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The Write to Rave at Liberty UK Festival in Corby

Liberty UK Festival celebrated freedom and democracy on 19 February 2022 in Corby with an exciting programme exploring everyday activism and our collective power to make change.

After performing at Liberty UK Festival in Halton in September 2021, The Write to Rave was back in Corby in February, where the immersive live performance by Debris Stevenson could be experienced at The Core at Corby Cube, exploring the political power of rave. This version of The Write to Rave was commissioned by Art Reach for the Liberty EU Programme at Liberty UK Festival, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

Before the festival in Corby, we talked to Debris Stevenson about her intriguing project:

What is the inspiration behind this project?

A number of things, really. It is part of this bigger exploration of The Write to Rave, which is about raving as radicalism – about the political power of party, what it means to be free in your body, particularly when your body is policed in some way. Like for me being a woman, being queer and being raised in a conservative, religious household and what it meant for me to go into carnivals, prides, party spaces and these kinds of pilgrimages. You have parties all over the world, whether it’s Burning Man or Pride or carnival – people would travel from all over to go there and be free to move in their bodies the way a child or a toddler will move when you turn on some music.

Liberty UK felt like a perfect fit to explore some of this, this idea of what it is to feel liberty, to own your own liberty, to own that freedom – and it was a real pleasure to go to Halton and work with GLOW. I’ve worked with groups of young people all over the world for the 12 years of my career and even prior to that, to be honest. They are just a really special group – to have such a mix of really committed young people unpacking very complex issues around identity that most adults would not have the vocabulary to explore. It was a real privilege, it is an amazing space, everyone running it is so committed and I actually wrote lots of really cool stuff there.

How do you approach the material, the artistic process and the R&D aspect of the performance – especially with young people?

This version that we are doing is growing with every show we do within Liberty UK, which has been really nice. Something I have been spending a bit of time on prior to the show in Corby is going through all the writing I did. I gave them lots of writing exercises but I was writing as well alongside them and feeding in things they were saying and things that they were exploring into my own writing. So I’ve re-ordered it, I’ve written a new song inspired by them but also created little poems that fit in between as little interludes. That is really inspired by the group and the writing that I did with them – and that has been really nice, integrating it in that way and I’m sure it will grow even more by the time we get to Leicester. The Write to Rave is a world, an ideology as opposed to one set show and Liberty UK has enabled me to explore that concept, this idea of raving as radicalism in a different context, with a different group of people.

Why is the involvement of young people important to the project?

I’ve worked with young people my whole career, but what a crazy time it is to be a young person now! It’s a crazy time to be anyone but I can’t imagine what it is for some of your pivotal formative years to expand through Brexit, through a pandemic. For GLOW specifically, as the young people are also navigating identity groupings that aren’t seen as mainstream and maybe they aren’t readily given the vocabulary to unpack that, to be doing that all at once is a lot – to find liberty at and freedom within that. So it has been really insightful for me to be exploring that with them – it has really refreshed the content and added a different experience. It is really interesting to get that sort of 2022 perspective from a young person of what that could mean or does mean or maybe even the conflicts that exist within that. It has been really really fun.

How do you hope that the local communities will engage with the work? How do you hope it will spark conversations among them?

Being a performer in front of live people, you can do the same content and it will be different every time – and I’ve not performed in Corby before, I’ve not been to Corby before. So it is an opportunity to see how the content resonates, to see what liberty means to that audience, to see how it lands – I always love the liveness of performing, so for me I’m bringing that content in and I’m saying what do you want to do, what do you need to do, is it going to be a party, is it going to be chilled… I’m very into reading the room and seeing what comes.

How is the project evolving over time? As it’s been with you over a couple of years, how do you feel it evolved and has it inspired you to develop new ideas as an artist?

We started the development of The Write to Rave in November 2019, so just really as the pandemic started being spoken about or just prior. That has been really strange, we had to park the whole concept for 18 months, so we came back to it last summer to understand the value of what it means to be free in your body, to be free in proximity to others, the power of touch, the power of encounters with strangers, so many things that were literally made illegal, so it really was confrontational for me in that sense. Also, it is this thing that has been a huge part of my life, I’m writing this show because I’ve been raving on my own all over the world since I was 18 and I hadn’t been able to do it for a long time, so it really brought back the poignancy of it.

What are you working on next?

Lots of things, I got quite a few awards and bursaries recently specifically focusing on developing my ideas and getting some writing time, growing some new ideas. There is a play that has been commissioned by HighTide that I’m developing at the moment, which has been really nice. I’m quite a lot on TV, so I acted in a film, a BFI/BBC collaboration that should be out at some point this year; I’m developing several TV shows; a concept with my brother, who is a wealth and equality economist. And I also just got a DYCP – a Developing Your Creative Practice – grant to learn to make music and DJing. So there are lots of things going on at the moment, lots of ideas popping in the way.

Find out more about Debris’ work on her website.

The R&D of The Write to Rave is supported by Arts Council England, Hackney Empire, Warwick Arts Centre, Curve Theatre, Serious, ARC Stockton, Wonder Fools, Bernie Grant Centre, Dance4, Liberty UK and the Traverse.

Image Credit Jessie Morgan Photography.