Jan 252013

Word-PlaylogoblkI’m a little bit scared. But in a good way. After nearly 18 months of planning, fundraising and hard thinking, Take Art’s new initiative, Word/Play, is about to start.

Word/Play brings together theatre, spoken word and digital media to create change. It’s for people in Somerset: individuals, groups and communities. Anyone, in fact, who wants their voice to be heard, to feel better about themselves or to make a difference to their quality of life.

Any new idea is bound to be informed by our own beliefs and passions. For me, it’s simple: theatre is about change. It’s about doing things to people and enabling people to do things for themselves. That may range from a show in a village hall brightening our mood to the profound behavioural changes inspired by a forum theatre project.

Word/Play has three phases. The first, the thing is…, starts next week. Over the next two months, a team of Spoken Word Artists will inspire and encourage people in Chard, Frome, Yeovil and Taunton to create, develop and perform their own work. To say whatever they want to say. The awesome line up of artists is led by Liv Torc, Chris Redmond, Jonny Fluffypunk and Sally Jenkinson, supported by David Reakes, Thommie Gillow, Tim King, Rebecca Tantony, Vicki Ross and Anna Groves.

Phase 2 will use Forum Theatre to develop coping strategies for managing tough issues. Phase 3 will be a community theatre project to encourage public dialogue and animate social change.

The national charity Mind says that as many as 1 in 4 people are likely to experience a mental health problem each year, frequently in silence.  Yet, according to Time to Change, mental health issues are still surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and fear. Over two years, my dream is that Word/Play will give people the voice, skills and confidence to speak out about these issues and create positive changes for themselves and their communities.

There’s no denying that, arts-wise, times have been tough in Somerset. Our County Council was the first local authority in the UK to cut its arts budget by 100% in 2011. These stringent measures, replicated across a range of services, precipitated a rethink for many of us about how we could maximise our shared resources. And, while measures of cultural activity remain absent from the Government’s consultation on national well-being, I hope that Word/Play will not only make a difference to the quality of life for people in Somerset but also provide us with effective ways to measure and evidence its impact.

As Co-Director of Theatre for Take Art, I’m delighted that several other organisations have grasped Word/Play’s potential and will be working with us to make it happen. These include LiteratureWorks; the literature development agency for South West England and Apples and Snakes England’s leading organisation for performance poetry and spoken word.

We will also be working with South Somerset Mind, the largest Mental Health charity in South Somerset; OpenStoryTellers, a Somerset-based arts organisation that works with people with learning disabilities and communication difficulties; Chard Intentional Peer Support a group run by, and for, people with mental health issues; and Ignite Somerset a programme delivered by Somerset Film that enables artists from all artforms to take advantage of the opportunities digital technology can offer.

The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Lloyds TSB Foundation of England and Wales and Arts Council England are financially supporting the initiative.

I realise this post is more fact than opinion, but that’s because I wanted to set the scene. In future posts I’d like to unpack a lot of the stuff I’ve touched on above and explore it in more depth. Word/Play is a big initiative and there’ll be plenty to talk about.

In the meantime, Word/Play’s journey is about to begin.  And I’m a bit scared (in a good way) because like any bold venture, you’re never quite sure where it’s going to take you.

For more information about Word/Play  check out the Word/Play pages that are  currently being developed on the Take Art website or follow us on Twitter @TakeArtWordPlay

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