Get Jamming with Jim Jam Arts
JimJam Arts is founded and run by Sue Blakesley and Sadie Hurley. They spoke to Folkelife about its origins and how much the theatre, arts and performance group has achieved since 2011.
Sue: “We met at Uni, doing the Performing Arts course in Folkestone when Canterbury Christ Church University was based in The Glassworks, and we got on really well. Sadie went off travelling to South America and I went off to Australia and New Zealand, but when I came back I saw that Folkestone and Hythe District Council were putting tenders out for groups to run events in The Coastal Park. I rang Sadie and said ‘how about it?’ We put something in, and surprisingly, we got it!”
live theatre around folkestone
However, it’s not surprising when you look at all that Jim Jam Arts has produced. Their portfolio includes Alice In The Coastal Park – a series of Alice In Wonderland related performances at different areas of the park; Pirate Party in the Park – utilising the Ship Wreck activity area; and their many Around The World in Afternoon sessions over the years. They’ve put on Shakespeare, music and dance performances, Tai Chi demonstrations and circus events. These women have so much energy. A lot seems to stem from Sue having an idea, and calling Sadie wherever around the world she might happen to be at the time.
Bank of Happiness
Sue: “Yes, I do seem to ring Sadie when she’s out of the country. An idea springs to mind and I know she’ll understand what I mean. My background is in playwriting, and I wanted to do a project which we named ‘Word On The Street’. We invited people to playwriting workshops and it culminated in a performance at the Quarterhouse. We’ve run a Street Theatre Festival and then we were offered a residency in what is now Bounce Vintage clothing, at the bottom of The Old High Street.”
Sue: “We called it the Happiness Bank. It felt like what we were about in terms of reaching the community. We’re very conscious of the different areas of Folkestone and how some can feel cut off, or not included in the arts projects go on. It’s been our intention since the start of Jim Jam Arts to involve and include anyone and everyone. We see that with the audiences we have, that we cross those boundaries and we have regular local Folkestonians and those who’ve recently moved here too.”
folkestone’s living advent calendar
Jim Jam Arts are also responsible for the incredibly successful Folkestone Living Advent Calendar, and one of these evenings highlighted their inclusivity.
Sue: “One of our nights – the opera night in a small local restaurant – was testament to this. We had everyone; adults with learning disabilities, young children, homeless people and all sitting together around those who were eating their pizzas. It was a wonderful evening. Even the poor waitress trying to serve the pizzas got involved with the entertainment!”
Sadie: “In using the Coastal Park as a venue, we wanted to make theatre and performance accessible to everyone, and to use the whole park too. The amphitheatre is wonderful, but to be able to use the pirate ship for the treasure hunt and the treasure map, or the other play equipment means that we can be so fresh and versatile in what we produce. It reaches more people.”
Sue: “We did the Round The World Day and that was inclusive too. We found as many local people from different cultures as we could to perform music and much more.”
Points of view
Sue: “In 2021 Sadie had a baby so whilst she’s on maternity leave I’ve been fortunate to work with some other local creatives. Lucie Bowins is a local writer and she’s been working with me and Touchbase Care.
Lucie: “Touchbase Care is based on Tontine Street and works with adults and young people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, neurological and sensory impairments. They do loads of creative work; filming, poetry, ceramics, along with walking, yoga and other social and physical activities. I’ve worked with them on many different projects. This one is a creative journal project that will involve some visual art, performance and spoken word. We’ve been working in the centre but also online with people still shielding from the risk of Covid. Our funding came from Arts Council England and Creative Folkestone and it’s enabled our participants to speak about who they are, to say ‘this is who I am and this is who I will be’.”
Sue: “Not everyone is verbal, which is why the journaling is important. By using different forms of communication; through words, art, performance, many people can express themselves in the way that suits them best.”
Poetry and memoirs
Lucie: “The range of written work we’ve been doing reaches from poetry to long-form creative writing. Some of the pieces are memoirs, non-fiction pieces on a particular part of their lives. Others have written an acrostic poem, so it’s a wide range of work.”
Sue: “The next stage is to create the street art from this work. We’re setting up motion-sensor speakers in different parts of town. These will be triggered when you walk or move by and you will be able to hear excerpts from the lives of the participants we’ve been working with. One of the speakers is going to be on the Station at the Harbour Arm. It’s key that the locations reach people who would never hear from those who work at Touchbase Care. It’s about accessibility.”
Lucie: “One of our pieces is about mobility, so we’re hoping to have that in a lift in town somewhere. It means accessibility in town will cross over with accessibility to people’s different experiences of life. Another of our pieces, well, a few of them, are about food. Food is incredibly important to all our lives, and so this can help unite us, and will also bring a few emotions to the surface too.”
audio, visual, digital
Sue: “There will be audio exhibits but also visual and digital ones too. Rob Birch, a local digital artist has been working with the team to create different elements of the project. What we’re hoping is that areas of the town that might not be so accessible to our creators we’ve been working with at Touchbase Care will become more accessible and available to them as a result of this project. That would be wonderful to see. There’s a place at the end of The Old High Street where the curb is lowered for anyone on wheels to get across – be you in a wheelchair, or with a pram etc. Many delivery vans park in the road which makes it impossible to wheel around safely. Maybe people will become a little bit more aware of what it’s like for others. To be a little less selfish maybe.”
Lucie: “We’ve given everyone a journal and pen for them to take home and continue writing. A lot of them want to keep them safe at Touchbase, and write in them when they get in. It’s been like taking the cork out of the champagne bottle. They’ve started to write, and now they can’t stop. It’s wonderful to see!”
Jack, one of the participants (pictured) wanted to share what this project has meant to him: “”This project has enabled me to express myself in a way I didn’t think I had the confidence to.”
Sue: “Although the speakers will be up from 28th May to 3rd June 2022, there will be QR codes in the locations to access the readings. Other places you will find the readings are: Eleto Chocolate Cafe, Folkestone Museum, Waterstones, Chambers and of course, Touchbase Care. The readers perform their own work, it’s incredibly moving.”
Look out for many events around the town and coastal park from Jim Jam Arts across the year.