In-Common Sites in Action is a performance for film research project that explores young adults' lived and imagined encounters with Mousehold Heath, an urban common in Norwich. The project is co-created in partnership with the Sprowston Youth Engagement Project. It uses participatory performance and film-based practices to generate a cultural interpretation of the urban common and gain a better understanding of how an arts-based approach can engage young adults in research as co-producers of knowledge.
The study is part of a wider research project, 'Wastes and Strays: the past, present and future of English urban commons', carried out by the universities of Newcastle, Portsmouth, Exeter and Sheffield. The project is funded for three years by the Art and Humanities Research Council.
The study takes a participatory action research (PAR) approach. It tests out an approach, using a combination of methods including walking, sensory mapping, performance and film-making to document everyday practices, which enable participants to tap into and describe their commons knowledge and expertise. The attention paid to mobile and arts-based approaches in this study aims to (i) develop knowledge on Mousehold Heath as an urban common field site; (ii) focus attention on the embodied, relational and affective dimensions of users’ lived experience; and (iii) generate creative interpretations of the commons.
In the study, members of the Sprowston Youth Engagement Project participate in drama-based workshops facilitated by the artist-researcher. The participants collaboratively explore how young people use and value Mousehold Heath and articulate their visions for urban green space in the future.
There are three phases of creative research activity.
(1) Young people participate in an In-Common Sites workshop on Mousehold Heath. During the workshop, participants undertake creative mapping activities - making observations, taking photographs, recording audio and video, sketching and note-taking to record their impressions of the heath environment and its uses.
2) A series of facilitated drama-based workshops in which participants explore
their lived experience stories of Mousehold Heath and imagine alternative futures for the urban common. Stimuli for the creative sessions draw on (a) the young adults’ initial impressions gathered during the field trip workshop, (b) Wastes and Strays' research into the history and legal status (byelaws) of Mousehold Heath, and (c) ideas on future ecology (conservation, wilding, stewardship). Material includes the reenactment of everyday activities young people engage in on the heath, interviews with conservation volunteers, and the use of dramatic metaphor as a means to represent imaginative visions of the heath.
(3) A film shoot in which the performance material is captured on camera in Mousehold Heath. The storyboard, collaboratively devised with the young adults forms the basis for planning the film shoot. The film will be shot by a professional filmmaker who is experienced in working with young people, alongside the artist-researcher.
In this practice research, the co-generation of performance and film content enables participants to i) generate creative interpretations from their experiences, (ii) help to reframe their use of Mousehold Heath within a context of different and at times contested usage, (iii) re-imagine aspects of the urban common for the future and (iv) engage in co-creative practices as a potential model of commoning.
In-Common Sites in Action is a performance for film project co-created with young adults at the Sprowston Youth Engagement Project, which explores their lived and imagined encounters with Mousehold Heath, an urban common in Norwich.
In the study, the young adults participate in a field trip to Mousehold Heath and explore the environment through a series of creative mapping tasks - walking, photographing, drawing, creating environment-based installations and recording impressions of the landscape and its use. Taking these impressions of the heath as a starting point, participants engage in drama-based workshops to share their experiences of the heath and create performance material for a short film. With an emphasis on collaborative working, participants are encouraged to articulate the different ways young people use and value Mousehold Heath and generate visions for urban green space in the future. At the end of the project, the performance material is captured on camera in Mousehold Heath. The storyboard, collaboratively devised with the young adults forms the basis for planning the film shoot. The film is shot by Annis Joslin, a professional filmmaker who is experienced in working with young people, alongside the artist-researcher.