Culture Clash: ‘Fortnight’

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During October, something beautiful came to Lancaster. Sadly, it wasn’t the kind of beauty found in Gerard Butler, or even in Hugh Jackman, but the less superficial kind. The kind I imagine you feel when your kid rides their bike for the first time or when you see an old couple holding hands, that warm fuzzy teaspoon of happy kind of beautiful.

This came in the form of the ‘Fortnight’ project, ran by the reputable Proto–Type Theatre Company, which offered participants a unique and innovative experience by challenging their perspectives on everyday life.

The team did this through setting a series of tasks and trials contacting participants via texts, emails and letters, which were more exciting than receiving a letter from Hogwarts and added a guaranteed boost to your popularity.

As well as an influx of correspondence, the project was something to get out of bed for, to break the mould of a mundane routine and experience something new. The idea of these happenings intended to fill your day with purpose, a sense of meaning and a ‘carpe diem’ attitude.

Towards the end of the experience those involved were later invited to a Saturday night soiree with like minded people to celebrate the happenings of the past weeks. Not only did this allow new friendships to form but enabled participants to ponder and bask in supposed serendipity.

Whilst working behind the scenes, (looking aloof in a library and mysterious in a museum) I was able to peek over the corner of my book and spy on those involved. Observing a man looking lost and a lady willing to help was like watching Jack Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity and much like the film, the gooey goodness and purity of intention melted my ice cold heart.

It was not only certain romances that were stirred but the bonding between a father and daughter as they embarked on a treasure hunt, excitedly searching for their next clue – together exploring the magical mystique of an adventure which was instilled by the ‘Fortnight’ team. It was these simple moments of happiness which was a main aim of the project as organisers stressed the importance of creating a catalyst to stir feelings and responses within people.

There was something about the innocence of the company’s intent that may have seemed sickly to some, but I guess I have a sweet tooth. Even if the project was only fleeting, a tiny happening in the grand scheme of things, it was seemingly pure and weirdly wonderful. Maybe this is a sugar coated view, but it offered an escape from monotony and a change of perspective and how lovely it was to view the world through rose – tinted glasses if only for a fortnight.

Stephanie Bell

So what was Fortnight exactly? To put it simply, it was a two week period where participants were encouraged to attend daily events and respond to the instructions (that came via text, post and e-mail) sent to them. To put it more complexly (read: how it was explained by the organisers) Fortnight was to ‘change the way you think about Lancaster’; it would make you ponder ‘about how experience creates meaning’ and the way different people move through life. But the most prominent pre-Fortnight promotional quote was that it would be ‘a series of fireworks’ for which I ‘had the matches’. So let’s take that analogy and run with it for a little bit, shall we?

Remember all of those dreary Bonfire nights of your youth? In hindsight they seem pretty great – sat around a blazing fire, spelling out your name in the air with sparklers, huge rockets spiralling up so high that you can imagine them crashing into the moon. But you tend to forget how much time you spent watching Tesco-value Roman candles whimper and fizzle in a damp corner of the garden whilst you shivered in the biting rain, your teeth stuck together with shitty bonfire toffee, your parents arguing in the background because the badly made Catherine wheel flew off the tree and almost burnt a hole in your brother’s face. Fortnight was a bit too much like one of these forgetful bonfire nights; even if there was a pretty fantastic rocket at the end, it was preceded by 13 days of dreary whistles, tiny pops and forgetful fizzles.

Admittedly, this wasn’t a total write off. The communications from Fortnight themselves were enjoyable distractions, and worked as little invitations to think creatively. The text messages in particular were often insightful and interesting, and it was the conversations that I had with the anonymous person on the phone – topics ranged from improvised artworks to cartography – that I’ll remember with any fondness for longer than another two weeks. But the e-mails were too much, arriving almost twice a day towards the end, and full of dense pseudo-philosophical babble and overwrought poetry that contributed little to the rest of what was going on.

The events often led to some interesting places – the Morecambe Winter Gardens, a beautiful old house in Lancaster’s suburbs – just as many were simply odd and incongruous, with the place where the event took place having nothing to do with the event itself. This was very probably to do with the fact that the events that had been planned had very little to do with Lancaster – Fortnight has been run before, earlier this year in Bristol, and as far as I can tell they used exactly the same events. What can events designed for Bristol have to tell us about Lancaster? And some beautiful places were missed out, too; to do a two week exploration of Lancaster’s best bits and not even stop by the Ashton Memorial or the Cathedral? Sacrilege!

And although the length was Fortnight’s unique selling point, is caused more problems than it solved. Are people really expected to get to every single event? What about people with kids? What about people with full time jobs? Lots of events took place in work hours, and the big events happened at weekends, when people might well have been away. People will inevitably miss things. And the more you miss, the more you feel isolated from the project and its aims, and the more confused you become about what is actually happening. At least the Saturday night send-off event, which took place in the beautiful surroundings of St. John’s church, was a great end to proceedings. It was nice to finally meet the volunteers who had put so much effort into running the project, as well as many of the other participants, who until now had been anonymous users of a shared Twitter feed.

But as various different slide-shows and images (maps, images of rubber ducks and ‘happy places’) showed the culmination of a Fortnight of work, it was difficult to really know what the point in it all was. If anything, it was in the light of this lovely final firework that the rest of the flaws were illuminated – that Fortnight was more a series of neat little ideas and cool tricks, linked by little more than the fact that they all took place in the same city at the same time. There was no central idea or core concept to think about, something that doomed Fortnight to failure from the very first day.

Joe Henthorn

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