After 10 months of professional development, I have now come to the end of my DYCP. I am so thrilled to have had this opportunity to make a change in my practice and scale up my work through researching, upskilling and networking. This is my final blog where I record my thoughts and experiences from the past couple of months. I am eager to look back and reflect on my activity and I am already planning other ways to share all these ideas and research, so stay tuned!
Theatre & Performance Workshops for Migrant Women
With my DYCP grant, I organised, planned and facilitated 4 workshops for migrant women in Bristol, in which we explored themes of migration, stereotypes, family, motherhood and womanhood. We experimented with playing ourselves on stage, documentary theatre and using movement to tell stories. I am grateful to have received mentoring and support from Ingrid Jones from acta to set up this project, and I am now partnering with a local refugee organisation to continue it (funding dependent).
I liked all the activities that made me forget my problems at least for a while
– Workshop participant
I have been reflecting on how important it is to create supportive spaces where people can talk about difficult experiences. Of course, we need to be mindful of how what people say impacts others, but the solution is not to silence them. By making sure enough support is available, we can encourage people to identify their own boundaries and needs. I am looking forward to continuing to explore what it means to make theatre about migration, or theatre of migration.
In the last training session as part of the Elevate scheme, acta’s director Oliver Jones facilitated “an introduction to social enterprise and running yourself as a business”. Considering that the business side of my work is something I tend to avoid thinking about, it was helpful to explore my practice in terms of the impact I am trying to make and look at next steps. We delved into vision, mission and values, the 7 W’s (why, what, who, where, when, with what, work out how), and strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. On the same day, we were joined by Voscur, who provided information on setting up as a CIC, which was all very new to me. I also attended acta’s online seminar about scaling up where I discovered new companies and their interesting journeys from starting a small project to achieving work on a bigger scale.
I am so grateful to have had the time and opportunity to meet with brilliant artists, activists and organisations. Everyone was incredibly generous and their insights so valuable in continuing to shape my practice. I had the privilege of meeting Alan Lyddiard from The Performance Ensemble, after seeing a recording of their wonderful show The Promise Of A Garden. We spoke about participation, presence on stage and presenting self through the use of prompts such as “I wish…”, “I remember…”, “I think…”. With Dom Kippin from Activate Performing Arts, I talked about the inaccessibility of contemporary art, how a “free to attend” event is usually not actually free, and access guides. I was meant to visit MAFWA Theatre in Leeds back in September but, as this was not possible due to a change of circumstances, we arranged a Zoom chat where Co-Artistic Director Tamsin Cook offered her thoughts and experiences about working with women with refugee or asylum-seeking status, cultural and language barriers, safeguarding and informed consent. Bristol Old Vic Ferment helped me identify next steps and funding possibilities. I had a conversation with Alessandra Cianetti about performingborders — “a curatorial research-platform that explores the relations between Live Art and notions and lived experience of intersectional and transnational borders”. They have a lot of interesting resources online and we discussed opportunities for collaboration.
In regard to access, I met with theatre company Talking Birds to speak about their tool The Difference Engine which is a great option for making shows more accessible. I also had a debrief with Steph from Taking Flight Theatre, after shadowing a youth theatre session in Cardiff, and learnt more about her work as an access consultant. It feels imperative to make these connections for potential future collaborations. I had another BSL practice with John Mancini and learnt new vocabulary relevant to my practice. I spoke with Holly Thomas, dancer and choreographer who specialises in embodied audio-description, and I am excited about experimenting with creative ways of increasing access for blind and visually impaired people in my work, which is particularly complex in work that is more abstract and open to interpretation. For a broader perspective of the barriers disabled people experience, I talked with Laura Welti from Bristol Disability Equality Forum. We discussed what has changed since their 2016 manifesto, advocating for access, integration vs inclusivity. I realised “hard to reach” is not a useful term when referring to certain people or communities because the focus should instead be on how those places are hard to reach for them, which relates to the social model of disability. Laura linked me up with Beth Richards, who is a learning disabled actor and activist in Bristol, and part of theatre company The Misfits. Beth has been doing excellent and urgent work around access and representation of learning disabled people on screen, including a research project and short film with University of Bristol: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/gettingthingschanged/about-the-project/people/
Finally, I had meetings with Jane Mason (dancer and choreographer), David Doust (from Outdoor Arts UK and Pests Productions), and Sarah Hunter (artist and producer for Quarantine), who all provided useful career advice based on where I’m at, my concerns about the current state of theatre and how to speak about my work. I had a second conversation with Tom Green from Counterpoints Arts who is supporting me in finding opportunities and funding for the next stages of my projects. I also met with James Blakey (Associate Director for NT Public Acts) who talked me through their process and working with community partners. There isn’t a perfect model for participation, there are always advantages and disadvantages to consider. I wonder whether requiring commitment from participants can sometimes be helpful to create a sense of purpose.
