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Award-winning theatre maker Caroline Horton tells us about the Musuem of Listening

Along with 39 other arts centres across the country, the Corn Exchange has taken part in Here and Now, a national and local celebration of culture within communities supported by Arts Council England and Future Arts Centres, to mark the National Lottery’s 25th birthday.

For this artist-led project, award-winning theatre maker Caroline Horton and filmmaker Rachel Bunce worked with students from Newbury College to present The Museum of Listening (The Work Edition), an exploration of work and careers. Originally conceived as a live performance combined with film and an installation, due to Covid-19 restrictions the project was adapted to be delivered online with a film created to share virtually.

Caroline explains the initial thinking behind the project and how she, Rachel, and students from Newbury College were still able to take part in Here and Now despite the barriers presented to them by COVID-19.

'Back in the winter of 2019, I met with the Corn Exchange Newbury about the Here and Now project. Back then – in that other universe – over coffees in the busy theatre foyer, we planned partnerships with a range of local organisations. We would bring together all sorts of people from different walks of life in and around Newbury to investigate ‘work’. I planned to work with Rachel Bunce – a film maker and long term collaborator - to make a series of films and an installation expressing the group’s feelings and ideas about the subject. We were curious about some big questions: what’s ambition? How has our ambition shifted? What jobs did we want as kids? How do the jobs people in our households do affect us? How do we relate to work stress? Who has access to which jobs? What does it mean to be without a job in our world?

I’d been pretty obsessed with the psychology of work for a few years – one of my favourite texts being David Frayne’s brilliant The Refusal of Work: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Work which unpicks the centrality of work, the dangers of overwork, the status of particular jobs, and asks who it’s all serving – who are we all serving.

Then Covid hit and the project – and all my and Rachel’s work - was postponed indefinitely, well, until we could get back into rooms together. It was such a fascinating time to be thinking about work when job security for so many people had vanished overnight. The urgency of some of the questions we’d been posing felt greater than ever. What happened to our anxiety levels, our self-esteem, our very identities when work was removed?

Rachel and I offered a scaled down, online version of the project and although many of our original partners such as the job centre, were too stretched to be able to take part, we were able to pick up with a small group of students from Newbury College. We negotiated the challenges of running practical workshops over Zoom in busy communal spaces as best we could and got to know the young people and the staff supporting them over a few weeks in November 2020 – a year on from our original meetings. The participants were amazing – despite all the change going on around them, the huge disruption to their education and the restrictions on their activities. Nearly all of them found space and time to create material for the piece.

Rachel and I were particularly grateful for the personal and thoughtful accounts people offered and – of course – for the moments of humour. Thank you for leaving in some bloopers, guys!

We’re so glad that even in this challenging and uncertain time we were able to collaborate with some inspiring young people on the project. We hope that work – and everything else in their lives – starts to feel less unsettled soon.'

Caroline Horton.

The Museum of Listening (The Work Edition) will be available to watch from Thursday 28 January until the end of February via the Corn Exchange website. You can find out more about Here and Now via, or on social media @HereandNow2020.