Middlesbrough Town Hall opened its doors in May 2018. The popular venue had undergone the biggest refurbishment in its 129-year history, restoring rarely seen elements of the Grade II listed building and giving new energy to a Town Hall for the 21st Century. As part of the re-opening, we wanted to demonstrate the new vision for the building – a flagship cultural venue for, by, and with the community.
Middlesbrough Council, Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund commissioned Southpaw Dance Company to create a bespoke piece of immersive theatre with a large community cast, the piece was called ERIMUS, taken from the Middlesbrough motto ‘We Shall be’.
The performance was tasked with highlighting the history of the building and led audiences into previously unknown areas, such as the cells and courtroom, culminating in a large-scale mass movement finale, a spectacular dance theatre piece with projection mapping and text derived from conversations with Middlesbrough residents and cast participants.
During the course of two months, workshops were held for community members to rehearse with a professional cast and create a brand new show. Over the rehearsal period, the community cast of 75 committed to over 100 hours of rehearsals in order to be ready for the performance. We worked with partners of grass roots organisations in Middlesbrough to ensure that the cast were representative of the diversity of the city. We ran a number of taster sessions in different areas of Middlesbrough to show community groups what taking part could mean for them prior to rehearsals – which saw a large uptake from within these groups. Southpaw Dance Company said ‘this is the first time we’ve worked with such a diverse cast, both in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender.’ 10% of our community cast were from newly arrived communities, 40% of our community cast were male.
Elements of the whole production involved members of the community, their stories, and why they loved Middlesbrough so much. Below are the comments from members of the community cast and the impact that taking part in Erimus had on their lives:
‘Enjoyed the first session last night and my ears propped up when Rob mentioned the dance with the boiler suits with a steel industry theme. Having spent 50 years in the blast furnace industry around the world I am very excited to see more.’
‘What a journey it’s been! I never thought I would ever learn to waltz, do a Scottish dance or even make it to the front page of the Gazette! I’m so privileged to have worked with such talented people, you’re all legends! I’ve always loved dancing, but this experience has helped me become even more passionate about dance. This has been by far the best experience of my life so far & I wish you all that best of luck for the future’
Here is a film that includes interviews with the community cast members: