“We’re all part of the same collective, we just haven’t quite figured that out yet”: Dramaturgies of Participation in The People’s Palace of Possibility

Frances Babbage*, Malaika Cunningham**, Zelda Hannay***, Joseph Houlders****

Abstract

This co-authored article examines the ways in which The People’s Palace of Possibility, a live interactive installation by The Bare Project, was reinvented in the context of COVID-19 as a postal event engaging participants individually in their local areas. We show how the adapted dramaturgy sought to address the deep disruptions instilled by the pandemic, seeking to build a dynamic, reparative structure that could tend to a shattered and isolating present. Applying perspectives from adaptation, psychology, democratic theory and dramaturgy, we argue that home, neighbourhood and online environments afforded opportunities for individual and collective engagement with political ideas, generating multiple visions of utopia.
Keywords: adaptation, affordance, democracy, dramaturgy, imagination, participation

In early 2020, The People’s Palace of Possibility (PPP), a live interactive installation, was ready to tour the U.K. The piece, created by theatre and participatory arts company The Bare Project and supported by the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity and Arts Council England, invited its audience to engage in radical acts of imagination, share hope and despair about the world, and recast the future through conversation, listening and creative activity. Initial preview performances were held in Sheffield in summer 2019. The audience entered the foyer of the arts space to be greeted by two hosts, “Rose” and “Reuben,” who led them into a hall—the “Palace”—roughly partitioned by cardboard to generate booths, worktables and meeting areas.[1]

This was an unusual performance in so far as it did not predetermine thematic content but rather foregrounded the means of giving shape to and sharing whatever preoccupied its audience’s minds. On arrival, audience members were posed a question: “What single word would you use to describe what the world will be like in 30 years’ time?” For many, that prompt inescapably evoked climate change—and while PPP did not address environmental imperatives explicitly, the material aesthetic of the installation acknowledged these implicitly. Likewise, the show’s invitation that participants should dream up their own “street-level policies” towards a better world echoes environmental activism in its inherent connection of local with global, individual intervention with governmental action. The propositions of audience members carried an air of provisionality reflected in the malleable materials used to shape them: alongside much cardboard, Sharpie pens and modelling clay combined to signify the working model, a “rehearsal of revolution” in Boal’s terms rather than a full realisation. The policies proposed were read out formally from a plinth: recalling Boal’s Legislative Theatre (Boal), the action and ethos of PPP sought to foster multivocality, imagination and a democratic distribution of power.

In March, when the pandemic ripped apart the fabric of everyday life, the company began the process of adapting the installation, whose themes had found a renewed urgency, to this new environment. The result was a fundamentally remade version to be experienced remotely in homes and neighbourhoods, over a number of weeks and via a series of interactions in the form of postal objects, phone calls and online exchanges. PPP under lockdown is set in a fictional society governed by “the Consensus,” a body that enforces an ideology of “unchangableness”: there are no improvements to be made, no questions to be asked, no better ways to live. A seemingly official communication from the Consensus that arrives by post turns out to contain a secret message from “Rose” (a character loosely carried over from the first iteration) disclosing the existence of the “People’s Palace of Possibility,” its “Citizens” a network of rebels who dare to imagine that other worlds are possible. Rose’s message links to an interactive website—the “Palace Archive”—containing expositional videos and the contributions of former Citizens. A second letter from the Consensus a few days later announces that Rose has been arrested and instructs the recipient to immediately destroy “any similar correspondence inciting disharmonious activity.”

A third and final package arrives hand-delivered, slightly muddy and with only a first name hurriedly written across the front. Inside is a series of objects that will enable the “Palace Citizens” to make rebellious interventions of their own. A link to an audio guide facilitates a walk in the local neighbourhood, during which participants are invited to perform “tiny utopian acts of resistance” and reflect on a series of questions (“What do you daydream about?” “What makes you feel part of a collective?”). Photos taken on the walk as well as audio recordings of responses are later uploaded to the archive.

While this marks the “official” end of a participant’s involvement, they continue to receive occasional postcards from Rose sharing contributions and encouraging them to explore the ever-expanding archive. In this way, The Bare Project hopes to keep in periodic communication with participants until such time as the live version of The People’s Palace of Possibility can take place, allowing them to meet in person as well as welcoming new “Palace Citizens.”

This co-authored article explores the ways in which PPP adapted its dramaturgy in response to the profound disruptions brought about by the pandemic. We argue that despite physical distance between participants, the home, neighbourhood and online environments were able to become meaningful democratic spaces in which strangers could address complex political ideas individually and collectively, generating multiple visions of utopia and small steps towards its implementation.

Our article aims to match form and content by combining four perspectives—diverse in positionality with respect to PPP as well as in critical angles offered—on the political potential of this project in its remade form. Malaika Cunningham is The Bare Project’s Artistic Director and Joseph Houlders the company’s regular writer and visual artist; Zelda Hannay acted as dramaturg for PPP in both live and postal versions; Frances Babbage experienced the show as audience, under pandemic conditions only. However, given first that the show’s creators were obliged by COVID-19 to witness the unfolding of their work at a distance, and second that engagement with PPP is necessarily interactive by design, each view in this article comes from inside and outside the event.

Babbage discusses the remaking of PPP through the lens of adaptation, drawing on the suggestive analogy proposed by Gary Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon between biological and cultural adaptation; from this, she argues that PPP remade for lockdown is best understood not in terms of what it keeps (or “loses”) from the original but rather in its manifested capacity to survive and transform. Second, writing from a perspective combining psychology and philosophy, Houlders examines the means by which the project is reinvented in fostering interactive engagement of participants with their local areas, drawing in particular from James Gibson’s influential concept of “affordances”; here, Houlders considers whether prompts to perform “utopian acts of resistance” in the neighbourhood exposed new opportunities for intervention that the locale might “afford.” The necessity of perceiving our environment—local, national, global—as alterable, and ourselves as capable of effecting such change, is an idea developed further by Cunningham, who frames the participatory invitation of PPP in the context of Paulo Freire’s principles of democratic pedagogy and Marit Hammond’s call for “a culture of deliberation.” Finally, Hannay addresses the project of PPP in its entirety, applying Eugenio Barba’s model of dramaturgy as a “weave” to discuss how certain dramaturgical strands were undone and remade in the adapted version in a way that reflected the “texture” of a new reality. In conclusion, we reflect on the PPP reinvented amidst the pandemic as neither superior to nor substitute for the original, but a continuation of the empowering impulse at the project’s heart.

***

Frances Babbage: Adapting the People’s Palace

When COVID-19 hit, The Bare Project were obliged either to abandon the PPP entirely or adapt it for radically altered times and an audience whose members could not meet in physical space. They chose the latter, shaping a new iteration in which participants receive codes and clues that unlock narrative fragments and an appeal to help recover and rebuild the Palace Archive. As described above, the remade PPP introduced a framing narrative  (an addition judged necessary in the absence of live interpersonal contact) that foregrounded themes of ideological consensus: its demand for compliance was a playful means of inviting creative acts of resistance.

Thus far, the postal version has run in around ten U.K. towns or cities, in the process recruiting 500-plus “Palace Citizens,” in the project’s terms.[2] The experience of engagement in this new iteration is quite unlike that of the original show. Now, participants work in isolation, in a doubled sense: first, they no longer assemble physically; second, daily life is already circumscribed by socially distanced, self-contained “bubbles” that the pandemic has imposed. If you take part, involvement is solitary and your choices—which photograph, what words chalked, where to pin a flyer—are unobserved. There is no one to encourage you, whose own contributions you can endorse or extend, no debate or laughter, no (literal) modelling of communities, cities, worlds. You move through your neighbourhood unobtrusively, a guerrilla, or a ghost.

