Adam Hughes writes about his R&D Destination Bradford and how they adapted their plans during Covid-19
Destination Bradford was something me and Margot Przymierska had wanted to create for some time. I am of Polish and Ukrainian heritage and Margot was born in Poland and we were forever bemoaning the complete lack of Eastern European representation on our stages and screens (especially when you consider that Polish people are now the largest European minority in the UK and Poland is the second most-spoken language). When we saw that Bradford Producing Hub were looking for projects which celebrated Bradford , and knowing the city had such a strong Eastern European presence, we decided to do something about this under-representation ourselves and create a piece of work which celebrated a thriving community.
The ultimate plan for Destination Bradford is a series of monologues, performed to a live audience, inspired by the real-life stories of its Polish and Ukrainian residents. As both groups have such a strong history within Bradford, spanning well over 100 years, we wanted to ensure that the monologues encompassed a variety of different stories and that they authentically captured a group so vital to shaping the Bradford we know today.
Initially, we were going to speak to individuals in person at the Polish and Ukrainian Clubs, hold informal conversations and see if these sparked any potential ideas for the performed pieces. However, as the restrictions following the outbreak of Covid-19 continued to tighten and in-person interaction became an impossibility, we decided to conduct our research online and over the phone instead.
Following a call out via both Bradford Producing Hub’s social media and our own, we were contacted by a range of individuals either currently living in Bradford or former residents. Speaking to each of them was a complete eye opener. We chatted to such an eclectic range of people, from an 87-year-old great-grandmother whose earliest memory of Bradford was being unable to see anything due to the soot from the mills to a 24-year-old drama graduate who drove over with her family when Poland first joined the EU in 2004, to a former member of Bradford’s Ukrainian dance group who travelled the world and competed in countries such as Canada. We knew there was such a rich tapestry of stories in Bradford surrounding the Eastern European community but we didn’t fully appreciate just how unexpected and genuinely surprising some of these were.
We then planned to hold some workshops in which we would explore these stories and see how they could potentially take shape as pieces of theatre. However, the forever-changing Covid restrictions came into play once again. Undeterred, Margot was able to draw on her other creative skillset as Senior Creative Producer at The People Speak.
The People Speak is an arts collective that encourages people to talk to one another and creatively engaged in stimulating debate. They do this mainly via Talkaoke; a live-streamed, interactive talkshow. We used the Talkaoke format create a podcast, with all of those we had already spoken to as well as open it up to the wider public and anyone else who wanted to attend. The event was such a humbling experience for both Margot and myself. Not only were the people who we’d already contacted able to share their stories on a wider scale but we had people calling in from all over the globe, including someone who was raised by Ukrainian parents in Bradford and was now living in Canada where it was 4am! It was honestly just an incredible event and everyone in attendance reiterated how having these stories heard and shared felt like a long-time coming and something they wanted to see more of.
And whilst the Talkaoke truly was an unforgettable occasion, our aim was still to bring these stories to life as pieces of theatre. With that in mind, and as restrictions slowly ease, we are currently making plans to workshop the stories we have over the coming weeks and record a series of monologues with professional actors. These will be a mixture of Polish and Ukrainian stories, told in English, and we are hoping to engage the local Eastern European community as well as the wider city itself.
It goes without saying that none of our work so far would have been possible without the support of Bradford Producing Hub, Bradford Council as well as the individuals who all came forward and shared their personal stories with us.
Since embarking on the project, we have been able to come up to Bradford for a special Talkaoke session in Oastler Square, which was an eye-opening experience, helping us situate Destination Bradford in the contemporary context of the city. We have received funding from the Bradford City Council’s Bradford for Everyone – an initiative that promotes community cohesion within the city and empowers the citizens to take ownership of their neighbourhood. The event was also part of the Polish Heritage Days – an annual celebration of the Polish culture, history and contributions Poles have made and continue making to the UK.
Destination Bradford Talkaoke Podcast
Monologues and cast in order of appearance:
“Who do I support” written by Adam Hughes, performed by Reece Raymond.
“Her name was Anna” written by Adam Hughes, performed by Sarah Oldknow.
“The last dance?” written by Adam Hughes performed by Amy Balmforth.
“Aunt Wiesia” written and performed by Margot Przymierska.
“Kamil” written by Margot Przymierska, performed by Greg Przybyszewski and Margot Przymierska.