Word/Play is a two-year initiative that brings together theatre, spoken word and digital media to create change. Produced by Take Art, a pioneering arts charity, it’s for people in Somerset: individuals, groups and communities. Anyone, in fact, who wants their voice to be heard, to feel better about themselves or to make a difference in their lives.
Between January and March 2013, the first phase of the project called The Thing Is…, used performance poetry to empower individuals and give them the freedom to tell their stories. Eight performance poets worked with over 50 people affected by mental illness or with learning disabilities in Frome, Chard, Yeovil and Taunton, to write, record and perform incredible pieces of original poetry.
The Thing Is… culminated in a celebration performance at the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre in Taunton, where all four groups came together to share their achievements and perform their work, many of which were accompanied by multimedia films and animations.
“I’ve found a voice I’ve wanted to get out. There’s no stopping me now,” said Debbie from Chard, who has now gone on to speak on local BBC radio.
Ignite Somerset, one of the project’s partners, helped several of the participants, particularly those who were unable to perform ‘live’, to create a series of digital artworks. Eight short pieces combined film, image sequences, animation and the spoken word, to tell people’s stories. One participant, for example, who is agoraphobic, was unable to leave his town to perform at the celebration event. But, through his film, his voice is heard. The project also worked with Somerset Film, who produced four documentary shorts about the participants and their adventures in spoken word.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve always been pushed aside,” said Bernie from Yeovil. “But coming here has made me realise that I am acceptable to other people.”
One of the key features of Word/Play is the training and employment opportunities it offers for emerging and established theatre and spoken word practitioners who live and work across Somerset and the South West region. This is particularly important as artists can often feel disconnected from one another when working in rural areas. “It’s been great not working in isolation,” said Sally Jenkinson, one of the poets working on the project. “It has increased my confidence as an artist.”
“It’s been an amazing journey, to see people with absolutely no self-belief or confidence go from shoe gazing to writing and performing with passion, courage and genius,” said Liv Torc, lead poet. “This really has been life changing stuff for everyone involved.”
At the time of publication, Take Art has just launched the second phase of Word/Play. Touring to ten venues across Somerset, Get Over It! is an interactive performance and workshop that explores the stigma, prejudice and ignorance surrounding mental health that people encounter, particularly in the workplace and with their families and friends.
Using the model of forum theatre, a problem is acted out with no satisfactory resolution. The audience is then invited to suggest, and try out, alternative solutions that could lead to a better outcome. It is an extremely effective way of helping people develop coping strategies for the tough issues they face in daily life. The show is directed by Mark Helyar, Take Art’s Co-Director of Theatre. He says: “In the light of recent stories featured in the national press, it’s clear that mental health is still surrounded by a huge amount of stigma and prejudice. Get Over It! will help to give people the voice and confidence to speak out about these issues and to talk about how they feel.”
The final phase of Word/Play is a large-scale community theatre project that aims to inspire public dialogue around social change for people in Somerset in 2014.
Word/Play is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation; the Lloyds TSB Foundation for England and Wales; Literature Works; Apples and Snakes; Somerset Skills and Learning; OpenStoryTellers and Arts Council England.
Co-Director of Theatre for Take Art