Features Essays Published 22 February 2011


Rajni Shah writes about putting together her new musical Glorious, the unknowns in completely re-imagining it for each locale, and how there is a more progressive instinct to be found in hard times, in opening-up rather than seeking to protect ourselves.
Rajni Shah

For the past five years or so, I’ve been working with collaborators Lucille Acevedo-Jones, Lucy Cash and Sheila Ghelani on creating a series of public interventions around the idea of gift as an opening to conversation. These interventions range from an impromptu meal in a shopping centre where passers-by provide the menu, to a market-stall that invites strangers to write and exchange letters. In the months leading up to each performance of Glorious we create and perform one of these public interventions, tailored to the area. In the first few months of this year, we’ve been in Nottingham’s Meadows area inviting passers-by to have a cup of tea and send a letter to a stranger, receiving a letter from someone else in the post a few days later. This has allowed us to meet people who wouldn’t respond to the usual call for volunteers – and we’ve then invited those who were interested to attend a workshop with us with a view to being in the show if they enjoyed it.

It’s a process that’s full of unknowns. We know the songs, but we don’t know how they’ll be interpreted by new musicians. We know how the show will look, but we don’t know what most of the performers will look like. We know what we think it’s about, but until we hear each person’s monologue we don’t know what the stories will be. We’re constantly letting go of what we thought the show might look like and reimagining it in response to the people we meet.

In so many ways, according to our usual way of measuring impact, Glorious is about the most inefficient project you could imagine – months and months of work building to one event in a theatre. It’s easy to feel foolish trying to justify taking on an ambitious artistic project like this during a recession – when art is often dismissed as frivolous and expendable. But in another economy, it’s perfectly logical. Glorious builds on an economy where we value each other as fellow beings, where we all might have a chance to make a difference, where the future lies open. And in this economy, it’s profit and not art that’s frivolous.

Glorious will be previewing on Sat 26th February at the Nottingham Arts Centre as part of Dance4’s nottdance Festival, and premiering at the Barbican in April as part of SPILL Festival of Performance. Glorious is a SPILL commission, and you can get involved with Glorious until Feb 26th here.


Rajni Shah is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine



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