However, noting loss or lack in the remade PPP risks drift towards outmoded and flawed models of adaptation which privilege what remains of the “original,” dismissing or disparaging what the new articulation affords. PPP under lockdown was moulded by constraints but also opportunity: instead of a space designed for creative practice, there is the immediacy of the neighbourhood; in place of collective buzz, a private journey. Yet, this altered dramaturgy builds potency from recognition that working solo is not the same as being alone: you know there are multiple “Citizens” walking other streets, each leaving their mark on that environment, covertly or brazenly. This implicit connectedness stands in microcosm for a wider predicament, in which the pandemic enforces separation but, in the process, engenders new forms of community. The PPP “mission” gives you responsibility but does not leave it with you, since the endpoint of that involvement is less what participants say or do but who encounters this and how they respond.

How many will read each “street-level policy” before the rain’s erasure? When you write it, you can’t know: like Rose’s message, recorded “on the run” and left in hope, these chalked words constitute an utterance without an addressee. A tab torn off a flyer testifies unmistakably to someone’s engagement, but their motive remains unknown. This quality—an absence of reassurance—makes PPP under lockdown more fragile and less celebratory than the original, yet arguably more subversive and certainly more concrete in its impression on the environment beyond theatre’s walls.

The remodelled PPP exemplifies adaptation as “purposeful refitting of material from one artistic context to another,” as Sarah Cardwell has defined it: this much is plain in the move from conviviality to introversion, from boundaried arena to temporo-spatial and digital dispersal (13). However, its “refitting” is not just between artistic contexts but fundamentally different experiential and perceptual frames, since COVID-19 has overturned assumptions and experience of movement, touch, time, space, work, expertise and choice; the “new normal,” whenever and however it settles, will bear lasting marks. In this light, the adapted PPP can be understood at least doubly: culturally, as artistic reinvention prompted by circumstance; and biologically, as evolution for survival in an unstable environment.

In an examination of correspondences between biological and cultural adaptation models, Bortolotti and Hutcheon explain that, in biology, what marks “success” is not perpetuation of specific features but the fact that the replicator—meaning, any organism able to reproduce itself—continues to thrive. For the authors, redefining success in adaptation as “thriving” does not merely shift conversation away from unproductive comparisons with precursor texts but positively generates new evaluations of adaptation based on its enabling of narrative persistence and capacity to mutate and proliferate (Bortolotti and Hutcheon 450).

Such proliferation has been manifested by PPP: the collective event was stopped in its tracks, but the “postal” version enabled a different kind of gathering that reached more people in their neighbourhoods, and further afield, than the original tour would have enabled. The proposition of democratic utopia-building via active and creative citizenship unmistakably connects both iterations of PPP: more importantly, by its adaptation the project embodies the transformational dynamism it promotes. The responses triggered can be tiny but are no less significant for that. As one participant records: “People who genuinely want to understand others gives me hope—it makes me feel part of something.”

***

Joseph Houlders: PPP and Democratic Affordances

In the interrelated fields of philosophy and psychology, it is often suggested that how we experience our environment depends on our expectations, projects and physical capabilities. In this way, the process of experiencing what is around us is far richer than simply receiving sensory data: the same scene can seem radically different depending on one’s current situation. Here I will use James Gibson’s concept of “affordances,” [3] and subsequent elaborations thereof, to describe an intended effect of PPP: namely, that participants’ neighbourhoods would be felt to contain new possibilities for action, specifically actions relating to democratic debate.

Gibson defines the concept of “affordances” as follows:

The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill. The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, but the noun affordance is not. I have made it up. I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment.

(119)

To get a hold of this concept, imagine you are in the countryside, and you can see fields, various species of trees, rivers and farm buildings dotted around. Gibson is suggesting that our experience is not merely a matter of receiving sensory data regarding the shape, size and colour of all the different elements of the scene, but also recognising or sensing what this environment, or individual aspects of it, afford you in terms of possible actions. So, for example, a wheat field is not merely experienced as thousands of golden-brown shoots each topped with an inflorescence resembling a paintbrush, but also as something that you might walk through, inspect or harvest.

