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All About Everybody

I got involved with Atlantis through a call to join the Creative Collective. I had vaguely known about Hidden Spire, and I studied theatre, as well as heritage and museum studies. I've also got a Master's in Arts Management. I'm quite interested in new ideas in theatre. I noticed that this had its own format, I don't think I'd seen this idea done in this way before, to have a Creative Collective like this. The Collective is a group of people who were recruited, in my case through social media, to gather ideas. All members of the community. I decided to do it, because it really spoke to me.


At the beginning, I was kind of like, ‘How can I be sure that my ideas were included?’ But then it became more about the process. They would send prompts every few weeks and you would have to respond, with an image or writing. Later on, I did some writing in the writing workshop, but my first responses were images. We would send the images in, and then they’d put them on the website. We were responding to themes like ‘hidden objects.’ I volunteer for a museum in Oxford and there are these scissors in the collection that are kept in a little box. At that time, all the museum collections were hidden because the museum was closed for refurbishment. So I drew my own drawing of the scissor box. I really liked the idea that it was Alice in Wonderland’s scissor box. So it's got like a special connection to Oxford. There were lots of themes: underground, water, rivers, Alice in Wonderland, His Dark Materials, concealed spaces, Narnia, CS Lewis. Things like this. So it's actually a quintessentially Oxford set of themes.


There were quite a lot of entries, about 15 images for each theme, supplied by different members of the Creative Collective. They started writing the scripts with that input, trying to link a lot of those ideas together. I've been involved at most stages of it because I was interested about what would happen. So I was involved in the first in the read-throughs as well. And I must admit, the first read-through was quite complex. What they were attempting to do was quite ambitious.


I didn’t plan to be in the show at that point. I just took each call as it came. I often take on a few projects, so I've got to be careful about my time management, but it was a fun activity that was meaningful. Obviously, during the lockdown, there were a lot of things to do on the internet. I didn't really socialise that much online. But I really felt this was a meaningful use of my time, and it just seemed a quite casual way to get involved with theatre without having to deal with auditions. When I was really young, I wanted to be an actress. I've got Asperger’s, and I used to have an issue with doing auditions. I'm interested in compassionate community theatre, because I feel like it does help build communities. It’s sort of a relaxed way to contribute to meaningful projects.


The way that they ran the workshops made me feel that I could be in it. They ran a sound recording workshop, and they recorded my voice and made me feel that my contribution was really meaningful. They were needing people for the chorus, so I was like, ‘Actually, you know, I do want to be in it.’ At the moment, I'm writing a paper that I'm planning to propose to present at a conference. I was already thinking about writing this paper. So I thought, instead of just observing the play, I could be in it. And that would give me a better perspective for writing about it.


I also just quite enjoyed it, the singing. I wanted to do music at college, but I had some difficulties, given my Asperger’s, even though I was really into music. That was quite hard for me, when I was a young person, having to realise that actually, I couldn't do music in the way I wanted. But then this opportunity was there. In the vocal workshop, we were encouraged to do free improvisation, and that they recorded it. And they actually thought it sounded okay. So that makes me feel really good about myself. I do sometimes sing to myself, and I think I've got a nice voice, it's just I’m not a professional musician. Because I've had depression in the past, I really valued that encouragement.


At the performance, I did feel like I was maybe hanging around backstage quite a long time. And because I have Asperger’s, that is something I had to manage. But then I built up relationships with the other people around me. I think the bits I did on stage were successful. I would have liked to maybe be on stage a bit more, even. The chorus, it's supportive – I mean the play would go on without me. But I did feel that I contributed. And I was told that I had contributed, I really felt valued as a member. And my own voice was heard.


I've been in Arts my whole life, at school and as an adult. And they aren’t always as compassionate as this. Here, they specifically created a compassionate atmosphere. So I really valued that experience. I just never thought that I would have it. I'm going to get the photo of the cast framed. Because of my Asperger’s I didn't have that whole experience of being an actress like I wanted, or being in a cast photo, the glamour, you know. So this was like a taste of that experience I missed out on because of my difficulties with Asperger’s and depression.


In Oxford, a lot of people’s CVs are like, ‘I've done the complete works of Shakespeare,’ and ‘I won this award,’ you know, it's a bit like, ‘Oh, my goodness, how can I compete in this atmosphere?’ But now, I’ve had an acting part in this show, it has its own credit. Theatre is not just about being on the West End. It can also help to build communities. The Arts can really help enhance all environments. You don't need a degree as an actress to be in a play. And I think that's what some people get scared of – including me.


I went to college in London, where it's a really competitive atmosphere all the time. So it's nice to just celebrate people's talents. The talents of the individual. Rather than, ‘Who's got the main part?’ and everything. It was all about everybody who was involved with it. My enthusiasm for the Arts is really genuine. And this project really helped to nurture that, I think it channelled it in the right way, in a way that was productive for me and for the organisation. So it was reciprocal. I don’t see it as me giving my time to this organisation as a volunteer. It was part of my development that I chose to do. At every stage, the facilitators were so encouraging, it really made me want to be part of it. And it brought out my compassion as well. Because of my Asperger’s, I've had some difficulties with communication. But now I feel more enabled to cope in other situations.


When I walked around Oxford after the event, I also did feel like I had invested in the place. I've developed relationships here that aren't superficial, or not just for contract. I did always support the Old Fire Station as a friend, since before the lockdown. So now I sort of feel more invested in the charity. If I go and see another Hidden Spire show, even if I haven't been able to be in it, I'll still understand. I won't just be someone who's turned up to it. I suppose recognition is a big part of it.


I do believe in encouragement through Art throughout society. That's why I wanted to be part of the Creative Collective in the first place, because it was about building a meaningful community. And I think that's what made it so special.

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