Glasgow-based Ankur Productions celebrate The Olympics of the Everyday
The new show celebrates those boring, mundane achievements of everyday life
As the eyes of the world are fixed upon the London Olympics and the superhuman exploits of Usain Bolt and his colleagues, Scotland’s leading black, Asian and minority ethnic arts company, Ankur Productions, will be celebrating The Olympics of the Everyday. For four days the company’s culturally diverse cast of Glaswegian youngsters will mingle with the users of Bellahouston Leisure Centre, on the southside of Glasgow, as they create a large-scale, tongue-in-cheek alternative Olympics, which awards the little successes people achieve every day of their lives.
‘I wanted to celebrate the boring, mundane achievements of everyday life,’ explains Ankur’s artistic director, Shabina Aslam. ‘For a lot of people, everyday life is really difficult. We deserve a medal just to get through it; as well, of course, as celebrating sporting achievements such as running 100 metres in under 10 seconds.
‘The rest of us struggle with mortgages; getting out of bed; having to brush your teeth; looking after the kids or going shopping,’ she continues. ‘It requires the same attributes that sport requires: stamina; endurance; mental agility. No one ever gives us a medal for that, so I thought I would create a satirical comedy celebrating those achievements as if they were Olympic-type events.’
The result is a show in which an audience of 50 people will be divided into five groups of 10 and taken, in promenade, on different routes around the leisure centre. As the audience moves from room to room they will find themselves in a series of vaguely ridiculous, and hopefully humorous situations where everyday life and sport collide.
‘When the audience enters the spin room – where people use exercise bikes – the space turns into an airplane, which is powered by the pedalling,’ the director explains. ‘In the sauna area the audience will hear a prayer for the Everyday Olympian.
‘In each space of the leisure centre we’ve tried to work with the meanings suggested by its day-to-day use, and we’ve incorporated both visual arts and the young peoples’ storytelling ideas. We’re responding both to our own theme, the Olympics of the everyday, and what each space is used for.’
If the rooms have a surreal quality, the characters in those rooms are even more absurd, almost as if they had walked in from a Monty Python sketch. ‘One of our young performers dresses as a fisherman and plays badminton with a fish,’ says Aslam. ‘We have housewives doing the ironing while wearing boxing gloves.’ One young performer, 16-year-old Connor (a member of Glasgow youth theatre company Ignite), says it is ‘great fun’ being part of the show; not least because he performs the role of ‘a postman who plays cricket’.
For Aslam, the key to creating quality theatre with young people is to have an excellent creative team. ‘We have a group of world-class artists supporting the production,’ the director comments. She is referring to an impressive group of creatives, which includes musician and sound designer Daniel Padden of The One Ensemble, acclaimed theatre designers Kai Fischer and Ricardo Pardo, and playwright Jodie Marshall.
Also part of the team, in a number of roles, is acclaimed Scottish beatboxer Bigg Taj. ‘I worked with Ankur before, so I knew this was going to be a big, successful project’, he says.
In addition to performing as a beatboxer, Taj is also a youth worker. Ankur asked him to assist in recruiting the young people who will perform the piece, as well as helping to create the show and performing in it himself.
He was delighted to embrace this series of roles. ‘I was happy to be working with the team again’, he tells me, ‘and taking part in the performance, helping recruit the young people and running workshops to develop the script and the characters. All of these things attracted me to join the project.’
In the show itself, Taj will perform as a sort of compere, introducing elements of the production and playing a supporting role to some of the young performers. For example, at one point in the show he will beatbox in accompaniment to young singers, rappers and musicians.
‘We’re just going to be hosting it,’ he says of himself and his fellow compere, ‘but it’s the young people who are going to be holding the whole thing together. It’s a very diverse show. There’s dance and music; there’s funny parts and serious parts. The young people are very much to the fore.’
For director Aslam, 'The Olympics of the Everyday' is a perfect expression of Ankur’s artistic outlook. ‘It’s cross-generational in the sense that we have a collaboration between an adult creative team and the young people who are performing,’ she says. ‘However, many elements are from the youth culture of the young people themselves, reflecting their experiences here in Scotland. They are also migratory experiences. Ankur is about bringing together culturally diverse communities, and we have a range of young people from different cultural backgrounds in the project.
‘We’re mixing people from different communities, whether they like it or not’, she adds, with a laugh, ‘because the usual gym users will be there during the performances.’
The Olympics of the Everyday is at Bellahouston Leisure Centre, Glasgow, Thu 9-Sun 12 Aug, £2.50, 0141 276 0767. For further information, ankurproductions.org.uk