It can sometimes be helpful to refer to specific categories of affordance. For example, speaking of social affordances focuses our attention, and makes possible a finer-grained analysis of the phenomenon. But categorisation also risks misportraying experience as homogeneous and static: an object might simultaneously be felt to call for many different kinds of interaction; and likewise, it might change over time, and no longer belong to the original category. Whilst our experience is not as uniform or fixed as the language we use might imply, it can still be useful to talk about “X kind of affordance,” where a felt possibility for a particular sort of interaction seems to be what is most salient in an experience at a particular time. The specific category of affordance I utilise here is “democratic affordance,” previously discussed by Gerard Goggin (2013), Marco Deseriis (2020) and by Mayra Fedderson and Luis Santana (2021). When I use the term I mean “subjectively felt possibilities for actions relating to democratic participation”: for example, actions which contribute to discussion of, or at least reflection upon, issues relating to alternative visions for the future, and personal and collective responsibilities relating to these issues.

One of the challenges involved in re-working PPP concerned how to encourage audiences to experience their immediate surroundings as containing democratic affordances. (Assuming they did not already, and perhaps some did). Affordances are not fixed in a person’s experience: they may be felt to be present or absent depending on many different factors. Democratic affordances could be cultivated—made palpable in people’s experience—in a host of ways.

One way of describing the intended effect of PPP is to say that it sought to cultivate democratic affordances in participants’ experience of their neighbourhoods. As part of the performance, participants were asked to perform “tiny utopian acts of resistance” in their local area, for example chalking suggested policies on available surfaces. The materials that comprise a typical neighbourhood include things such as pavements, walls, fences, lampposts, benches, post-boxes, bus stops and so on. Each component of the neighbourhood has its everyday, practical affordances. For example, pavements are “for walking along.” Post-boxes are “for posting letters into.” But PPP sought to add to these experiences, such that, for example, pavements would no longer only be experienced as “for walking on,” but also as a surface on which one could address other members of the neighbourhood; and likewise benches would be experienced as more than just “for sitting on,” and instead as potential message boards, places to declare a utopian sentiment. In leaving it up to participants to decide what to interact with, the neighbourhood in general was suggested to be a place that afforded these sorts of actions. It is possible, though, that some participants simply did as they were told by the prompts of the show, and their experience of their surroundings was not particularly altered by engaging with the piece.

PPP tried to guide participants to a different way of experiencing the places that they were restricted to: as affording opportunities for discussing the state of the world, how individuals and groups may work to improve it and so on. If the neighbourhoods of participants continue to be experienced as offering these sorts of possibilities, “outside” the partially fictional world of PPP—that is to say, if there is a form of legacy or endurance of what was felt to be afforded through participating in the show—it would be a welcome result of the adaptation.

***

Malaika Cunningham:Imagination and a Culture of Democracy

PPP seeks to create “democratic affordances” which offer the Palace Citizens opportunities to reflect upon alternative futures, feel a part of a collective (as one of many Palace Citizens working together) and voice their own thoughts and ideas on the pavements and walls of their local neighbourhood, as well as within the Palace archive. What I would like to expand upon in this section is the ways in which the imaginative quality of PPP serves to deepen these “democratic affordances,” and the potential significance these affordances have in terms of building a culture of deliberation (Hammond).

Freire argued that “[the oppressed] must perceive the reality of oppression not a closed world from which there is no exit, but a limiting situation which they can transform” (31). Without the ability to envision alternative societies, we cannot begin to move towards them. In Freire’s work this process is about “re-naming the world.” Imagining alternatives and “re-naming the world” are key underpinnings of PPP and were present in discussions throughout the creation of the piece (although not in specifically Freirean terms).

In both its live and postal forms, PPP is a collection of potential alternatives and casts the audience as players in the transformation of the world. The transformation will never be complete—just as the Palace will never be full and finished—and will face many adaptations as it grows and responds to the world. Indeed, this constant adaptation is crucial to its political purpose. For example, in a recent performance of the postal version of PPP, in March 2021, many contributions responded to the murder of Sarah Everard, as well as the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill as it made its way through Parliament. The presence of these events altered the Palace Citizens’ experience of PPP. With this in their minds, their visions for what kind of future they wanted informed by the present reality.

