Fun Palaces: Creative pop-ups across the North West

Polly Checkland Harding
Photo of the Whirligig fun palace, with bunting and cut out geese

An idea originally intended to celebrate science and art finally comes to life, with a nitrous oxide drinks lab, a Royal Exchange costume fashion show and more.

The Fun Palaces project comes from an idea so innovative it’s taken half a century to become reality. In 1961, actress and theatre practitioner Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Pricecame came up with a vision for a “university of the streets.” The original concept was for a country-wide celebration of culture and science, through DIY and community led pop-ups. Littlewood’s motto was “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist,” and the brief was almost comic in its simplicity: “learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune.” Now, 100 years after Littlewood’s birth, the idea is finally being brought to life.

“Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune”

From 4-5 October, Fun Palaces will be popping up across the UK, overseas and online. The countries involved include France, Germany, Iceland, Canada, Austria and the USA. Here in the North West, events range from an “Inventor Shed” in Blackpool, to a “Play in a Day” in Preston, where you can contribute to a performance conceived, written and performed in a day. No acting experience required. Also in Preston is the Harris’ Arts Award Extravaganza, which includes Chinese painting, an underwater badge workshop, a music session and a free screening of The Little Mermaid. Because who doesn’t love Disney?

Manchester’s Royal Exchange has one of the most impressive line-ups, with an introduction to playwriting, lighting and sound talks, jewellery making and glass painting for adults, as well as cupcake decorating, drama games and a ghoulish scars and fake tattoo workshop from its costume department for the kids. There’s also a fashion show featuring the theatre’s most iconic costumes. The People’s History Museum is also involved, with a gallery trail and craft activities, while Salford Arts Theatre’s Fun Palace is family-focused, with stories and dressing-up among the options.

Finally, two Fun Palaces can be found in Liverpool. At the Everyman’s version, there’ll be a playwright in a lift, a laboratory bar serving nitrous oxide drinks and a music room dedicated to dance, singing and drumming. Young Everyman Playhouse will perform pop-up plays in secret locations – and there’s the chance to have a peek behind the scenes. Meanwhile, arts practice The Sound Agents are encouraging people to create their own Everyman at the St. James’ Community Centre, in collaboration with FACT. A lot going on, then – but this is a project that relies on the public for it to come off. So, get involved, kick start your own, or, as the great Joan Littlewood said, “just lie back and stare at the sky.” We have a feeling we know which will be more fun…

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