Monday, 26 August 2013

Birmingham Tours: walks considered as theatrical structures

I should mention an old friend of mine from University Ben Waddington who has become something of a guided tour specialist in Birmingham. I've just been reading his blog which offers both a description of the walks he has created and some reflection upon them. I'm not surprised to read that he has been working with Birmingham Rep theatre in spite of his formal distance from theatre considered as a stage show.

"Thinking of myself as a theatre practitioner doesn’t come naturally but a critical aspect of developing a guided walk calls for the journalistic ability to spot a story and then tell it convincingly. I feel there are vast unexplored vistas when using the guided tour format; a lost plateau between the Blue Badge data-delivery polished standard and the its-behind-you high camp of the ghost tour. Uncharted knowledge, opportunities for new dramatic approaches, content and audiences."

I would certainly agree with this and yet I do see signs of life and of innovation in the guided tour format. I observe that artists, musicians, theatre makers and writers are experimenting with the form as never before. B Tour Festival starts this week, Walking Artists Network is awash with tours and discussion, Mythogeography likewise, my inbox seems to be almost daily graced with news of new projects putting together the arts and walking in a new manner. What I am yet to see is this experimentation finding its way into the more conventional guided tours; it seems to me that blue badge guides are not focusing upon such things as deliberate unreliability, conflicting narratives, acoustics or ambiguity, but instead are trained to know a lot of facts about a location and its history. The two camps are basically trying to do different things for different constituencies. While it seems inevitable that guides will continue to be guides and artists will continue to be artists, I do think that the current wave of interest in the format of tours could provide an opportunity for guides and artists to learn something from one another. The guides have generally been doing it for longer than the artists and have a lot to pass on while the artists can inject considerable life into a rather stale format.

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