Reflections on taking part in creative and co-produced research Laundry Justice

I was appointed as a seedcorn Research Associate for the second stage of the Brigstow Project Laundry Justice. My role involved carrying out a literature search of grey and academic literature about circus, including circus as part of academic research. It also included the role of production assistant over two days workshop with a group of circus performers who had lived experience as van dwellers and the research team which included academics from Sociology, Fashion and a member of a van dwelling community organisation. My fellow Research Assistant was a PhD student in Theatre and her role was to assist in ideas for costumes and to create costumes on the day. My role was to create songs or music as part of the production which would be a response to the data created about laundry and van dwelling.

Creativity was integral throughout the workshop process as, for example, one of the research team used their artistic skills and sketching to capture ideas and representations of the scenery and costume envisioned by the circus performers. The roles of participants and researchers drew on their creative and performance skills as one of the research team was also a circus performer and I was also participating as both a research assistant and musician.

One of the strengths of this approach to research was the way that individual narratives fed into a shared performance and narrative. The creative method of circus performance led to engagement with the data presented and different ways of thinking about and different ways of sharing lived experience. The practicality of circus as of a method shaped the data selection and interpretation. The lived experience of the circus participants was crucial here as although the sampling or responses were not representative the collective lived experience transcended that of individuals. The sharing of lived experiences and narratives, illustrated the value of group commonalities. This was evident for example in the way that the stigmatisation felt by van dwellers in the data was included in the circus performances in innovative ways that would connect with audiences in terms of public engagement. For example the ‘sniff test’ that was utilized in one of the hoop scenes. The value of group research and the benefit of a group dynamic in response to data was confirmed by this experience. This research process was therefore characterized by co- production.

The circus performers and van dwellers voices were privileged within the workshops and the relatively loose facilitation skillfully allowed this to happen. The lived experience of the circus performers and the fact that they were also van dwellers was invaluable in terms of their interpretation of the data. The workshops were also facilitated by someone who was themselves as van dweller and this added to the ideas exchange and authenticity of the project. They could reflect on the stories told in the data, identify with them, and then identify narratives of their own. This produced new individualized and group data and co-produced narratives enhancing existing data.

This workshop based research process also highlighted the importance and value of flexibility in research. The outcomes of the workshops could not have been predicted and without the flexibility in the way the workshops were facilitated those outcomes could have been restricted. The circus performers were given the space and flexibility to negotiate the days content within a broad overall structure.

Another strength of this form of creative research was that it was a multi- sensory experience. The performances conveyed messages performatively and physically whilst also incorporating the use of music and sound. The use of costume and props also added another dimension to the performance and encouraged playful and meaningful responses to the data. For example with the use of a skirt constructed of laundry within a hoop routine, and the use of one of the performers to physically represent laundry in an acrobatic scene. I was able to contribute to this multi- sensory experience through the creation of music that was a response to the performances. This was the first time that I had written improvised music in response to research data. This form of research led to an emotional response in the performers, myself included, particularly in a scene representing bailiffs evicting van dwellers. The music that was improvised rose to a crescendo as did the emotions and the music, props, and physicality all added to this. This form of research practice fits well with research that aims to share narratives.

The workshops also illustrated how time is an elastic concept during the research process. At some moments during the two days it felt as though there would never be enough time, indeed that time was running out. However, during the workshops the aim of having a performance that could be videoed to be used as evidence to apply for further funding had been achieved. The unique performances that were created were insightful and meaningful,  clearly reflecting the themes of the data. The extraordinary capacity of creative research to be of value was confirmed by this experience.

Another important  aspect of this research process was the obvious enjoyment of the research participants and performers. The circus performers not only actively engaged with the data but clearly enjoyed doing so. They wanted to create work to share the themes of the research that resonated with their lived experience. Many of the performers commented on how they enjoyed the opportunity to create and devise work that was meaningful in ways beyond their usual performances.

This was a very rewarding project to have been a small part of. My hybrid role as a Research Assistant meant that my creative background as a musician was an asset and I could draw on my academic and creative skills. These were  enjoyable, thought provoking, creative and collaborative workshops. The creative group process enabled intersectional narratives to be created, and ensured that data fed into the practice and subsequent performance. The practice was shaped by the themes identified by the research team and in turn creative practice itself influenced the selection of themes.