Claire Murray, Communications & Fundraising Director blogs about a weekend of fun
I've had an amazing weekend; my feet are aching, my head is swimming and I've almost lost my voice. I've been dancing, chatting, laughing and meeting hundreds of people I hadn't ever spoken to before. I know, you're thinking it sounds like I must have partied hard and why is she sharing this with me? Well, I wasn't partying, I was working, along with around 50 of my colleagues and volunteers at Sheffield Theatres. This was our second Fun Palace and let me tell you, when Sheffield does Fun, we really go for it!
For one weekend, we throw open our doors and fill every space in the Theatre and around us with activities, workshops and performances - countless ways for people to explore our work and, more importantly, their own creativity. This year there was barn dancing, swimming noodle hobby horse making, tight wire walking (from Greentop Circus), tonnes from the archive with quizzes to test your knowledge, singing, drama and dancing workshops, gingerbread dame decorating, Third Angel's Desire Paths on Tudor Square, building tours and extreme tours, Make a Corsage and Design a Costume workshops, sound and lighting drop ins, mural making with Art Boat, custard pie throwing, a snowflake hunt, mini snooker on the Crucible stage, a tin can alley and a scabs and scars drop in. As you can tell, there was plenty going on!
There are two things that make Fun Palaces special for me. First of all, it brings our team together in a unique way. Of course, we all work together to make shows and events happen throughout the year, but Fun Palaces brings all of us together, directly delivering the work. Our Head of HR was working the Tin Can Alley, the Buildings Manager was looking after mini-snooker, our Resident Assistant Director was ferrying people to workshops, the Events Manager was making hobby horses, our Artistic Director was blowing up balloons and we were all barn dancing at regular intervals... We create the weekend schedule together, we make the signs, build the gazebos, research the ingredients of the custard pie mix; there are no desks, no paperwork, no hierarchies. Together we create something brilliant for everyone to enjoy.
Which brings me on to the second thing: the people who come to experience our Fun Palace. Just under 3000 people came through our doors this year and it's a perfect mix of 'regulars' along with people who've never been to us before. I recognise some people - they come to the Theatre already, and this weekend gives them the chance to being their whole family with them to experience something together. Meanwhile, there are those who come through our doors for the first time, sometimes a little hesitant, and they come because it's buzzing, because there are children with balloons, riding home-made hobby horses all over Sheffield and because it all looks like fun.
One family came through the doors tentatively, I walked over schedule in hand, undeterred by their attempts to avoid eye contact. 'Welcome to Fun Palaces, can I tell you a bit about what's happening today?' They indulge me. I pause for breath, they ask: 'how much does it cost?' Nothing. They are surprised, and head off to find something to do and I next see them 3 hours later, swimming noodle hobby horse in hand, proudly wearing their sheriff badge (Annie Get Your Gun crafts), convincing scar on the arm of their 6-year-old, heading to a dance workshop. That's another great joy of the weekend - everyone can experience everything that's on offer, entirely for free.
For me, Fun Palaces is a concentrated shot of what theatre is all about. Highly entertaining, completely engaging, all embracing, fostering creativity and feeding curiosity.
If you came this year, I hope you enjoyed it (and please tell us more about your experience by completing our survey). We're committed to offering this kind of experience all through the year (though it can't always be on this scale!), so keep your eye on this site to find out what's happening next.
I had a blast. I hope you did too.