I was in Southmead the other day, meeting local people and workers to talk about the possibility of acta starting a new afterschool theatre group for local children, and one of the women I met said ‘Oh acta, I heard all about that play you did here, all about the old days and the war’. It was a nice moment to think that the work we did in Southmead was still remembered, over 20 years on.
Starting from an enquiry from local community worker Polly Byas back in 1992, acta worked with a large group of local people to set up, fundraise for, create, devise and perform ‘Life Lines’ – a play about the history of Southmead that was aimed largely at countering the very negative attitude of the rest of Bristol towards the estate. It was wonderful how many people came forward to take part who had never dreamt of performing before, and how the play project caught the imagination of local people.
We talked to hundreds of local people and gathered stories, spent a long nine months in devising and writing and staged the play at the Greenway Centre in November/December 1994, with well over a hundred local people performing. The show sold out, with people not only from the estate, but from all over Bristol coming along to see what had been created. One of my favourite moments was hearing the daughter of one of our performers saying to her mum, ‘I’ve lived in Southmead all my life, but this is the first time I’ve been proud of it’. She had good cause – it was an amazing project, a great play, and a defining moment for acta.