My Reportage of Peterloo 2019: From The Crowd

Manchester Histories, in partnership with Manchester City Council, commissioned me to document From the Crowd in a series of Reportage of Peterloo 2019 illustrations. You can read more of my reportage work here. This Peterloo 2019 production is a musical theatre piece, co-produced with Walk The Plank and Brighter Sound and involving a large number of volunteers (Laurels). These volunteers then supported members of the public to deliver this impressive collaborative performance. In the words of the production’s Creative Director, Evie Manning (CommonWealth): ” From the crowd is a dialogue between 1819 and 2019. We’ll be remembering those that protested and lost their lives at Peterloo and those whose lives today are affected by different oppressions”

The event itself took place on Friday 16th August 2019, 200 years on from the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. I documented several aspects of the production in a series of narrated illustrations. These stages included: A creative meeting; A mass reading of the script when the volunteers were first introduced to the production; A rehearsal and a full cast rehearsal. I then attended all 3 productions of the performance on 16th August. This blog outlines the production of my reportage of Peterloo 2019.

documentary drawings process from the crowd liz ackerley

My reportage of Peterloo 2019 approaches

I use several different media and drawing approaches to document activities as they are happening live on location. These include a colour-first approach which is my preferred way of creating an energy and a vibrancy. Watercolour is first added to damp paper. I am aiming to create an impression of what is in front of me by acting intuitively. I then draw over using ink or watercolour pencil line work. As I go, I write important words to remember. I add the titles and other text later. All the drawings here were created at A4 on cold-press Not watercolour paper.

Creative Executive Meeting

This meeting on 27th June 2019 was my first introduction to the project team. As a reportage illustrator, you are very much the ‘fly on the wall’! I was tucked into the corner of a small room in this case!

Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley

The Mass read through

On 5th July 2019 I attended the Mass Read Through at Manchester Central. This was the first time that volunteers, the so-called Laurels, were provided with detailed information on the approach. They were invited to read through the draft script and given additional information on their role and the programme leading up to 16th August. The original Laurels of Peterloo were peaceful protestors that marched from Middleton to St Peter’s field and carried branches of laurel as a symbol of peace.

Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley

Rehearsals at Campfield Market Hall

On 7th August and 10th August 2019 I attended rehearsals at Upper Campfield Market Hall in Manchester. The scale of the space gave the opportunity for multiple smaller groups to be rehearsing. Therefore, my drawings aimed to reflect the mix of activities and their enactment within this special building.

Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley
Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley

Performances on 16th August 2019

On 16th August 2019 I attended all 3 amazing productions of From The Crowd at Manchester Central. The weather really wasn’t kind as you will see from the umbrella sketches below! This meant that to create sketches I needed cover. For the first two performances I stayed at the entranceway to Manchester Central under the canopy, shared with the impressive mix of musicians (Music composed by Robin Richards of Dutch Uncles). This gave excellent views out over the crowd. The names of the 18 that died during the Peterloo Massacre were read out at 13,30, exactly 200 years on.

Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley
Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley

The words reflected a number of important current day issues. (These included solo performances from Young identity members and others). The issues included Climate Change; Immigration and detention; Homelessness; equal rights and access.

Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley

As the weather finally started to ease in the early evening, I was able to get to another great vantage point. The third and final performance was drawn looking back at Manchester Central with amazing views of the performance and the surroundings.

Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley

In the powerful final words of From The Crowd: “Its the 16th August 1819; It’s the 16th August 2019. How will you treat us when we come to Manchester?”

Reportage Peterloo 2019 From The  Crowd Liz Ackerley

You can also check out my video of the drawings on my YouTube channel here Please feel free to subscribe too!

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