DIY: 2014 – Mel Brimfield and Gwyneth Herbert ‘Inside The Fun Palace’

An interdisciplinary interrogation of what it might mean to resurrect Joan Littlewood’s vision for truly participatory community work today. 

The deadline for this project has now passed.

Project Summary:
‘Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery or just listen to your favourite tune.  Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work.  Sit out over a space with a drink and tune into what’s happening elsewhere in the city.  Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.’  from Joan Littlewood’s original 1961 Fun Palace manifesto

In the wake of extreme funding cuts and the subsequent overwhelming emphasis on participatory and socially engaged practices in arts programming of variable quality and logic, how can the site be activated in a truly meaningful way for both practitioners and audiences? Is a vision of truly participatory community work that sacrifices nothing in the way of aesthetic or conceptual experimentation achievable?  Radical socialist director and visionary Joan Littlewood certainly thought so.  From the then crumbling ruin of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, her bloody-minded insistence on making theatre by and for the culturally excluded with her Theatre Workshop company exerted a seminal influence. By the early 1960s, despite widespread international recognition and numerous West End transfers, she withdrew from making traditional productions to instead devise an ambitious scheme to create a temporary arts complex in the East End of London; her unrealized ‘Fun Palace’ is the subject of this 4 day workshop. 

We invite artists, theatrical performers, musicians, and composers of all kinds to join us in an imaginative interdisciplinary interrogation of what it might mean to resurrect Joan’s ideologies today.  Collectively, we will construct a bank of fictional staged photographic ‘documentation’ of the best and worst ideas we can collectively envisage for a contemporary Fun Palace. Participants will pose for directed tableaux initially, going on to devise their own additional scenarios by assembling makeshift looks, props and sets around costumes from the National Theatre store. We will also write songs and music based on real and imagined Theatre Workshop productions, allowing the sonic palette and lyric content to be inspired by the building content.  Opening up our own devising methodologies to a workshop setting, we will form a temporary company with participants to actively make and do within a framework of serious critical discussion.

Dates, times and location(s):
29 July and 18-20 Aug, National Theatre Studio, London.

Appliction procedure:
To apply, answer the question ‘What would you put in the Fun Palace?’, tell us why the project might be relevant to your practice and send a CV, with any links that will help us understand what you do to Mel Brimfield cc'ing Aaron Wright.  Don’t send any big files!

Note: We would like to leave open the possibility that work made during the workshop might appear in our major Fun Palace themed film and performance commission (details not public yet). This is subject to the approval of participants.

Deadline, noon, Tuesday June 24th.

The artists
Mel Brimfield is an artist working at the intersection of live art, film, installation and theatre.  Working in ongoing creative partnerships with a diverse array of talented, highly respected performers, she has made work ranging from photographs, short films, and musical theatre productions to interdisciplinary cabarets and performance festivals spanning several days that simultaneously reveal and invent a rich history of cross-discipline collaboration.  Gwyneth Herbert is an award-winning composer / lyricist, strikingly original performer and versatile musical adventurer. Her critically acclaimed 6th album and cross-artform touring theatrical spectacle ‘The Sea Cabinet’ was launched in 2013, the culmination of an Aldebugh Music residency.  This year, her musical ‘The A-Z of Mrs P’, co-written with Diane Samuels opened at the Southwark Playhouse, directed by Sam Buntrock.

Mel Brimfield

This project is part of DIY 11: 2014 and is supported by National Theatre Studio.

Banner image credit:

Joan Littlewood (Theatre Royal Stratford East archive)

Part of DIY: 2014

Unusual professional development projects conceived and run BY artists FOR artists

DIY: 2014


Unusual professional development projects conceived and run BY artists FOR artists

Read more


DIY: 2018 – Ania Bas with Sally O’Reilly & Kit Caless: A New Career In A New Town


Explore the performative potential of co-produced text in the context of a new town

Read more

DIY 11 Documentation


A selection of text, video and image documentation from the DIY 11 projects

Read more