Fun Palaces are an ongoing campaign for cultural democracy. The idea for the Fun Palace came from theatre director / maker Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price, though it was never realised in their lifetimes. Almost 6 years ago Stella Duffy brought the Fun Palaces movement in to action for Joan’s centenary and now a small team work all year round to support the annual weekend of Fun Palace making which takes place in October. This year there were 432 Fun Palaces, most in the UK, but some overseas too. A few months ago I had the idea of having an LGBT+ Fun Palace. All Fun Palaces are quite queer in their nature and inclusive too. But the idea of one run by the LGBT+ community for everyone felt like a space I wanted to open. So we went for it! And what a journey it’s been!
A few weeks ago I had a day of going to meet our LGBT+ Fun Palace Makers – people who, when I said I wanted to make a Fun Palace, said that they wanted to bring a workshop or activity. I spent the day whizzing all over London, meeting for coffee in a whole load of different, lovely places, talking through their ideas with them: an LGBT+ poetry corner, a creative writing workshop on Queer Warriors, burlesque, discovering your inner queer hero – there was SO much to be excited about. At the end of the day, I skipped up on the pavement towards my house and realised I was buzzing. For the first time in ages I was properly buzzing. I’ll be really honest in admitting that I’ve felt quite low at points through this year, and I work from home a lot too, so often spend time alone. Building a Fun Palace has got me out of the house, meeting and working with new people – talking about ideas for new projects beyond the Fun Palace – I was feeling hugely alive, and in a selfish way, as the Fun Palace approached, if that was all it achieved for me, it was more than enough.
Of course on the day there were many moments of wonder and magic, there was paint everywhere, icing everywhere, costumes everywhere – things happening simultaneously in different parts of the building. We had queer biscuit making, East London’s LGBT+ Centre collecting people’s hopes for our community, Dungeons and Dragons, Drag King / Queen Puppets, storytelling for kids, costumes for people to try out a new look and all of the afore mentioned workshops. At times it got quieter as the rain kept people away, but as the final hour approached we had another wave of visitors.
At the final point in the afternoon, the building was a hive of activity: Poetry was happing in the foyer downstairs, a parent was deeply focussed on making a drag queen puppet for her toddler. In the theatre Ryan had about 10 people participating in a workshop on discovering your inner queer hero, and a load of us piled in to a dressing room to take part in 17 year old Isaac’s workshop titled ‘How to be an awesome LGBT+ activist, or an incredible ally.” It was a brilliant workshop, and in the space of about 45 minutes I learnt so much! He talked about power structures and how to recruit for your campaign (whatever it may be.) And the most powerful think I took away was this image.
Usually we try to recruit our active opponents for a campaign (think of all of the arguments / debates you’ve had on Twitter, where deep down you knew it wouldn’t change a thing). Where as if you try to recruit people who are currently neutral, you’re more likely to have success. It may seem obvious, but it blew my brain.
It was this that was a highlight for me. I work with children and young people ALL THE TIME. But it is so rare that I let them actively teach me. Of course I have moments where I clock that they’ve taught me something, or made me think about something differently, but never do I let them actively be the leader.
Something that I get scared of as I get older is becoming rigid in my thinking and my ways – of digging my heels in and refusing to change as the world does. You see this happening all the time – with things like the Brexit vote – most young people didn’t want it, yet the older generations voted for it. And once you’re my age or older, something I’ve come to realise is, that all of your choices should be about the next generation, because they will be spending a lot more time here that I am. So listening to them, and how they want to shape their world is important. As Stella pointed out to me yesterday – Joan always said ‘Ask the kids’, so that’s what I’m taking away. (And she also pointed out that asking the elders is good too – because knowing where we came from is as important.)
It was such a glowing, warm day full of loveliness. It was so nice to be in a queer space with LGBT+ people and allies and to feel held and welcome in that space. So a huge thank you to EVERYONE who played a part in making it happen.
Also read Stella’s blog on Fun Palaces. And Alice’s – who also wrote about our Fun Palace day. Want to make a Fun Palace next year? DO IT!