A project initiated by

‘Tottenham Originals’: creating new participatory performances

Francis Christeller, Partnerships & Development Manager at LIFT, shares how three place-based participatory performances were crafted for this year's festival.
Posted by Sian Williams

LIFT, the London International Festival of Theatre, was one of the arts organisations the Inquiry studied last year. Ahead of its 2018 festival, we asked LIFT to tell us more about its three ‘Tottenham Originals’ – pieces created by the community and artists together.

As we send our LIFT 2018 brochure off to print I’m reminded of the value of making things together. The process of finalising it has been a huge team effort, everyone pitching in around a shared vision and purpose. It’s a bit like the programme itself which is the product of intense collaboration and openness to risk and adventure. Central to this years festival are our three Tottenham Originals.

Since 2014 we’ve been hanging out in Tottenham with the intention to make visible the impact of LIFT’s participatory work on a community and on LIFT as an organisation.

Our approach has been to engage with local residents artistically, as co-creators and active audiences through involving the artists (both well-established and less so), teenagers, venues, music producers, schools, writers and activists who live and work locally and connecting them to sector leading international artists who have experience in social practice. These artists have been introduced to Tottenham, have been guided by people born and bred there, have had their eyes opened by its vibrant talent and stories and over time have developed projects in conjunction with those they’ve met.

As ‘outsiders’, we have had to develop trust and solid relationships locally. This has been important especially in the context of rampant development following the riots of 2011 and the loss of Tottenham’s beloved carnival. To develop our connections, LIFT has a Tottenham Board, a group of locals who passionately represent culture, local authority, schools, businesses and civic elements of the community who advise and help us navigate our ideas and connections. We have made some excellent friends along the way, finding new artistic collaborators and welcoming core team members whose careers had their foundation in the area.

Our experiences here have created a new LIFT motto; that ‘all roads lead to Tottenham’. Tottenham has become our first port of call when offering opportunities and seeking ideas. There are challenges, as newcomers to the neighbourhood we’re still learning and syncing into the Tottenham rhythm, and we’re enjoying seeing things through fresh eyes – the whole experience so far has been far richer than we could have first imagined and LIFT is definitely the better for it.

This June we will share some of the results of this collaboration as audiences witness our Tottenham Originals.

 Nightwalks With Teenagers

This performance sees 30 young people taking an audience on a rebellious walk on the wild side, showing off part of the city in a whole new light. It is being staged by the ‘UpLIFTers’ –  is an artistic collaboration between theatre makers Darren O’Donnell and Alice Fleming (Canada), LIFT and students of two Tottenham schools – Duke’s Aldridge Academy and The Vale School (the latter being for students with physical and learning disabilities).

This project is introducing the young students to the arts – enabling them to access London’s rich cultural offering and supporting and inspiring them to create their own participatory arts experiences with and for their local community. The ambition is that the UpLIFTers’ activity will strengthen and build this local community who, along with their schools, families and friends, will engage and support the students in their creative adventures.


Choreographer Dan Canham first came to Tottenham in March 2015, spending two weeks ‘hanging out,’ meeting interesting people and hearing their stories. He was inspired by the incredible energy and diversity of creative people in the area, particularly with Empire Sounds, North London’s Afrobeats powerhouse, and Steppaz, a local Performing Arts Academy.

Now, three years later, these collaborators are making the final adjustments to a new show. Celebrating music, community and dance, SESSION’s overall direction is by Dan, with choreography and music developed by the talent of local Tottenham artists. The whole thing is going to be the best party of the summer.

I was invited into and discovered a community. It’s shaken up my practice as an artist, bursting the bubble of the people I might normally engage with, and bought so many magic moments and authentic connections. 

-Dan Canham, Choreographer

Happily, this project has attracted co-commissioning support, so it will tour to Bristol, Bournemouth, back to London at the Southbank Centre and National Theatre before crossing the channel to France in 2019.

Small Wonders

Again, the young people from UpLIFTers have been key collaborators for this show. With Punchdrunk, they have developed the script for Small Wonders, drawing on their family stories, their hopes and ambitions for both themselves and the area. Playwright Nessah Muthy has threaded their stories into a tale of adventure and memories, set in the Tottenham flat of Nanny Lacey.

Small Wonders will later go on tour, sharing a local perspective on a national level.

Francis Christeller is the Partnerships & Development Manager at LIFT.

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