How to Buy a Woodland (Albany Theatre)

On the 9th October 2007, London based art collective ‘The People Speak‘ conducted a radical experiment in live entertainment. ‘Who Wants to Be?’ mixed democratic decision-making, interactive animation and improvisation into a dangerously spontaneous game show.


Using a computer vision voting system designed for use by hoards of rowdy people, the audience at the Albany Theatre in Deptford decided that what they really wanted to do, after all was buy a piece of woodland together!

dsc_0005.JPGAn excited crowd gathered at the Albany Theatre, where they were wowed by the whirling crystal ball of money, which sat, enticingly at the front of the auditorium. By the end of the first 45 minutes, the audience had decided to use the £1000 to buy something that could be shared by everyone who had put their money in the hat.


voting audience

The second half was spent coming up with ideas for what that could be. The suggestion that we should buy and share an animal turned into a real controversy, with some saying it would be cruel to keep moving any animal – ‘even a goldfish’ between 100 people.

audience voting again

Eventually, the animal idea was vetoed, and instead, someone proposed that we buy a nice bike and a digital camera, and then using Google calendar and other online tools, plot a relay route between all of the audiences homes, and document a massive relay cycle with photos and blog postings.

voting again

Then someone suggested land: after discussions about a dodgy-sounding timeshare in Spain and a squatted old boat in Deptford Creek, the audience fixated on the idea of buying a woodland together. The final vote was between buying a woodland, the bike and camera blog, and doing some guerilla gardening together.

voting again

This time, the woodland won by a comfortable majority, so everyone’s names and emails were collected, and the practical and legal challenges of buying a woodland for an entire audience began!

voting again

Eventually, we discovered that woodlands are really expensive because of legal work, and that you can’t just buy one – they need looking after. Then we found a fantastic company called Woods for All which enabled us to buy shared ownership in the woodland for the audience – while actually doing something good for the environment by making sure the wood is looked after.

voting again

Each audience member was allowed to choose a share in either Taldrum Wood in South Wales, or Spring Wood in Devon – both spectacularly beautiful woodlands.

Only 13 months later – a deed of ownership arrived in the mail! Many thanks are due to Gary Moore from Woods for All for making it happen. Here’s a scan of ours:

Our deed to the woodland - the audience all got one!

The Deed to Tenner Woods

p1020084We also got a lovely message from a member of the audience – about their experience of this event and their happiness at receiving their woodland share!

If you’re from the press, you might want to download the press release announcing the show, or this other press release about the woodland purchase.

Who Wants to Be has also been used as a mass public consultation tool. In July 2007, it was used to help a crowd of over 200 people in Norwich decide what they wanted to do with a much-loved public park: the Chapelfield of Dreams.

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5 Responses to “How to Buy a Woodland (Albany Theatre)”

  1. anonymous says:

    I think you should know that “woods for all” has just been shut down by companies house… seems that the share sales were illegal. I hope you get your money back!

  2. […] Muers, who attended ‘Who Wants to Be’ at the Albany Theatre – whose £10 went towards buying a collective woodland – recently visited her woods and got in touch […]

  3. […] of their collective imagination. One previous Who Wants to Be…? audience, decided to collectively purchase and own woodland in Wales. Another voted to commission a ‘democracy bench’ for a London park, narrowly beating […]

  4. […] ideas and vote on how to spend the box-office takings. Over time, audiences have voted to collectively buy a woodland, purchase a generator for a Zambian health clinic, or even plant 3000 trees in the Colombian […]

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