I don’t know if it was the offer of a free sherbert lemon from an usherette or the constant flashing of torches throughout the film, but, on a wet Wednesday in London, the experience of sights, sounds and colour of 1960s movie-going was convincingly brought to life by staff and students of De Montfort University, Leicester. In terms of attention to detail, it couldn’t have looked better. The Picturehouse in Piccadilly Circus, London, still exhorts the splendour of a classic cinema of yesteryear, so it was the ideal location for a group of DMU academics and drama students to take a venue back in time.
Filmgoers waiting in the Picturehouse Café/bar could be forgiven for thinking they’d slipped back to the swinging 60s, with Carnaby Street fashions being worn by our hip 20-somethings, cinema staff in authentic uniforms of the era led by an authoritarian manager in a black tuxedo, chain smoking cigarettes as he barked orders at his underlings. Crucially, no one in the cinema was warned of the events. Yet they reacted positively to the students and staff who diligently recreated the strongest memories of 60s cinema-goers over a four-hour period. From the public dressing downs of incompetent usherettes, the everyday sexism and racism of of a bygone era being brought to the fore, and the food and drink of the time being advertised and sold, it didn’t take much for the audience to fall into the idea of the whole thing and quickly get the idea that lost moments of the 1960s were being played out. The film on show, One Million Years BC, was not the easiest film to watch, the dialogue is mainly grunts with the scantily clad 60s icon Rachel Welch, it’s saving grace, and that just added to the atmosphere. The showreels at the start, the comings and goings of people throughout the film playing out people’s memories of the time, the usherette’s flashlights and offers of sherbert lemons and the interval for popcorn brought home how dramatically a night at the flicks has changed. The research led by Dr Matthew Jones, used the memories of more than 1,000 people, and neatly brought to life pages and pages of memories and data with creative theatre performance by DMU senior lecturers Drama, Kelly Jordan and Alissa Clarke. The project created an immersive public engagement in research activity. It was also a university cross-faculty collaboration with staff and students from DMU’s Technology and Arts, Design and Humanities schools working together to create a theatrical performance of the outputs of some outstanding research work. The most inspiring element was the potential Dr Jones’ idea for public engagement holds. What if we could apply such ideas for immersive theatre to medical breakthroughs or theatrical displays of social science findings? The results of 60s cinema research was brought to a wider audience in a fun and memorable way – with impact – and it’s not often new data is disseminated in such an easy-to-understand manner. Therefore I want to explore how this model might be adapted for future public engagement opportunities. Hear a podcast recorded at the event here: The podcast features first year DMU Drama Student Sophie Dolling, Senior lecturers in Drama Kelly Jordan and Alissa Clarke and Lecturer in Cinema and Television History, Dr Matthew Jones.
I hope you enjoyed the podcast, if you have any questions please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org