Talking About Our Voice
This autumn we embarked on Our Voice, an exciting creative learning project with young female members of the Gypsy, Roma & Traveller (GRT) community. Made in association with Lancaster University, this autobiographical digital drama project - which was designed to develop writing-for-performance skills and celebrate the experiences and communities of the young female travellers - was led by the award-winning Bryony Kimmings, reality star Amy Hart, choreographer Sarah Blanc and Lancaster-based freelance creative Emma Rucastle. And, despite the challenges of Lockdown 2.0, the participants and team produced a project to remember, creating incredible work against the odds!
Keep reading to find out more about the ins and outs of the project, as Emma Rucastle shares her experience and joy at working on Our Voice with the Dukes.
Photos: Ellie Devereaux
“Why does my twin brother love his play station more than he loves me?” “How many pieces of food will I eat in my lifetime?” “Who am I?”/“Who is she really?” and “Why can’t everybody’s style be freestyle?” are just some of the questions I have been exploring recently in and through drama workshops with a group of Traveller girls as part of The Dukes’ Our Voice project. We found some answers – not all!
The Our Voice project has been on my mind for most of 2020. I learned a huge amount working on a previous incarnation of The Dukes’ GRT Creative Learning project - alongside dance practitioner Amy Hughes and the Huckleberry Films team on the creation of an animated film about the concept of transition - and I couldn’t wait to start working with girls from the Traveller community again in early 2020. Covid-19, however, had other ideas – as it has had for so, so many projects… and it wasn’t to be until the autumn that I finally had the opportunity to make a proper start on the project.
The centre of this year’s Our Voice is autobiographical theatre: working with young Traveller girls to find and tell stories about their own lives. For the autumn 2020 project I was lucky enough to work as part of a creative team that included the brilliant Bryony Kimmings (if you haven’t seen her recent TV programme Opera Mums, it’s definitely worth a watch) and reality star Amy Hart, gorgeous inside and out and who has some Traveller heritage.
In October, we were delighted to manage a face to face project launch at The Dukes. It was great to be in a room with the girls, to begin to get to know them and to see Amy interviewing Bryony in a zoom q&a about being an artist and creating work about her own life. The girls’ excitement at being allowed to unmute themselves to ask both Bryony and Amy questions was absolutely palpable and got the project off to a lovely start. November’s workshops were all delivered by zoom, each one with a short video created by Bryony helping the girls to structure short performance pieces about things that mattered to them. These sessions were full of laughter, games, conversation, questions, creativity and more and it was a privilege to lead them and to experience a real snapshot of the girls’ lives. Amy dropped into most of the sessions too, joining in drama games and giving enthusiastic and perceptive advice and feedback about the creation process to the girls, who hugely appreciated it.
One of my favourite activities from Bryony’s videos was the creation of Artist Statements (Bryony has shared this with us at the bottom of this blog). Throughout the project, the girls were encouraged to think of themselves as artists and to think confidently about their strengths, interests and what they have to offer the world. They came up with statements such as “I am caring, loyal and honest. I make work about dance, being yourself and knowing the only competition is the person in the mirror. Audiences say "Amazing!" and “I am talented, kind and artistic. I make work about make-up, beauty and being beautiful all through. Audiences say “She’s inspiring” and “Great style!” From these statements came questions and the questions formed the centre of the mini-autobiographical performances – each just a couple of minutes in length - that had a zoom outing to a small audience of Bryony, Amy and a range of project supporters from The Dukes and elsewhere on November 24th.
Although the girls were very nervous and, in most cases, well outside their comfort zones, the performances were full of energy and really engaging. Each one was truly individual, with some highlights including animation, costume (one girl dressed as her favourite pasta!) and a girl who chose to write a letter to her future self. The audience’s response was warm and enthusiastic and the girls blossomed and visibly grew in confidence. This zoom performance was a lovely way to wrap-up the 2020 portion of Our Voice (with all that 2020 has been, I can hardly believe we got this far!), but I can’t wait to hopefully work with the girls again in 2021 towards a celebratory live performance with a face to face audience. Huge thanks to Bryony, Amy, Sarah, Olivia, Eileen, Carl and everyone at The Dukes who have worked so hard to make this project happen. Onwards…!