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Dr Tony Lidington and Howard Gayton on Teignmouth seafront

Traditional artforms take to the stage for social science festival

Traditional forms of entertainment from the 19th and early 20th century are set to make a comeback for modern audiences this autumn with two public engagement events as part of a national festival.

Magic lanterns, camera obscura, puppetry and seaside flea circuses captured the imaginations of millions in their heyday – and they will each engage members of the public at this year’s ESRC Festival of Social Science.

The visual creativity of the magic lantern and camera obscura will be brought to life in a special workshop that will enable invited members of the public to create artwork using historic magic lantern slides of Exeter.

And the work of a team that has been revitalising seaside culture and heritage will be the focus of a day of al fresco performance on Teignmouth Promenade.

Both events are being supported by leading academics at the University of Exeter and showcase their research and collaborative approach in the Devon community.

Dr Tony Lidington, Lecturer in Drama, and author of Don’t Forget the Pierrots, will be leading the first, on 22 October, named The Future of Seaside Entertainment.

Dr Lidington has been working with local and professional artists through the Promenade Promotions programme, creating opportunities for trainees to explore the history, heritage, legacy, sustainability, and future of popular entertainment forms such as flea circuses.

“This event is a celebration of the impact that our research and performance has had upon the regeneration and reanimation of a small seaside resort,” said Dr Lidington. “We have engaged with thousands of people over the course of the summer and demonstrated that it is possible to make a living through seaside entertainment and make a meaningful contribution to our intangible cultural heritage.”

The programme will include Punch and Judy shows, a flea circus, puppetry, sideshow activities, games and tricks. One of the seafront sentry boxes will also contain a peep show – consisting of pictures of Teignmouth over the years, from the 19th century through to Muse’s ‘homecoming’ performances in 2009. It will take place near the lighthouse on Teignmouth Promenade, shifting to Teignmouth Heritage Museum if there is bad weather.

The second event is scheduled for 5 November, and is part of a collaboration involving Professor John Plunkett – a renowned expert on Victorian popular shows – the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter, and the city-based arts organisation, Positive Lights.

The day-long workshop, hosted by Positive Lights, will involve participants working with magic lanterns and camera obscura to create a series of experimental large and small-scale prints that depict modern or historic Exeter.

“Magic lanterns were an important and influential form of visual entertainment in Victorian society and offered many families a window into a world they would be unlikely to ever visit,” said Professor Plunkett. “Our hope is that through these workshops, we will be able to take lantern images outside the museum and put them into the hands of a contemporary audience and use them to create something new for the city.” 

For more details on the above and other events in the region, please visit the Festival of Science webpage.

Date: 17 October 2022

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