The Bakery of Slow Ideas - Interview with Derby Rises' Lead Artist Leo Kay (Part 1)

On Sunday 27 September, Derby Theatre will host its first event at the Theatre since March as part of the community project, Derby Rises. In this first part of a two part interview, lead artist Leo Kay introduces the artistic practice that will be used in Derby Rises - The Bakery of Slow Ideas.

As an artist/company who specialise in making live art and participatory performance, can you describe your ways and styles of working, ethos and approach to community projects like Derby Rises?

At the base of our company practice is a desire to blur lines of definition between artist, participant, professional, amateur, performer and audience. To create a context where people can celebrate their own relationship with the act of creativity while being held within a caring and boundary-applied environment.

My work has moved from performing physical theatre, through dance theatre, into the direction of spoken word and live art. At some point, it fell off the stage and into bedsits, warehouses, community halls, and people’s homes. It moved away from presentation, towards interaction: the possibility that if the artist (professional or non-professional) brings themselves to the table as wholly as possible, and creates a context for real communication, then the participant/audience can bring themselves to the table and new depths of interaction and insight can occur.

I and Anna Smith (co-founder, Designer and Producer for Unfinished Business) have consistently placed as much importance on working with non-professionals and semi-professionals as with professional artists.  I would say that whoever we work with, the work now occupies a space somewhere between a performance, a workshop and a ritual. Slowness, dialogue, deep listening and an attention to creating equity are focuses of our practice. How can we give up power to the group, how can we open the possibility for people to empower themselves within a workshop, a ritual or a performance context.

Derby Rises is based on my current artistic practice, The Bakery of Slow Ideas, which engages the act and metaphors within food fermentation with a specific focus on Sourdough Bread baking.  It asks us to slow down, to take time to reflect and take care, to avoid hurting ourselves, and all that surrounds us. I think of it as a political, and in some way, spiritual art practice. Slowness, care and the acknowledgement of a societal tendency towards hyper productivity, and the resulting damage and exhaustion, is at the heart of the practice.  

Derby Rises was born out of a conversation between myself and Sarah Brigham (CEO and Artistic Director, Derby Theatre). Whilst describing my current work, Sarah's eyes began to light up. I described a series of events which combine the popular, collective act of baking, combined with fun performance elements and ethical and inclusive dialogue; and she felt that it could be the perfect ritual to bring the city of Derby out of lockdown, offering various communities the opportunity to engage in creativity and take up space within the city at a time when people may have been experiencing further isolation and exclusion due to Covid-19. 

How did the concept/idea for The Bakery of Slow Ideas come about?

The Bakery Of Slow Ideas was born out of a period of research into slowing down, 'doing nothing' and ritual within personal empowerment and political resistance. I was thinking about the links between hyper-productivity, personal exhaustion and ecological burn out.

For most of my adult life, I have overworked and had digestive problems. I am wheat intolerant, which means that my body reacts badly to eating contemporary industrialised wheat, so in 2016 I started baking my own rye and spelt loaves. Then one day, as I was baking and thinking about these research ideas, it hit me: the ritual that allows me to digest, that allows me to slow down, and brings meaning, calm, rhythm and satisfaction to my life is this act of baking. Since then, I have held day-long baking and dialogue processes and associated workshops and installations in various communities across Europe and the UK. 

I think of The Bakery of Slow Ideas as a platform for slow consideration and the digestion of ideas. I think of it as an exploration of the art of hosting, which I believe to be an essential practice within our current climate of borders, nationalism, fear of the other and separatism. The practice aims to welcome, to invite people in and offer space to share, to reflect, to express themselves and to have fun. 

Which communities of Derby have you been working with on Derby Rises and how/in what ways?

We have collaborated with three of Derby Theatre Associate companies: Maison Foo, Not Too Tame and Milk Presents, creating workshops for the communities that they make for/work with.

These include creative individuals from the new arrival, refugee and asylum seeker communities, the LGBTQ+ community and those who identify as working class.

Members of these communities will attend bespoke workshops which have been planned specifically for each community group. Our collaborations with the associate companies means that we have been able to reach out to people within each specified community and establish a level of trust even before beginning the workshops.

Read Part 2 of Leo's Interview

In Part 2, Leo talks about the importance of community and co-creation in theatre.

Watch Derby Rises on Facebook Live

The Derby Rises Celebration Event will be livestreamed on Sunday 27 September.