Rachel Dunston: My own Utopia 2016, A Year of Imagination and Possibility

August 19, 2016 by

What happens when a group of strangers sing for the first time together as part of a scratch choir live in Somerset House? We’re Here: Singing Our Way to Utopia is going to find out in a bold and ambitious experiment.


I love singing, whether it’s on stage, in the shower, in the car, or anywhere that I can hum a tune, really. Musical theatre is my preferred song choice, having acted in many productions in theatre venues across Cardiff and beyond. But for me, the most interesting and exciting pieces have been in unexpected places where you wouldn’t usually experience live performances. So when the opportunity arose to be part of an installation in the Utopia 2016 exhibition at Somerset House, there was no way I was going to turn it down.

Utopia 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility is the largest celebration of Thomas More’s inspirational publication, Utopia. He was the first to give a name to the idea that by imagining a better world is possible, we are empowered to create it. This is a theory that has captured human imagination throughout history and helps provide hope in even the darkest of times.

As part of this exhibition, We’re Here: Singing Our Way to Utopia aims to present a fragile utopian moment by bringing a choir together for the first time for one day only. Each singer, including myself, has been set the challenge of learning the piece of music and harmonies alone, without any rehearsals with the rest of the choir beforehand. The first time I will sing with the others is on the day during our live performance, in public and hopefully, in perfect harmony.

While this may sound a little daunting to some, I can’t wait for the day to arrive; I’ve learnt my harmonies, memorised the lyrics and am eager to meet the other singers. 50 people have been personally chosen for this scratch choir to roughly represent UK’s demographic make-up as recorded in the 2011 census. We’ll be heading to London from cities including Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol and Cardiff, where I’ll be travelling from.

On the day, we’ll be singing a cappella and be performing the piece three times. The music has been created especially for this installation from a series of workshops that took place earlier in the year. Through development of the music and ideas, the final score was created and represents what it’s like to live in Britain’s cities today; including the things we love and the things that drive us mad!

To be part of this exciting live installation is a real pleasure. As an actor and arts marketer, I’ve performed in a wide variety of productions in theatre, television and radio, and have organised multiple live events, but this scratch choir is definitely a new experience for me. I’ve revelled in the challenge of the unknown and am eager to see the outcome of this experiment. Through performances like this, it encourages us to take risks and believe in a better tomorrow. All the little quirks along the line are what make us all human and unites us as a force to be reckoned with. We’re here, singing our way to Utopia.

You can catch We’re Here: Singing Our Way to Utopia at Somerset House on 27th August 2016.


*** We’re here: Singing our way to Utopia is part of Kings College’s Paths To Utopia, a collection of new art works resulting from collaborations between artists, performers, architects, technologists and King’s College London academics to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s inspirational book Utopia. ****


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