Theatre And Landscape Goes To Dartmoor

In late summer 2017, in situ: held its annual, week-long residential course in experimental theatre and art. This year, the location was Dartmoor. Bella Stewart – artistic director of in situ: and facilitator of the Theatre and Landscape courses – reflects on the experience and looks ahead to the future.

Bella, you’ve been running Theatre and Landscape residentials for 10 years now. What are the most important messages you want to give people about the courses?

Theatre and Landscape is about creativity – experimenting with your creative side, “doing it by doing it”, so to speak. Through the week, we experiment with theatre and with art in a way that life doesn’t normally offer, that allows time and space to respond to the accidental, the extraordinary – elements of life we perhaps wouldn’t normally notice.

And, although I ask everyone to take personal responsibility, one of the joys of the week is that we work together – in pairs, small groups, large groups – cooperating, collaborating. Plus, we live together; in that respect the experience can be very different from what one is used in one’s ‘back-at-home’ lives. It can be challenging, but ultimately very rewarding.

There’s no pressure – we don’t aim for performance here – and we never force things, but welcome uncertainty and exploration. The fact is that all experience is a portal to creativity – that’s something I always emphasise.

Why did you hold Theatre and Landscape in Dartmoor this year?

Richard (in situ:’s other artistic director) and I have visited Dartmoor a lot, and we have a sense of it. It’s a complex place, with dense layers of history, culture, language. It’s seen occupation, emigration, inhabitation, tourism – all set among the landscape of what is essentially an island, a contained area of extraordinary geology as well as geography. I find Dartmoor hugely stimulating and energising, and wanted others to experience that too.

The week we spent was very rich. From a single base where we slept, cooked, ate and enjoyed our communal evenings, we visited several sites, each of which became an inspirational starting point for art and theatre.

At the prehistoric settlement of Grimspound for example, we explored different spatial perspectives. We climbed up tors, looked down on landscape spread out below us, experienced how different everything seems from different viewpoints, envisioned what differences time has made to the Dartmoor environment and community, tried to think about the connections between people and place.

At the Jacobean manor house of Cotehele, whose orchard is a repository for the apple varieties of South-West England, we examined more domestic themes. Looking round the house drew us into considering indoor life, the challenges of keeping warm in earlier times, the concept of community worship. We worked in the old orchard and looked at the apple from three different cultural perspectives as the trigger for our creativity.

It was a wonderful week, as always allowing us to open ourselves up to a place, and then from that experience to create fulfilling theatre and art, produced by us singly and together, then witnessed by the whole group.

What’s next for Theatre and Landscape?

In late summer 2018, we are going to the Lake District. It’s not only that the environment is inspirational, with its unique geological formations and historic sites. The Lake District is also significant for its revolutionary, radical artistic heritage.

The German artist Kurt Schwitters, a refugee from Nazi Germany, came to the Lake District just after the Second World War and created innovative multi-media projects from ‘found materials’. John Ruskin, a progenitor of the permaculture movement, created gardens which reflect his far-sighted experiments in horticulture and ecology at his home in Brantwood by Coniston Water. And, of course, Wordsworth and other ‘walking and wandering’ poets and artists spent much of their time in the Lake District. We’ll be using these figures, and themes as jumping off points for our week’s work.

Finally, Bella, why should people come to Theatre and Landscape in the Lake District, summer 2018?

I would say come if you want to experience a new landscape, or to experience a landscape you already know in a new way.

Come if you want to have a whole week to experiment with your own expressiveness, in a safely held space.

Come and share a sense of community, an escape, a retreat.

Come if you can imagine the world as you would want it to be as safe, welcoming, cooperative creative. Then for a week, come and live in that world.