PPP is a space to “re-name” the world. As we respond to current realities, PPP acts as an opportunity to rehearse for possible futures, to imagine and reflect upon possible transformations. Again drawing on Boal’s work, PPP seeks to enact Freire’s democratic pedagogy through theatre: “If it is in speaking their word that people, by naming the world, transform it, dialogue imposes itself as the way by which they achieve significance as human beings” (Freire 69). In the democratic affordances of PPP—becoming part of a collective, voicing your hopes, fears and visions for the future, and sharing your ideas on the walls and pavements of your local neighbourhood—the Palace Citizens are invited to re-name the world.

PPP seeks to create “democratic affordances” beyond more formal political spaces (such as citizens’ assemblies or elections). These informal opportunities to reflect on what the future holds, to imagine what it could be and share personal hopes and fears for this future are crucial to democracy. The Bare Project aims that this work should contribute to the building of a culture of deliberation. Political theorist Hammond argues that “sustainability governance requires not only technical-scientific and managerial capacity, but also widespread democratic engagement able to foster a collective re-thinking of taken-for-granted views, such as through deliberative processes.” Therefore, she argues, we must cultivate “critical thinking, confrontation with alternative views, and a sense of openness of society’s future, such that citizens can play an active role in shaping it against those with a vested interest in the unsustainable status quo” (Hammond and Ward). Arguably, projects like PPP can offer an artistic approach to developing this culture of deliberation.

PPP offers imaginative and playful democratic affordances to “foster a collective re-thinking of taken-for-granted views.” The narrative of the piece explicitly challenges the idea that change is not possible and invites its audiences to re-imagine how the world could be. The Bare Project hopes that this will not end with the postal version of the piece, but it will be deepened and widened with further live iterations whereby current Palace Citizens might co-host the live PPP for new audiences. This long-term engagement with audiences, and their development from participant to co-host, aims to develop this sense of having an active role in the shaping of the world.

These are not just one-off events but long-term engagements, built over time, within domestic, local and (in the future) arts spaces, aiming to remind us that society can be different and that we can have a role to play in that change. This kind of long-term and multi-locational engagement was made possible through the process of adaptation necessitated by COVID-19 restrictions. The adaptation has taken the piece out of more traditional arts spaces and allowed the interactions to become more dispersed in both time and place, which will be expanded upon below.

***

Zelda Hannay: Remaking PPP’s Dramaturgy

As we have discussed, adapting PPP for lockdownmeant finding a way for it to “survive and transform.” The company was compelled to rework its dramaturgy, to find a composition that could function within and intervene in an isolating, uncertain and “unstable” present. Barba proposes that it is in the active relationship between the myriad elements of live performance—including time, space, sound, voice, physicality, objects and other materials—that the dramaturgy or “weave” of a work is found (Barba 76). Drawing on this idea of the “weave,” I want to explore how several interrelated dramaturgical strands from the original PPP were reworked for the adapted version and how the resulting texture of the piece might be said to echo the texture of a new reality.  

The original PPP cardboard and bare wood set presented a work-in-progress aesthetic, played with the aristocratic connotation of “palace” and physically contained the experience within a larger area. Overall, these spatial and material dramaturgical elements were carefully curated prompts for democratic action, part of a made-for-purpose set designed to urge participants to adopt the role of Palace Citizen. In the lockdown version, PPP drew on space and materials in a different way: the objects and places in participants’ lives had the potential to be spontaneously included in the “world” of the Palace, to offer, as we have discussed, new “affordances.” The series of provisional stages on which the work now unfolded—kitchen tables, laptops, streets, pavements and parks—meant the perceived limitations of those spaces might be questioned, their semiotic frameworks disturbed. The notion of the Palace as an imaginary as well as a physical space had been present from the project’s inception, but the adaptation deepened that idea. Across the U.K., the Palace space was now experienced not as a physical entity, but in the minds of individuals working “on the ground,” their “pictures of the future” now linked to the question “what can happen here, where I live?”

