Past to Present
In 2012, artist Slain McGough Davey began creating arts events in Plymouth, under various guises. The first event in November 2012 was held at the Pipe Gallery on the Barbican, Plymouth, showcasing illustrations and photographs by Slain in response to the writing of Kenny Knight's book, 'Honicknowle Book of the Dead'.
In the first year, Slain created monthly art events at various people's houses around Plymouth. They showed art in all forms, including film, belly dance, pottery, visual art, prose and poetry. They were known as "Art Happenings", involving the local artists of Plymouth. They were very popular events and lots of fun. Slain also created pop-up art events in unused shops and roots based arts venues, such as Flameworks in Plymouth, and Maker Heights in Cornwall.
In September 2013, these events then evolved to become monthly spoken word events in local pubs around Plymouth, involving local writers, originally under the name of 'BlackBooks'. Black Books was the name of a British sitcom created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan (2000-2004) about an insanely run book shop, a show that Slain loves because the sense of humour is very chaotic, surreal, wacky and creative. Slain wanted to create an arts platform in the same vein, that marries literature and performance with fun and laughter.
Gradually people became drawn to helping and supporting WonderZoo at its various stages from 2012 to present (2021). These people include Gabi Marcellus-Temple, Mike Green, Nick Ingram, Dominic Marcellus-Temple, Mike Whittam, William Telford, Jackie Wacha, Pete Golding, Alan Butler, Donna Maughan, Jenny Eden, Caitlin Brawn, Chi Bennett, Claire Bower, Jonathan Spurling, Danny Blackaller, Samanta Norbury-Webster, Purdy Giles, Autumn Stevens and Jonathan Brooks.
Around 2014, BlackBooks branched off into two further platforms, PennyComeQuick (PCQ) Arts and The Word. Each platform was doing different things. BlackBooks was doing a mixture of spoken word, singer-songwriting and theatre, whereas The Word concentrated purely on poetry and prose. PCQ Arts was doing a mixture of all of these art forms. For the first couple of years, the platforms were quite chaotic.
"It took a while for it to all settle down and for us to know the direction we wanted to go in. I allowed that time for things to develop organically, rather than force it. These events were all funded by private donations", said Slain.
In 2014, Slain created an online magazine called WonderZoo, two issues only, which included visual art with written text. The word 'WonderZoo' came from an article from a 1920's German surrealist magazine.
"We wanted to create different events doing different things with their own names, but then we came up with the concept of the magazine called WonderZoo. Then for a few years we used the name "WonderZoo presents...The Word" or "WonderZoo presents... BlackBooks" and so forth. Then what happened was we became part of Plymouth Festival of Words in May 2017 when we sat on the steering group, and then we changed our branding to call ourselves 'WonderZoo'" - Slain McGough Davey.
From 2017 onwards, WonderZoo has continued without fail to produce monthly performance events, spearheaded by Slain. This includes 15 online monthly gigs from March 2020-May 2021 during the Covid19 pandemic.
Influences and Inspiration
Slain's artistic influences have been the Punk 'do-it-yourself' movement with its 'Bottom-up' non-hierarchical philosophy; the 1970's experimental art scene; the 1920's Berlin cabaret scene and the Free Festival scene.
Slain has been influenced by bands like The Levellers, Crass, Chumbawumba and Public Enemy to fight for civil rights, animal rights and the environment. He's also been influenced by writers like William Burroughs and artists like The Chapman Brothers, Vivienne Westwood, Poly Styrene, Louise Bourgeoise, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank He has been a life-long lover of arts and culture, with two first class art degrees, and a Masters in Art and Entrepreneurship.
All of these artistic influences and outlets have helped to form the philosophy, ethics, values and aesthetics of WonderZoo as an arts platform.
100 Homes Project
From 2014-2019, Slain was co-ordinator of the 100 Homes Project in Stonehouse, Plymouth, which was an oral history archiving project, recording the stories of 150 people and bringing the community together in creative ways. The project won two national awards with CAHG in 2019: Best Overall Project and Best Community Engagement. Slain has always had a deep interest in history and this project was a way for him to combine his passion for history, community and art.
WonderZoo successfully gained two consecutive years of Arts Council England funding in 2020 and 2021 to develop as an organisation and produce monthly gigs, workshops, and a bi-monthly book and film group.
