Daedalus Theatre Company launches East Voices Digital Series

The project is sharing stories told by the East London community
Daedalus Theatre Company launches East Voices Digital Series picture

This summer, in a project run by Daedalus Theatre Company and produced by Rua Arts, members of the East London community learnt from professional story tellers how to digitally share a traditional tale from their own cultural heritage or a story from their own lived experience.

A host of guest artists were also invited to record stories. All the recordings are now available as part of East Voices Digital Series on the East Archive: eastarchive.com.

Two local cultural organisations – Bishwo Shahitto Kendro London (Bengali) and NUMBI Arts (Somali) – partnered with Daedalus to deliver the Arts Council England funded project. The theatre company’s Artistic Director Paul Burgess, worked alongside professional storytellers Shamim Azad and Sef Townsend in a series of workshops and one-to-one sessions which guided participants through storytelling skills.

Professional Storyteller and British Sign Language (BSL) Consultant Deepa Shastri joined the team to create a video with Sef and Shamim combining BSL storytelling with tales from Muslim and Jewish cultures, and to run an introductory storytelling session for members of Sign for All.

Other guest artists include The Black Smock Band (gay ecosocialist folk band), who are providing two traditional songs, BSL teller Sahera Khan, Jonathan Chan and Michele Chowrimootoo.

There are stories of migration to East London and folk tales that have travelled the world. There are stories of the struggles people have gone through in East London, such as that of the matchgirls strike in Bow in the C19th, and stories of immigration, family and what people went through before migration, such as how the people of Bangladesh fought to speak their mother tongue.

Daedalus Theatre Company is a Tower Hamlets-based, LGBTQ-led charity, which aims to give people from all walks of life the space and support to develop their creativity and self-expression. It makes high quality, socially engaged, publicly accessible work that explores a wide range of contemporary issues across multiple artforms. It is committed to bringing together arts professionals and community members in innovative and meaningful ways.

Artistic Director, Paul Burgess, said: “East has always been about bringing people together across cultural divides. Isolation was a problem for many people even before the pandemic, but has been made much worse by lockdown. Cultural divides have also been exacerbated, as can be seen in increased racism against people from East Asia. Sharing stories and songs is an age-old remedy for such problems. They bring us together through shared enjoyment, they help us articulate our feelings and experiences, they help us understand each other - especially when we learn to retell stories from other cultures - and they remind us of our similarities. This is especially underlined by the incredible way stories travel, with some narratives popping up in localised variants all around the world. But how do we connect people with stories they don't yet know, or encourage the telling skills they don't yet know they have? East Voices jumps straight into this challenge, connecting people from a wider range of communities than we've ever done before, including the wonderful CRV (Community of Refugees from Vietnam) East London, and working with British Sign Language for the first time, not so much as tool for access but as a rich language for storytelling in its own right.”

East Voices builds on an established project and community called East, which invited people resident in, or linked to, Tower Hamlets to share some of the stories brought together by the East End’s rich, diverse history of immigration. The community storytellers first shared their work at Rich Mix in 2014.

Due to the enthusiasm of its members, the East group has continued to meet, to develop its work further, share stories and songs over food and perform publicly. It has run workshops for Tower Hamlets at Brady Centre and a storytelling tent several times in Victoria Park, and its leaders are developing ideas for taking East’s methods into schools and community centres.

Published Nov 8, 2021
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