The temporal strand of PPP’s dramaturgy was also adapted and transformed: the roughly two hours of the event were no longer to be experienced all in one go but across ten days (or longer if you count the time between first signing up and the receipt of the last postcard). Between the arrival of the first, then second letter, and then a mysterious brown package, the story of Rose and the Palace is suspended: life goes on and the next instalment must be waited for. Andrew Russeth, in his recent discussion of durational performance, notes that “work that addresses what it means to live with uncertainty and to keep going, often with no clear end in sight’ is poignantly relevant to our current situation. The initial obscurity, the unanswered questions—How long will this go on for? What happens next?—were intended in PPP as points of intrigue and excitement, but they also echo a now familiar ambivalent, unstable experience of time.

The result of undoing and remaking PPP’s spatial, material and temporal dramaturgical strands in this way was a “texture” for the work that echoed the feel of a new reality, with its blurring of the boundaries between domestic, work, social and online spaces and disturbed sense of time. This move “from boundaried arena to temporo-spatial and digital dispersal” might be understood as a “loosening” of the dramaturgical weave. In counterpoint to this loosening, one dramaturgical strand was significantly reinforced, however: narrative. In the original, Rose and Reuben welcomed you to the event, but by the time you were halfway through these characters had melted away into the collective.

In dramaturgical conversations with the company about the adapted version, we returned frequently to the question of “what might compel a Palace Citizen to act?” Without the spatial, material and temporal elements of the original version to contain and guide participants, Rose’s narrative acted as a guide and provided a foundation upon which the more nebulous, open aspects of the work—that is, the participant’s own experience and contribution—could rest. That story was a central and unifying thread for the remade PPP perhaps highlights the importance of narrative for connecting people across a shattered present: the buzzing hum of the collective or overheard one-on-one conversations had fallen silent, but the “culture of deliberation” that we have discussed was potentially recast as a participant’s internal dialogue—an ongoing conversation with the fictional Rose, with the traces of other Palace Citizens in the online archive and with the materials and spaces of the home and neighbourhood.

Dramaturgy theorists Cathy Turner and Synne Behrndt, whose own research has mapped the relationship between shifts in theatrical structure and changing political and cultural contexts, argue that there is an intimate connection between the structure of performance worlds and the structure of our own world. Drawing on Elinor Fuchs’ comparison between reading a dramatic work and visiting an unknown planet, they propose that   

When we return to our own “planet,” we may become more aware of aspects we had not previously noticed, or simply aware of the differences between the world we inhabit and that of the performance. We therefore suggest that the development of new dramaturgies is invariably political, in that they provoke us to look at reality through new eyes.

(Turner and Behrndt 6)

In line with this, adapting PPP meant forging a new dramaturgy that was both a direct response to the limitations of the situation and an invitation to test its boundaries and explore its potential. The reworking of the spatial, material, temporal and narrative strands of the piece meant loosening some elements and reinforcing others in order to find a dramaturgical “weave” that might echo, enrich and interrogate the texture of our new reality.


Conclusion

This article has reflected on ways in which The Bare Project’s adaptation of PPP, born from determination to sustain the project despite lockdown, seeks to shape dramaturgies of participation, testing ways in which the home, neighbourhood and online environment can be (re)activated as sites of creativity, democracy and dialogue. The restrictions imposed by the pandemic have seemingly made people all too familiar with both the digital sphere and the immediate surroundings; however, PPP’s prompted interventions have urged participants to view these environments with “new eyes.” Offering “democratic affordances” in the context of the everyday has allowed participants to take the raw material of their surroundings as a starting point for generating pictures of the future and challenging the idea that change is impossible or out of their hands. That individuals have been working alone and on the ground has unsettled, qualified and enriched the working models of collectivism and deliberation staged by the original. The work’s dramaturgical foundations have necessarily been pulled apart and remade in the hope of speaking to, and functioning within, a shattered present. In a mirroring of form and content, the piece aims to encourage participants to re-make the world in their imagination. As described above, this builds on the Freirian notion of “re-naming the world” as a crucial democratic act.

