Using a place as a starting point

The other day I went to see the wonderful devising company HIGHLY SPRUNG working with young people. They had been running what is called a Physical Theatre fellowship, where students worked from 2 days to 2 months on devising original theatre from a starting point. The piece that grabbed me the most, for its ingenuity, was the piece based on the place that the students were from. That place is Coventry.

You may not have heard of Coventry, in the centre of England, or if you have you may know it for its car factories and great Indian restaurants (we have a large Indian and Bangladeshi population) or you may have heard about Lady Godiva who rode through the streets of Coventry, in the nude, on the back of a white horse, spied on by Peeping Tom! Well, if you know Coventry, you may not know about its witches!!

Lady Godiva by John Collier

The physical theatre piece went back to the roots of the city, to explore where the name Coventry came from, why places in the city had certain names (street names, pubs, suburbs), and what had happened in the early days of trade and travel across central England. It was fascinating to discover that there were three covens of witches in Coventry, hence the name ‘Coven three’, which became ‘Coventry’.

The piece explored the stories of these witches and the events behind the names of pubs, such as ‘The Burnt Post’ – where witches were burnt, and ‘Gibbet Hill’, the place where there was a gibbet, which you may know as a gallows, from which to hang witches.

If you wanted to use Coventry as a starting point for your own work, here is some information about areas you may wish to research further:

If you plan on using a place as a starting point for performance then I suggest approaching it in the following order:

  1. Research the name of the place and its roots
  2. Look at names of streets and find out their relevance
  3. Look at the names of pubs and see how they link to the local history
  4. Find land marks in the place and see what stories arise
  5. Walk around the place and look at statues and paintings, research their relevance
  6. Visit the local gallery or museum and see what other history you can unearth

Once you have your research material you can start to play with ideas, themes, stories, your own ideas from the stories and also see links to your own lives – past and present.

Good luck, and enjoy finding out more about the places you visit and inhabit.

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