Meet all round superwoman Helen Graves she is on our Board of Trustees and one of our Promoters. We toast Helen on International Women’s Day!  We need more Helen’s, more people championing creativity in their villages, more ‘serendipitous connections’ !  We had a virtual chat to find out more about her:
What attracted you to work with Applause as a Promoter and on our board?

I first encountered Applause through seeing a Johnny Fluffypunk performance as part of the Battle Festival. The show was hilarious and touching in equal measure and the whole thing was just so approachable. Nothing threatening about it. Low key, communal and very relatable. I only knew one other person in the room but felt like I was with a big group of old friends.  I loved it. I kept the flyer thinking I’d love for more people to see it, you know, like when you’ve read a great book you want others to read it too?

The following year I took on organising the village Fringe Festival. Yes, village fringe. Every other year there is a very well-respected classical music festival in the Mayfield, the otherwise sleepy little village in East Sussex where I live. Since moving here about a decade ago there has also been a Fringe Festival in the years between. I’d always made a point of supporting it and enjoyed all the quirky, lower / mid / left brow things it had to offer… then, one year, tragedy was about to strike as the previous organisers all had too much on their collective plates to put the Fringe on and it was going to lapse. So I stepped in at the last minute… dug out the Johnny Fluffypunk flyer, got in touch with Applause Rural Touring, and booked a few performances through them as part of the programme of events.

I’ve got to say, and I know I am now biased, booking performances through Applause was much less painful than doing it directly. I had a number of events going on over the course of 10 days and the ease of just being given all the details of what would be needed up front took a whole heap of to-ing and fro-ing with admin details out of it.  Anyway, the performances went down a storm and were much enjoyed by all. One of the events involved groups of people taking part in an interactive art session where at the end each person had created their own, small painting, all of which were then displayed together at the Turner Contemporary in Margate and all the contributors, myself included, were invited to the opening preview.  A bunch of us met up to do that and had a lovely day by the sea to boot!

people sat on stool gathered around two artist in straw boaters

Eric McLennan – The Open Air Drawing Room

I got involved with Applause by approaching them directly. The contact I had had with them told me that I loved what they were about and our values were closely aligned. Weirdly before leaving London, (yes, I’m one of them), I had thought about finding a way to bring Southbank Centre quality independent performances to village halls and fetes, thinking that the arts would be the things I’d miss most about living in the city. (Actually it is getting home easily from a night out I miss most*) So to find that there was a network of organisations doing just that was brilliant. I couldn’t not get involved. By hook or by crook. Thankfully Applause were seeking Trustees and my experience as a promoter and background in psychology / community volunteering seemed to be a pretty good fit.

How have you stayed engaged in your community during lockdown?

I’m also a Trustee on a local community support charity in the village. As soon as Lockdown 1 started we had to nimbly re-purpose from putting on toddler groups and knitting sessions to providing mutual aid to all the isolating and shielders. It already feels like that was a different time. Hard to believe really. Back then shops were running out of supplies and supermarket delivery slots were hard to come by. Hard to imagine it. I managed to find a weekly delivery from a supplier that had previously supplied schools and hotels etc coming to my house, where I’d then split it into the smaller orders for the individuals and drive round the countryside dropping off groceries.

I also took my turn weekly with a day manning the phone line, something I’m still doing now even though the volume of calls has dropped right off we are still getting the odd request for a prescription pick up and delivery and the like. There are people still necessarily shielding and while most have now got a regular grocery delivery set up there are still errands that need running from time to time. Some of the activities we were running pre-pandemic have been able to move online, but not all. There is a definite need for face-to-face communication, but that is coupled with a fear and wariness about doing too much too soon. I considered putting on an outdoor performance in the summer last year, but in the end decided there were too many variables we weren’t sure of. I think it was the right call not to then, but I am feeling much more optimistic about the summer ahead. I think the vaccine brings reassurance.

Why do you feel performance is important for your community? What benefits does it offer people?

Soapbox time! I have had time to mull over the past year on community as a theme. What putting on local performances does is beneficial in many ways. It creates a shared space, a shared experience and a communal social infrastructure.

The performances themselves can be eye-opening and humanising and can serve to break down barriers. If a performer talks about their struggles coming out, or does a spoken word piece about toxic masculinity, other people can contemplate and relate – on a topic they might not have sought out ordinarily. Awareness is raised and empathy built, in a way that’s different from seeing an actor on film. These are REAL people.  Performances also allow individuals to be in the room together without having to talk if they don’t want to. A low pressure, non-transactional, way of interacting. Being in the room.  They give people a reason to gather. And when people gather serendipitous connections are made. This differs completely from traveling to the big smoke to see a show in anonymous isolation as there is a communality built into the localness of it; that sense of a social solidarity that comes from connection with where you live and with those around you. Rootedness.

There is also something about the fact that community-based shows don’t tend to be aimed at a particular demographic and are much more affordable – so they serve to bring people together, not further divide.

I could go on to talk about the damage that neoliberal capitalism, the profit imperative and austerity has done to our communities and how I see each local performance as a small act of revolution against the decline of civic life. (Discuss.) But I haven’t quite formulated my thoughts on that yet.  Watch this space.

(*Halcyon days!)