tweddle, Babakas, performer, director and deviser of Our Fathers:
"The collaboration has offered a rich and valuable opportunity to me as an artist and Babakas as a company – leading us to interrogate and deepen our practice, particularly in terms of a more thorough and historical approach to research. The piece we have developed through the collaboration provokes audiences to consider their attitudes to parenthood and masculinity/femininity, and to reflect on their relationships with their parents and/or children in valuable ways."
Name: Laura King, University of Leeds
Phone: 0113 3430272