When the pandemic hit, it initially “broke” the PPP; along with countless art projects, the event as planned was obliged to fold. Yet, remaking it under lockdown has expanded and interrogated the work, adding thematic, material and narrative elements that will feed into future iterations. The experience of participants who began their Palace journey under lockdown will directly shape the dramaturgical evolution of the project, as those individuals are invited to return as co-hosts and their contributions endure within the archive. In transforming and surviving, the work has acquired flexibility and a sensitivity to unpredictable contextual changes: a level of resilience, in other words, that allows surer footing on what remains unstable ground.

Reflecting on today’s world and imagining it otherwise is not always enjoyable, energising and inspiring: as records newly added to the Palace Archive show, anxiety and pessimism jostle with more positively combative perspectives. Contributions over the course of the pandemic act as a document of multiple visions directly and indirectly shaped by a period of deep instability and uncertainty. However, it is in the nature of an archive to contain multiple documents without overt editing or judgment; likewise, inherent in the democratic space the PPP seeks to construct is its inclusion of emotional, angry and non-consensual voices, since what matters is not a singular vision upon which all agree but an imaginative and enabling process by which multiple visions are revealed.

At the time of writing, it feels impossible to present conclusive findings from this process, let alone a comprehensive set of actions. Just as the idea of the Palace and its archive are always mutating, the materials and processes through which the company has arrived at the work in its current form will be subject to continued undoing and reworking, especially in light of an ongoing unstable present. The later iteration is neither better than, nor inferior to, the original, but this process of adaptation itself reflects the central concept of the piece: The People’s Palace of Possibility is about reimagining and remaking.


Endnotes

[1] This article is supplemented by images and links to audio files from the project. The photographs which feature in the introduction are credited to The Bare Project; images used later were contributed by anonymised audience-participants and can be found in the online Palace archive: https://palacearchive.co.uk/. The pattern of documentation shown here reflects the project’s transition from a collective live event to solitary journey: ‘lockdown’ images are notable for the absence of people, with participants behind the camera, or glimpsed in shadow.

[2] At the time of writing, the postal version of PPP has been delivered in Deptford, Lancaster, Morecambe, Sheffield, Doncaster, Leicester, Oxford, Preston and Stockton-on-Tees. The Bare Project works with hosting venues or festival contexts to ensure a diverse audience range that includes representation from older people, families, a spread of postcodes and participants from a range of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. A spirit of debate is actively fostered through the company’s “refer a friend” technique: once participants have booked their (free) ticket, they are encouraged to invite someone they know with whom they have disagreed in the past; by this method, Malaika Cunningham notes, “we’ve had people recruit their mum, their neighbours, friends, and (in one case) their plumber.”

[3] As is to be expected, there is a lot of debate about the precise meaning of affordances (see Dings for a recent analysis). Therefore, some may take issue with the portrayal of Gibson’s concept presented here: for example, suggesting that it occasionally credits it with too much. However, I have used the concept with reference to subsequent elaborations in mind, as well as a proposed indebtedness to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology (Lobo, Heras-Escribano, and Travieso).


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*Frances Babbage is Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Sheffield. Her publications include Adaptation in Contemporary Theatre: Performing Literature (Bloomsbury Methuen, 2018), Re-Visioning Myth: Modern Drama by Women (Manchester University Press, 2011) and Augusto Boal: Routledge Performance Practitioners (Routledge, 2004; 2018). 

**Malaika Cunningham is Artistic Director of The Bare Project, and a Research Fellow with The Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity, based at Artsadmin. Her ESRC-funded PhD explored participatory theatre practice as democratic space. 

***Zelda Hannay is an early career researcher, dramaturg and performance-maker based in Sheffield. Her AHRC funded practice-based PhD in theatre drew on a central theme of brokenness and repair to explore dramaturgical praxis and writing for performance. She currently works as Senior Project Manager in the Arts and Humanities Knowledge Exchange team at the University of Sheffield. 

****Joseph Houlders is a regular writer for The Bare Project, and an AHRC-funded doctoral researcher in philosophy and mental health at the University of Birmingham.

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