I was so thrilled to be able to attend ICAF (International Community Arts Festival) in Rotterdam as part of my DYCP. There I got to see exciting participatory work made in various countries, including The Netherlands, Spain, New Zealand, Portugal, and South Africa. I attended a seminar on ‘Documenting Community Performance Processes’ with Kerrie Schaefer, and I was inspired by the documentary films we were sent to watch in advance: Trash Dance (2012) and Big hART’s 900 Neighbours (2006). How can we better evaluate and share the impact of our practices? What are the different ways of documenting projects? Could documenting be done by participants themselves?
Another seminar, presented by Sruti Bala, was titled ‘Do No Harm! — Reflecting on possible negative impacts of community art practice’. This thought-provoking session focussed on how participatory projects are not always or necessarily benign and can have negative impacts on a psychic, interpersonal, social, ethical, and/or structural level. How can any unintended negative consequences be minimised? It is not about attributing blame or pointing fingers; in fact, there are different levels of complicity: practitioners, funders, researchers, participants, etc. I notice that organisations and practitioners often take credit for positive impacts and take no responsibility for negative impacts. These unintended consequences need to be observed, acknowledged and addressed, and I will certainly incorporate this into my practice.
“(…) the exhibition or valorisation of a story has no automatic connection with the liberation of the teller.”
– James Thompson, Digging Up Stories: Applied Theatre, Performance and War
I attended a ‘Sign Language for Theatre’ workshop by Theatre Group Signum. It was interesting to explore the difference between having a conversation and expressing ourselves on stage in the context of sign language. I was positively surprised by how my knowledge of BSL (British Sign Language) helped me communicate more easily despite Dutch Sign Language being so different. ‘Embracing Complexity’ was a workshop led by Adrian Jackson, the founder of Cardboard Citizens, and made me reflect on my experiences of forum theatre, audience tensions and ethics. We used the term “brave space” instead of “safe space” — a space where people are brave enough to speak and brave enough to listen. I found it useful to think of forum theatre as an art of provocation and seduction, and the impacts it has on an audience as Identification, Recognition, or Resonance.
Dance company Dançando Com A Diferença performed their show Gabo and ran the workshop ‘We dance with our bodies not despite of our bodies’. It was fascinating to hear their perspective from working outside centres and on the fringes of the cultural scene. In Funchal, Madeira, they built their audiences and gained recognition in unusual ways, promoting their work in churches, newspapers and hotels.
I made so many connections and returned to the UK feeling very inspired. I have gained a much clearer understanding of the work I want to make, and I have realised that this type of work requires time. How do we fight the pressure to make something quickly? How do we get funders to see the benefits of slower work? I have also been thinking about the value of artist-led processes. The term “artist-led” is frequently used as the opposite of a fully co-created project. However, I think work can be artist-led and co-created. Just because the artist is not invisible doesn’t mean there was no co-creation. What is different about a project led by an artist, rather than someone who isn’t one? Through my experiences at ICAF, I am now considering whether artists do need to have lived experience of the topic they are making work about. Could interest and curiosity be enough? I believe socio-political issues should be a concern for everyone, not just those who are directly affected. There is beauty in the coming together of people who, at first glance, don’t have much in common.
