Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Council of Community Conveyors, Fierce Festival

Review: The Council of Community Conveyors, Fierce Festival

“Hello. My name’s Matt and we’re from the Council of Community Conveyors.”

The what? The Council of Community Conveyors. Basically, we wear these fetching yellow sashes, hoping not to be taken for Lib Dems, and go door-to-door, clipboards in hand, passing messages on from one neighbour to the next. We’ve just been talking to Mohammed next door, who wants to apologise for the number of times his shuttlecock has flown over your fence this summer.

That’s when she – Hilary – cracks into an enormous hoot of laughter. All her suspicion and guardedness gives way in an instant. The personal mixes with the absurdity to banish all thoughts of the salespeople, pollsters and Jehovah’s Witnesses that have come before us. It’s stupid. It’s rather sweet. She wants her next-door neighbours to know that she hope’s they have a really good weekend.

Created by three Canadian artists – Eric Moschopedis, Mia Rushton and Sharon Stevens – the Council of Community Conveyors drops you into a local neighbourhood as door-to-door do-gooders. You go round in groups of threes, after a short induction that explains the rules – one-way only, stick to the script, don’t reveal that it’s art – and provides some tips. You might get rude messages. Pass them on. You might meet hostility. Distance yourself from other organisations, local councils and businesses. You will disorientate people. Be patient. One of you knocks and talks, another notes down details and, if there’s no-one home, the third leaves a note.

Of course, all this comes with the whiff of happy-clappy hipsterism, that peacenik smile of good will to all, that makes us sceptical Brits balk in unison. And of course, the thought of going door-to-door, dressed as dickheads, doing little twee good deeds and – ugh – actually talking to ordinary people on their own doorstep induces a pandemic of eye-rolling. I mean, the very idea that a single message passed from one neighbour to the next can kickstart a new era of community, one street at a time? PUH-LEASE.

And yet, it only takes a couple of houses, one or two responses like Hilary’s, to get into the swing of things and start taking it seriously, to start trying, to start investing in the task and, even, in the neighbourhood you’ve been parachuted into. At one level, council membership disarms your cynicism.

There are two sides to the piece: one, for those of us in sashes, and another, for those on the doorsteps. For the latter, it’s a surreal little intervention: an odd moment that might just stick in the memory and spark a conversation over a garden fence at a later date. Who knows, it might even do some long-lasting good. Unlikely, but not impossible. This isn’t community art; it’s not determined to change the world. It parachutes in, makes a scene, and disappears: a one-off that might just leave a lingering thought.

That’s to its detriment too, though; it’s half-hearted and trite, unfussed about whether it leaves any lasting impact. It has that hipster-esque tang of irony: the sense that this is, at least in part, a prank; that it hides its superiority behind its best Girl Scout smile.

Because we’re getting something out of this too: we get to be amused (and sometimes amazed) at the people that come to the door. That woman in her dressing gown, for instance; or that old man in his landscape apron. We get to have a snoop around people’s front gardens, jotting down little details about the way they live their lives. We’re using these people for our own entertainment: harmlessly – or at least, relatively harmlessly – but selfishly nonetheless. We’ve paid for the privilege of doing this. No-one’s consented to having their Saturday morning disrupted. Some are positively bemused and even uncomfortable about the intrusion. That was always going to be the case.

Still, it’s hardly a serious crime. And Council of Community Conveyors gives us, its participants, a few strong insights into community – especially its element of contagion. It’s infinitely easier to get a message if you’ve got one to give. Break the chain, with an absentee or a grump, and it’s hard to get it started again. It also gives you the experience of knocking on doors, making a bit of tit of your self and trusting in people to see the funny side or get the good-heartedness. You gain a newfound respect for anyone that does this out of principle, genuinely trying to convince people to share their politics or faith. Or just to buy 10 j-clothes for a quid.

4-5, 11-12 October, Fierce Festival. Book here.

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