Our Voice - making theatre in lockdown
Over the course of last year The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster held interactive online drama workshops with young Gypsies and Travellers...TT caught up with Traveller Olivia Hammond, assistant practitioner on the project
TT: Hello Olivia could you tell us what inspired The Dukes to run this Traveller project?
OH: The Dukes have been running projects with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the North West of England since 2013. Girls aged 9-14 from the Our Voice project have gone on to achieve Level 1,2 and 3 qualifications at Lancaster & Morecambe College, participated in several other cultural projects, and we have project alumni studying at Lancaster University now, as well as in full time work within education.
These are fantastic case studies which prove that young women who weren’t in education making a real change and following their own path. This project is a direct follow on from previous work as continuous support and engagement with Gypsies and Traveller people. The Our Voice project give the girls a safe space to explore and create performance celebrating their culture, background, and identity.
According to the Cultural Learning Alliance, participation in arts activities such as this can increase cognitive abilities by 17% - having been a participant since inception and now an assistant practitioner with the project I have seen that first-hand.
TT: How did you decide on the theme for the work?
We decided to focus on autobiographical theatre to tell the girl’s stories about their lives and interests. We asked the group to ask examine questions such as ‘What’s Your Story’ and performance Artist has been working with them remotely alongside reality star Amy Hart, teaching them how to ‘Add sparkle’. This ensured that the content produced really showcased who the individual was. We had a range of topics including some spoken performance titled ‘a letter to my future self’ and ‘what food have I eaten in my life?’
The Dukes have always focused on encouraging communities locally to have a voice, and by empowering the girls to think and perform around their lives and backgrounds it promotes a culture of being proud of their heritage and their traditions.
TT: How difficult was it to manage through lockdown?
OH:Luckily enough, all of the girls had great internet access and using Zoom worked really well. Girls who were isolating in other locations across the country were able to still access sessions. So girls who would’ve had to miss sessions in person had the advantage of being able to attend the sessions whilst on the road.
We definitely missed the energy in the room when all the girls are able to perform, dance and create together, though. But we made it work and still had a fantastic outcome in the final Zoom performance. The girls were even more excited to attend sessions throughout the pandemic and various lockdowns due to it being some of the only accessible social time with their peers.
TT: Will you continue to make other work with young Travelling people?
OH:Plans are already in motion for several projects in 2021, with more girls than ever enrolled. This project projects continue to build a unique reputation in the local and wider community, and The Dukes is a well-known and trusted hub within Lancaster’s GRT community. We would love to continue to make art and performance with young GRT people and are open to responding to the participants wants and needs.
We will build on our successes with this virtual work to ensure future collaboration on projects. We currently employ a member of the GRT community who was a participant on the first and second project to assist on future projects, and it’s fantastic to have come full circle and provide further opportunities to prior young people enrolling on community projects.
TT: What was the best outcome of the project?
OH:We saw such an amazing growth in the girl’s confidence, communication skills and ability to create a piece of performance. The best outcome was the girl’s change in attitude towards performing as well as developing their creative writing skills; children who take part in arts activities at home during their early years are ahead in reading and maths at age nine, according to a recent report. I have seen that to be the case first hand here.
The girls all developed such a great understanding of how powerful their creativity could be and by the end of the project were confident in the fact that they were performers with their own artist statements All of the girls are so proud of their heritage and understand why and how it adds to who they are, and where they fit within it. Everyone expressed their excitement at being able to start more work online as soon as they could, and inspired the whole team to come up with new and exciting ways of helping the girls to make great art.
The last word is from one of the project participants "I would tell anyone to get involved with drama, at The Dukes in Lancaster it is free to take part it's a friendly and welcoming theatre that puts its communities at the heart of everything it does- take a chance and get involved!"