Influenced by Zomaar Een Straat by Rotterdams Wijktheater (Rotterdam Community Theatre), I am thinking about the pros and cons of having captions that provide summaries instead of the full dialogue. The piece highlighted for me the beauty in simplicity and in seeing someone do mundane things on stage, as if they were by themselves. In “real life”, we don’t get to watch someone being fully alone.
Throughout the festival, I had concerns about the lack of access, who is able to attend and who is left out (no quiet space, audio descriptions or captions, only one signed performance, significant financial costs). On the last day, we got to share crucial feedback and thoughts about what could be improved, which I am hopeful will be taken on board for ICAF 2026.
Back in the South West of England, I travelled to Bath for Elevate Festival, where I saw three shows by Southwest-based creatives. I particularly enjoyed Seeds of Memories by Black Hound Productions for its writing, simplicity and effectiveness. In Bristol, I got to watch Action Hero’s The Talent, acta’s Getting Home, and Kat Lyons’ Dry Season. Having the time and financial means to be able to watch such a wide variety of work has been vital for my development. I also attended another Collective Encounters’ Arts for Social Change showcase online, this time spotlighting socially-engaged arts projects working with women, in celebration of International Women’s Day.
I was pleased to be able to attend Projekt Europa’s online panel conversation on ‘Co-created Performance and Community Collaboration’ which provided international perspectives on the subject. I joined two events organised by Counterpoints Arts in the context of Refugee Week: an in-person Southwest networking and strategy meeting, and an online conference. I finally listened to Dash Arts’ ‘The Refugee Experience On Stage’ conversation which is available on Youtube.
For more information on access, I recommend reading Bristol Disabled People’s 2016 Manifesto and exploring Disability Consultancy For Creative Change (DC4CC)’s website, which provides open session recordings, key recommendations and a suggested list for further reading. The open sessions touched on important topics such as opportunities for disabled artists, audiences and venues, artistic leadership, whether to mention disability when promoting a show, the inaccessibility of funding applications, complexity and intersectionality. I am looking forward to delving into Access Coventry, a 10 session online training course which is available online for FREE. Accessing Access, an account of Paul O’Donnell’s journey into making his work more accessible, is a great read as well. I was also recently able to find out more about Contact Theatre in Manchester and their work towards a more accessible provision.
In addition, I started two FutureLearn courses (also free!): ‘Creating Audio Description: Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion’ — where I am learning how to make ethical and inclusive descriptions — and ‘Working Supportively With Refugees: Principles, Skills and Perspectives’ — which is providing me key knowledge of cultural differences and the legal framework around human migration.
I spent a lot of my time reading in the past few weeks so, as a final note, I wanted to leave some suggestions for books I have enjoyed (and which I am more than happy to lend):
- Theatre & Ethics by Nicholas Ridout — a reflection on the history of theatre as an ethical practice and a questioning of the relationship between theatre and audience
- The Hologram: Feminist, Peer-to-Peer Health for a Post-Pandemic Future by Cassie Thornton — a vision for a radical anticapitalist model of health and care which started as a socially-engaged artistic intervention
- Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship by Claire Bishop — a historical analysis and account of individual practices in the context of participatory art ethics and criticism
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire — an influential text on education, oppression, and the power of knowledge, fundamental to the development of Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed
- Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown — an invitation to reimagine and transform our future by paying attention to patterns and relationships
- The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities by Doris Sommer — a celebration of socially-engaged art, co-creation, political freedom and democratic change
- Reasons to be Graeae: A work in progress — a review of the first 38 years of disabled-led theatre company Graeae’s work
- Community Performance: An Introduction and The Community Performance Reader by Petra Kuppers — a guide to creating community arts projects and an anthology of important writings on the field
And some others I didn’t get a chance to read but which seem relevant:
- Redefining Theatre Communities: International Perspectives on Community-Conscious Theatre-Making
- Staging Resistance: Essays on Political Theater
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
- Taking it to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka by Harry Justin Elam
- Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment by James I. Charlton
- Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace — or War by Mary B. Anderson
- Digging Up Stories: Applied Theatre, Performance and War by James Thompson
- Not Magic But Work: An Ethnographic Account of a Rehearsal Process by Gay McAuley
- Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud