My name is Yolande and I’m currently studying for an MA in Applied Theatre. I wanted to gain some practical experience to compliment my theoretical knowledge and so chose to partake in the work placement module. Given my interest in community and participatory arts I chose to work with Community Arts North West (CAN) on their Refugee Women’s Project. This project was a stand of their refugee and asylum seeker programme, Exodus. CAN have been producing work in Greater Manchester for over 30 years and are well established in the field of community arts. The primary ethos of CAN could be described as working to create inter-cultural dialogue in order to create rich and dynamic art forms; CAN pride themselves on producing high quality, beautiful and professional standards of work. The main output for this project was Rule 35 an immersive theatre experience exploring the arbitrary nature of detention centres in the UK. The decision to produce work based on this issue came from the women who CAN had previously worked with, some of whom had experienced detention. Having previously studied exilic perspectives in theatre during my undergraduate degree I had some knowledge as to the injustices that occur in the immigration system, however, hearing the experiences from some of the women involved in the project really emphasised the often inhumane nature of detention centres.
So how do you go about creating a piece of theatre on such a difficult issue? Well, with difficulty and a lot of trust. The women involved were highly motivated to speak out against the problems within detention centres and through workshops over several months Rule 35 was created. Dance and singing were also key components in creating the piece. The women contributed beautiful songs of hope which gave the performance a strong emotive drive. Whilst partaking in the dance warm-ups there was much laughter, occasionally at my inability to tell left from right, and a palpable sense of enjoyment in the room. The workshop sessions were not just about creating a high quality piece of theatre there was a strong social and well being element to them. Refugee and asylum seekers are often highly isolated so this was a brilliant opportunity to bring everyone together.
My role within this placement was multi-faceted to say the least. Initially I wanted to develop my drama facilitation skills, therefore wanting to focus on this role. This was not possible, however I was able to co-run a few warm-up exercises with Caitlin Gleeson who was also working on this project. I was given some great workshop observation opportunities and helped the women improvise scenes that would be included in the final performance. I worked as part of the digital media team which was a challenge as I’m not necessarily very confident in this field. Within this role I helped develop “The Game” an interactive social media experience in which the audience can meet some of the characters in the play before the performance. It was disappointing that the concept never reached the number of people that it hoped to. I believe that with some adaptation this strategy could prove useful in reaching and attracting new audiences to community arts practice. I also worked as production assistant. This included completing tasks such as: research for props, building soundscapes, transcribing audio files, attending production and artistic meetings, assisting in the technical aspects of the performance and blindfolding audience members… Whilst at times it was difficult to keep track of all the tasks I was doing my time at CAN was enjoyable and the participants who I was working with were incredibly proud of their final performance.