The Fun Palace project is a celebration of UK theatre visionary and director, Joan Littlewood’s centenary in Oct. 2014. Stella Duffy, one of the project organizer’s provides some insight into why Littlewood is considered an important influence, the origin of the ‘Fun Palace’, and the genesis of the upcoming celebration in a Sept. 18, 2013 posting on the Guardian newspaper website (Note: Links have been removed),,
In January, at Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled event, I called one session: “Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014, that isn’t another revival of Oh! What a Lovely War?”
Oh! What a Lovely War, which Joan developed, is brilliant, but with the first world war anniversary next year, there will be many revivals and Joan was more than a director. She was one of the few British directors (before or since) to work fully with an ensemble, from training to performance. She made “immersive” theatre long before immersive was cool. She kick-started improvisation in the UK. She was political, formidable, inspiring, and far ahead of her time.
In 1961, Joan and the architect Cedric Price came up with the idea of the fun palace. Their blueprint says:
“Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over 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.”
An idea descended from pleasure gardens, the fun palace was designed to link arts and sciences, entertainment and education, in a space welcoming to all – especially children and young people.
A year later, the idea has not only taken root, it has grown. Here’s more about Fun Palaces from co-organizers Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings in a Sept. 25, 2014 interview with Eleanor Turney of The Space (a digital arts museum in the UK ).
At Devoted&Disgruntled in 2013, Stella Duffy called a session asking if anyone wanted to do “a thing” to celebrate Joan Littlewood’s centenary. It quickly became apparent that the “thing” was going to be reviving Littlewood’s idea of a ‘Fun Palace’, a community-run, free space for people to explore the arts and sciences. Several people responded, a small GfA grant followed and Fun Palaces snowballed, as more and more people got involved, and Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings started to articulate exactly what they wanted the project to be. This was followed by an Arts Council England Exceptional Award – which Duffy describes as “astonishing… It’s all becoming real now, but it’s still astonishing to me that they gave us this grant. I’m not the kind of person who always gets funding, but this is too fucking good an idea. Also, it’s not about us. It’s about the whole thing, which they [ACE] quite bravely saw.”
Rawlings continues: “The idea has developed so much, it’s always changing, we’re learning all the time. Our relationship with the site that The Space is making has changed – it’s now really key to how all of this develops. If we don’t get any money next year, [Fun Palaces] can still can go forward, because at the centre of it is this communication tool. It’s about people talking to each other, about showing their art on it, being able to say ‘I am making a Fun Palace,’ being able to access other avenues. It’s absolutely huge.”
“My favourite new phrase is ‘equality of online presence’,’ says Duffy, ‘and the point is that everyone has the same platform. It’s got nothing to do with what an organisation’s own resources are; on this site, everyone’s got the same profile, the same start, which is amazing.” The site, which The Space has commissioned, offers a page to each of the participating Fun Palaces: “You can put photos on it, videos, art work, links etc.,’ explains Rawlings. Over the weekend and in the run-up to it, says Duffy, “there’ll be a scrolling banner which has the Instagram and Twitter feeds. It’s not just about the weekend itself, it’s about the process. Some of the organisations that have never shown their process before have started sharing photos, writing blogs, talking about their process. The idea is, during the weekend when lots of people are sharing, that the scrolling banner will pull through the Instragram feed and it’ll look ‘live’ with stuff happening all the time. And afterwards, it’s not getting archived and put away – we’ll make a collage of the photos, and an infographic of stats from the weekend, which will ‘hold’ 2014, but it’s also all ready for people to sign up for 2015.”
The emphasis in this interview is on the project’s digital presence which is understandable given that the interview is being conducted by someone associated with a digital arts museum but there are many real life ‘Fun Palaces’ designed for this coming weekend, Oct. 4 – 5, 2014.
You can find the Fun Palace website here and if you should choose to create a Fun Palace, the organizers have provided this nugget of information/inspiration on the FAQs (frequently asked questions) page amongst many other nuggets on the website,
How do I find people in arts and science to make a Fun Palace with me?
Go beyond the usual suspects: the people who make school dinners know about the science of cooking, the person who mends your car knows a lot about the science of mechanics; your local librarian knows about arts and sciences and where to find out more.
Think about where you might be able to approach people in your locality: makerspaces, tech meet-ups, universities, schools, children’s centres, theatres, arts spaces, galleries, museums, music venues, community centres, co-working spaces. Places where people are meeting and sharing regularly, or where there’s a strong grassroots support network.
Also, you can talk to other members of the Fun Palace community on our Discussion Boards. If you’re stuck for ideas, then contact our Digital Champion Hannah on firstname.lastname@example.org (she works part time).
Remember that even if there isn’t a Fun Palace near you in real life, there will be an online version.
For anyone interested in The Space, it was first featured here in a June 16, 2014 posting.