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Soup and a Story: meeting the artists

Meeting the recently-commissioned artists who will be performing at Bere Regis during Inside Out Dorset. Accompanied by a specifically-designed soup, they will be telling their story that is influenced by Wild Woodbury and the wider Dorset AONB.

As part of this year’s Inside Out Dorset festival, Activate Performing Arts commissioned a series of food responses, inspired by and responding to Wild Woodbury – a Dorset Wildlife Trust site in Bere Regis that is also one of the locations for this year’s festival.

In an ambitious bid to tackle the climate crisis, Dorset Wildlife Trust acquired the 170 hectare space of land for a large-scale community rewilding project. The aim through rewilding and rewetting the site is to create a ‘wilder Dorset’ and to share this learning with others in the hopes of it being used for a positive model for future change during this ecologic crisis.

Soup and a Story is a commission for Inside Out Dorset where artists must create a soup recipe/idea in response to the rewilding site in Bere Regis, or the wider Dorset AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) that is accompanied by a contextual story/narrative/piece of spoken word. These stories and pieces of writing will be shared as part of the festival, where the audiences will be served the accompanying soup (prepared by on-site caterers) while watching the performances.

After a very competitive application process, four artists were commissioned to create their soup and a story – I had the pleasure of meeting them all for their first site visit on 16 August.

Accompanied by the festival’s co-Artistic Director, Bill Gee, the festival’s Outdoor Arts Producer, Dom Kippin and Assistant Producer, Fee Hudson Francis – we met the four artists on one of the few beautiful sun-settled evenings that we’ve had this year.

Ri Baroche, Mahtab Grimshaw, Tilly Ingram and Ray Wills are the four commissioned artists who are in the process of preparing their performance pieces in response to the site. This being their first meeting in-person, they exchanged their commission ideas and surprised each other with how individual and different each of them are. From one inspired by stinging nettles, the next tackling immigration and mental health, one exploring the gypsy history of the land and another following the translocation project of the white-tailed eagles in Poole.

After a short catch up and briefing, Bill Gee tells the artists that he’s got some good news: This Woven O is going to become the setting for Soup & a Story during the festival. Commissioned by Greenwich & Docklands International Festival in 2022, disabled artist Oliver MacDonald’s exquisite installation invites you to enter a magical circular sanctuary, woven entirely from willow. The piece is firstly moving to Wild Woodbury to house these stories during the Inside Out Dorset festival, but will also find its permanent residence on the land too.

Walking around the site and viewing the expansiveness of the land  proved useful for the artists in understanding the scale of the site in which their writing responds to. Leaning on a gate for several minutes, they are in silent contemplation while considering the possibilities about how Wild Woodbury should influence their pieces of writing.

Then we went to the pub.

Learning about each artist’s reasoning for choosing their subject matter became more and more interesting as time went on. Since they were awarded their commissions their initial ideas had developed substantially.

Ri Baroche is looking to tell the story of a misunderstood plant—the nettle. A performance consisting of theatre, music and drag, they are looking to embody this plant and all of the little things that people don’t know about it. ‘It’s a super plant.’ Ri clarifies.

‘You can stroke down the veins and you won’t get stung!’ Tilly Ingram chimes in. She’s tackling a story about the translocation project of the white-tailed eagles that have incredibly settled in Poole Harbour. Upon going on a boat trip in January, she found out about G463—an eagle that has become a bit famous as he’s only got one talon and no one knows why.. Looking at reframing the Dorset landscape, she’s wanting to adjust misconceptions about these animals. ‘With ownership, we become excited’ she says, in regards to the ideal viewpoint that Dorset residents would have about the local ecology and how we should all care for it. Her soup will be inspired by a Danish split pea soup as that’s the furthest distance that G463 has travelled during his adventures around Europe.

Mahatab Grimshaw describes herself as ‘a puppet maker and theatre director, but for the last few years I’ve been doing lots of animation – self-taught’. Her story is based on the first time she tried the meal when she was 15 or 16. ‘When I saw the call-out, I knew I had to make it’ she remarks. Mahtahb’s story explores migration, ADHD, post-natal depression, and the idea of where home can be ‘it’s all going in the pot. Everything that is going in the pot is sweet and sour, like my life really: sweet and sour’. Looking at potentially incorporating 2D puppets and things that we see every day (kitchen utensils etc), it’s clear she is very excited!

Then we come onto Ray: a poet and a storyteller. ‘I wanted to blend it all together, so I’m using some of my Dorset dialect which enriches it’. Ray’s commission is a story that flows from beginning to end, all in reference to Wild Woodbury and Bere Regis. Following the grand gypsy fair that was held on Woodbury Hill in the 17th Century, Ray is serving a watercress soup due to the history of the plant in Bere Regis and its constant presence through his writing’s narrative.

Four artists exploring their practice in order to create new work in response to the beautiful landscape in Bere Regis for Inside Out Dorset festival. Watch their performances at Wild Woodbury for free:

Wednesday 20 September, 12pm, 1.30pm, 3pm: Mahtab Grimshaw

Thursday 21 September, 12pm, 1.30pm, 3pm: Tilly Ingram

Friday 22 September, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm: Ri Baroche

Friday 22 September, 12.30pm, 2.30pm: Ray Wills

Saturday 23 September, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm: Mahtab Grimshaw

Saturday 23 September, 12.30pm, 2.30pm, 4.30pm: Tilly Ingram

Sunday 24 September, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm: Ray Wills

Sunday 24 September, 12.30pm, 2.30pm, 4.30pm: Ri Baroche

Soup & a Story is a set of four new commissions from Inside Out Dorset, with the kind support of Dorset AONB, Dorset Food & Drink and Walk the Plank. Each commission is for a new soup recipe and story responding to Wild Woodbury.

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