Jul-Nov 2022: skating Shakespeare, female-led folk tales, no more NoMad (for now) and... nonsense!
It's been a while since we've updated you all, hasn't it? It's been an extraordinary few months for all of us, in good and not so good ways - but we'd love to tell you about some of our highlights, and hope they'll put a smile on your face the way they have on ours.
Last we told you, we were just about to start two projects. One was a site-specific adaptation of a favourite Shakespeare comedy, with a cast of 16-30 year old skateboarders: A DIY Midsummer Skate Dream went off with a bang at the Grove DIY skate park on 3rd and 4th September, our spectacular cast delivering five performances over just two days. A mix of a few semi-trained actors and a majority total first-timers, they all led our audiences on a promenade through the park spaces and gorgeous volunteer-kept gardens, wowed us with their skills on and off their boards, and humbled us with their community spirit and generosity of heart. From seeing them acknowledged as the artists they are (some of whom for the first time), to sowing the seeds for improved attitudes to them and skating culture as a whole, it was an honour to bring this truly dream-like project about.
The other was a collaboration between us, our friends at Islington People's Theatre and the absolute powerhouses at Pause Islington: an organisation that supports women who have experienced or are at risk of having their children taken into care. We met with these women weekly for just 11 weeks, yet in that short time witnessed progress that wowed their practitioners as much as it did us. I choose the word 'progress' carefully, as it would be wrong to say 'transformation' or (shudder) 'improvement': contrary to what most of these women have been told or have come to assume from the way they have been treated by the world around them, there is nothing 'wrong' or 'bad' about them and never has been. They don't need to 'improve'. And rather than 'transform', they need to be given the safety, trust and warmth that allows their wisdom, creativity and soul to shine. It was all already in them - but taking inspiration from female-led fairytales from Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run With The Wolves, we were able to bring it out of them through drama, poetry, song, dance and visual art. It was such a rare pleasure to have their practitioners from Pause join them in the sessions and participate as equals: that level of vulnerability and humanity in social workers is everything R.A.T. works towards, and the results have been clear. We look forward to being able to share some of the women's work with you soon.
We had a great moment of cross-project pollination when our Pause participants were welcomed into the Arts 2 building at Queen Mary University of London, where they joined students of the MSc in Creative Arts and Mental Health in watching a performance of our first show, NoMad, based on founder Nell Hardy's experiences of homelessness and mental health hospitalisation! It can be so hard to bring audiences from different walks of life under the same roof, and for many of the women this was the first time they had ever been to a live theatre show, let alone a higher education institution. As for the students? They were full of the curiosity and ambition that the arts in health industry needs. Nell could sense it already at the performance, and had it confirmed when she went the following week to deliver a lecture to them on her trauma-informed practice with survivors and social and mental health service providers. We have so much admiration for the leaders of that course and many of the other academics we have come across working to bring loved experience into academic research and development. We can't wait to see where these students go, and possibly work with some of them on the way!
That was the second to last performance of NoMad on our UK tour. From premiering at Arcola Outside last year, we have dropped our (copious) leaves in six other venues around London as well as Preston, Harrogate, Birmingham and Bedford, in spaces that have ranged from back rooms of pubs to grand old traditional main stages. Will we put this NoMad back on the road again? Possibly - but for now we're proud to have invited some of society's most overlooked people to see a story that resonates with their own onstage, to have opened many eyes to some realities of invisible homelessness and dangers of mental health streamlining, and to have brought people together in mutual hope, activist spirit, and empathy. We'll be sure to let you know when and if another chance comes along to catch the show.
So what next? Well, we've just begun a brand new project with Writerz n Scribez and the British Library! For eight weeks, we'll be exploring nonsense poetry with families that have autistic children aged 5-11, and we couldn't feel more chuffed to be allowed to share a creative space with these unique developing minds. Lewis Carroll scribbled down something about a wonderland and a girl called Alice 160 years ago, and the British Library still has his sketches today - so who's to say what we create in these sessions won't be immortalised too? It's about time the world listened more to non-neurotypical imaginations, let alone the endless possibility inside the minds of children. We know this one is going to be special, so keep your eyes peeled! (Not literally. That would hurt.)