Event preview: Croydon Fun Palace, Saturday 4th – Sunday 5th October 2014


By - Friday 19th September, 2014

Croydon’s Fun Palace team explains the inspiration behind this laboratory of learning and play, and invites you to join in


An early vision of how a Fun Palace might look.
Image by Cedric Price fonds, Collection Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, used with permission.

On the weekend of October 4th and 5th, Croydon will host a free Fun Palace – a laboratory of learning and play, a place for experimenting and trying out new things in the arts, sciences and technology.

A large retail unit in the Whitgift Centre and the terrace below will provide a meeting point and act as a central hub for participatory activities. Explorer trails and pop up activities, designed to show how the local environment can inspire learning and creativity, will take place across central Croydon.

The inspiration for this volunteer led and run event is theatre producer/director Joan Littlewood (6th October 1914 – 20th September 2002), the most radical dramatic producer/director of the last century. Born illegitimate when this attracted stigma, Joan was raised in a working class family in Stockwell, south London, and came to the early realisation that she was an outsider. She remembers, aged fifteen, already contemptuous of conventional theatre, explaining her vision to a sympathetic teacher:

Space, light and shelter, a place that would change with the seasons, where all knowledge would be available and new discovery made clear. It was a place to play and learn and do what you will. I could not define it philosophically, but its purpose was very clear to me.

I already knew that creative work was the only solution to life’s problems. The inborn violence, murderous feelings, the hate and aggression which are part of us, even our petty feelings, can be transformed by creativity…

‘Everybody an artist, or a scientist…’ I stopped. She was laughing. ‘Why are you laughing?’

‘Because you pronounce the word “artist” the way a novice might say the word “Jesus”.’

Joan Littlewood, Joan’s Book (Methuen 1994)

On the centenary of her birth, we are hoping to realise Joan Littlewood’s vision

Joan formed an improvisation-based touring company dedicated to community and political theatre. It eventually settled at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1953, where her most famous shows, notably Oh, What a Lovely War!, were created.

Joan had an extensive circle of friends, among them the visionary architect Cedric Price (11th September 1934 – 10th August 2003). Together they created a vision of a place where everyone could be creative, and named it the ‘Fun Palace’, or ‘University of the Streets’. Sadly the project never reached fruition in Joan’s lifetime.

6th October 2014 is the 100th anniversary of Joan’s birth. Novelist/playwright Stella Duffy and theatre producer Sarah-Jane Rawlings have challenged the UK to devise fun palaces of all shapes and sizes (from scout huts to arts centres) to realise Joan’s vision of creativity for all on the weekend before her birthday.

The spirit of the Fun Palace will be joie de vivre

Individual residents and Croydon groups such as Club Soda, Code Club, Green Croydon and Turf Projects are joining forces and volunteering their time to create the Croydon Fun Palace.

The Fun Palace will consist of:

  • A ‘hub’ in the Whitgift Centre – an accessible space for participatory activity
  • More activities on the terrace below
  • Explorer trails, linking both indoor and outdoor activities with new perspectives on Croydon

If you are reading this before 4th October and would like to get involved, click here to get in touch. Volunteers will be catered for and fully briefed. Croydon Fun Palace also needs support from the business community, both in kind (foodstuffs, gardening supplies, fake turf…) and monetary support. Please take a look at the wish list on our website if you think you can help.

A last word, then, from Joan: “Good theatre draws the energies out of the place where it is and gives it back as joie de vivre”. That’s the spirit of the Croydon Fun Palace.

Come and join us on 4th-5th October!

The Croydon Fun Palace Team

The Croydon Fun Palace Team

The Croydon Fun Palace Team consists of a core group of Sarah Wickens, Katie Taylor, John Lawlor and Ryan Burwood in association with many different Croydon individuals and groups. Croydon Fun Palace takes place on 4th-5th October 2014 and you can meet the team here. We've chosen to represent ourselves with this photo by Stratfordeast of the inspiration for it all, Joan Littlewood herself, used here under Creative Commons licence.

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