WonderZoo has been involved in many festivals since 2017, including the Port Elliot Festival, the Festival of Words, Plymouth Art Weekender, Pride in Plymouth, the Union Street Party, Plymouth Respect Festival, Plymouth Fringe Festival, and PlymLit Festival. WonderZoo have also written and performed plays for the Barbican Theatre.
Since 2017 WonderZoo has taken part in the Plymouth Respect Festival with performances and being part of the steering group. During the 100 Homes Project, Slain researched local historical figures linked to Plymouth. In 2021, he was asked by the organisers of the Plymouth Respect Festival to theme the festival. He themed it around ten hidden historical figures of Plymouth, including Bill and Claude Miller, Cora Pearl, Jack Leslie, Jimmy Peters, Ann Wilkinson and Mary Seacole. These figures were highlighted and taught about in school workshops online.
In July 2019 WonderZoo organised an exchange with Brest in France, with performers coming to Plymouth and vice versa, called Twin Sounds Festival.
In 2021 Chi Bennett of WonderZoo hosted an online 5 hour event for International Women's Day, featuring performances and art by women from diverse backgrounds in the South West.
Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council (PDREC)
One of the organisations involved in creating the Respect Festival is PDREC. WonderZoo works closely with PDREC and is on their subcommittee, which was created to support the work of PDREC and its anti-racism activity. In 2020 WonderZoo produced 12 online monthly workshops for PDREC during the pandemic, aiming to give diverse communities a voice and a way to connect with others.
Nudge Community Builders
From 2019, WonderZoo has produced several unique performance events commissioned by Nudge Community Builders:
- 'Silent Protest' -2019
- 'Hearts and Houses' - 2019
- 'Peace for VJ Day' - 2020
- 'WonderQueue' - 2020
- Romeo and Juliet 2022
-The Snowman, with a twist 2022
WonderZoo created an outdoor gig of music and spoken word performances on Union Street, alongside Nudge's Manor Street Market event called 'Mellow Yellow' during Covid19 restrictions in August 2020. WonderZoo has had its own stage at Nudge's Union Street Party for last few years 2020, 2021 and 2023, as well as organising theatrical performances at the street party in 2018 and 2019.
Stronger North Stonehouse
In March-April 2021, WonderZoo was commissioned by the Stronger North Stonehouse project to produce 8 short films, set in North Stonehouse, featuring music, theatre, and spoken word performances from local artists.
In May 2021, WonderZoo created a four-day hybrid online and in-person pilot festival called Lost Time, under Covid restrictions, funded by Plymouth Octopus Project (POP). POP have funded WonderZoo to pay an independent researcher, Caitlin Brawn, to help develop the ideas and connections that will lead to a large-scale festival.
In September 2021 WonderZoo created a ticketed pilot event at Cawfee, Union Street, with performances from the three Laureates of Plymouth (Laura Horton and her play performed by comedian Suzy Bennett, Holly Peters and former poet laureate Thom Boulton) to a fully-booked audience. Funded by POP.
WonderZoo created our 2nd pilot festival in June 2022, funded by POP. This consisted of five days of in-person events at different venues around Stonehouse, Plymouth. This will be a stepping stone towards creating a large-scale Storyteller festival in the city, incorporating many art forms, collaborating with many local organisations and engaging diverse communities that will take place in 2023.
Adelaide Park Events
During the summer months of 2021 and 2022 WonderZoo have produced Six outdoor Fun Days in Adelaide Park, Stonehouse, funded by Mayflower 400 and Pop collaborating with various local organisations to produce events for the community, incorporating food, football, music and spoken word performances, market stalls, hip hop dance, and a magician. We are looking at making it happen again in 2023 next Summer......
We are moved into our first office on Union Street in March 2002 at The Plot supported by Nudge Community Builders, and have been staging events and workshops at Union Conner since the summer. This is a stepping stone on the road to getting our own arts space.
Celebrate Respect History Project
WonderZoo was awarded £56K from National Lottery Heritage Fund to run a history project archiving 20 years of the Plymouth Respect Festival, started in February 2022, to be completed in 2024.
Hidden Figures History Project
In 2023 WonderZoo was awarded £82K from National Lottery Heritage Fund to supervise a project that aims to highlight and celebrate the lives and achievements of People of Colour in the city of Plymouth. The project is led by Rachel Hawadi, and supported by Jackie Wacha and Chi Bennett. Slain McGough Davey is supporting and supervising.
"Our long term goal is to acquire our own space, where we can hold performance events and bring communities together" - Slain