THE HELPFUL NUMBER THREE Director’s Blog 6.3.19

Ruth Katra interviewing a member of the public Credit: Robert Eke

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given recently was by our project manager on the matter of the to-do list.   My usual messes of A4 scrap have been getting ever more scrawled with random thoughts and rushed reminders. 

The project feels huge right now – the more we do right, the more work there is to do – and do right. There is a time pressure and an expectation. There’s a lot of plates spinning and a lot of bounce between them.  I love a to-do list but sometimes they can be a bit too much ‘do’ and just not enough ‘think’. 

So, the advice goes like this: 

Write a to-do list with three things on it, and just do them.  Then, when you’re done, do it again.  

This works on so many levels.  Above everything, it’s practical. In the last two days I have definitely achieved more.  There’s something about the number three that helps us to make connections and remember things. It’s easy to digest and triangle strong. Everything relates to everything else. It makes good for chunking down and moving on. 

I realise I often structure things in 3’s anyway: three research areas, three city stages, the three R’s of the project phases of this endlessly fascinating model we are exploring: Research, Respond, Realise. 

Right now we are just starting to move from ‘research’ to ‘response’, starting with a public project launch in two weeks’ time. This we hope, will bring another layer of participation as we seek around 60 people to make up the cast, crew and the choir that will sing some of the songs we have to begun create together.   

There is so much to say about this– but it’s a blog – I ought to be short and just give a flavour. So, in keeping with the advice, here’s three things I’m reflecting on.  

The first is our final research gathering – a shared lunch on Sunday where everyone gave an account of what they had working on. Here we discovered the breadth and depth of interest we are capable of:   the psychology of the 60’s march to the car; the nailed hands of medieval coin-shavers; the industrial need for urine in the 17thcentury; ; the early socialism of the radical weavers; the first-hand account of a recent suspected arson under the flyover.  In recounting these stories to one another there is a deepening somehow, and maybe this is the ground that this part of our ‘model’ seeks. With an appreciation of collective effort a large group can create a rich manure of thought and grow response from it.   We can start to find and thread themes that lead us to the now and to Anglia Square, where, before any human, there flowed a stream on the same diagonal as people walk across it now. 

Even without the creative workshops and singing soon to be on offer, a response has begun. It isn’t just the professionals’ to do list that grows. A week or so ago we put a little fear into our researchers about the launch event. It wasn’t intentional – with busy lives we only want them to do what they can and are willing to do. There was however a real sense of ownership over their material and a need to do it some justice in front of our audience in two weeks’ time.  People are now busy being creative – planning displays, sharing lists and sourcing things – large boards, map pins, A1 tracing paper, three overhead projectors. (Three? Really?!)

Secondly then, more of an affirmation than a lesson: that people are the connectors and the resource. In working to task rather than simple activity we spur ourselves on to achieve good things and share positively. 

It bodes well for the possibilities of creativity in our future publications, our website, and the spaces we are making for magic between the last two of our city stages, much of which I hope will come from this research group [more on this down the line].

Finally, a third more practical thing; a bit of a tip for those doing street research with a microphone. 

The Vox Pop work started on Saturday. Six of us with four voice recorders set up the project pop-up in the middle of the Square and set about catching the eye, and the opinions, of passers-by.  We had one question “What do you think about Anglia Square?”.  

My personal was terrible. I seemed to be able to make people turn on a 90 with a single glance. Isaac, who is as tall as me but not half as ugly, got marginally more success – but the day belonged to Ruth and Hugh.  From them we learned unequivocally that the best way to move towards a victim, is to angle towards them with a soft smile. I now call this technique “the visible veer”.  You’re welcome.

It’s not my style however. Probably best to leave this kind of work to those who have a trustable face. I’m more suited to the punk song that Isaac created that night with these snippets of public opinion.    Once more an example of research to response, and again spurred by the talking and telling and making connections. 

“Dated and Dirty!”may soon find a stage, or a choir near you. Can’t all be the threes though. It’s in Four-four time….


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