Holland

Clearing out old papers recently I found a diary that gives an amazing account of  when, in the 1970’s, Bath Arts Workshop and Natural Theatre were held to be such an example of integrated community creativity that we were commissioned to undertake an extended residency in a Rotterdam arts centre.

The Naturals performed stage shows and street theatre, while others worked in schools, ran creative workshops, built adventure playgrounds, painted murals and devised performance art extravaganzas. We even took a rock band, the infamous Rocky Ricketts Show. Practically the whole of Walcot decamped to Holland, including kids, pensioners and all those in between.

Blimey, we worked hard! Despite being occasionally branded hippies and layabouts in our home city, the diary describes early morning schools workshops followed perhaps by an animated mystery bus tour. Then a full evening show in the arts centre, topped off by a late night rock session at a psychedelic nightclub. Seems we rarely got home to our encampment in the art centre attic before 3am.

Whereas we sought to entertain in an agit-prop way, there were always those in authority who considered street theatre to be an anarchist protest, even in super-cool Holland. Thus, after a spoof eviction at a neighbourhood squat (we pre-arranged to throw furniture out of the window) our passports were confiscated in a police raid on our dormitory. We were banned from outdoor performances and threatened with deportation, pensioners and all.

It took a hundred letters to the papers and a television statement by the Culture Minister to persuade people that we were art, not dangerous activists. The police climbed down on condition we obtained a theatre licence for each street in which we were to perform. Mischievously, we took the Rotterdam A to Z and applied for every street within a mile of our HQ. Needless to say, on performance day, the place was crawling with cops, including some on horses.

In places the diary makes hilarious reading. At one way-out club, it reports, two obviously stoned men were playing chess. One was accompanied by a pet Billy goat. As they concentrated avidly on the game, the goat concentrated on eating the chess pieces.

Try following that, Naturals!

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