Mar 13, 2023
A Dream of 20 performance is the culmination of the Cumbrian part of an international project to help build resilience with young people called STORYsilience. With young people at the helm, STORYsilience aims to uncover stories authored by lesser-heard people in our communities, reinterpreting them into arts performances, and touring the work in cultural institutions (theatres, galleries, libraries, heritage sites) in different locations.
STORYsilience combines two words: STORYTELLING & RESILIENCE. This project explores how telling and retelling our experiences of the pandemic can build our capacity to cope mentally or emotionally with challenging circumstances and adapt to the new reality and any future stresses on people, place, and planet. Through a process that engaged young people with the arts, we facilitated transforming stories into short performances. We believe that the learning from life under COVID extends to any crisis we are likely to encounter as a human race in the coming future. Therefore, harvesting lessons learned and transforming them creatively in storytelling is a crucial exercise.
Our project aimed to inspire young people with the skills, joy, and enthusiasm for the arts, both as something they can enjoy and gain from personally and as a viable career option. We did this by deepening relationships between cultural groups and organisations and their local communities.
The creative sector, which has been heavily hit by COVID, is at the architectural heart of the work: as a physical meeting space for participants, performers and audiences, and conceptual space in which relationships between cultural organisations and local communities will deepen and inspire not only new stories but also a new generation of performers and creative directors. In Cumbria CDEC partnered with two local creative arts organisations: Lakeland Arts (Windermere Jetty Museum) and Theatre Factory (Barrow in Furness).
With this project we want to amplify the voices of those from lesser-heard communities with particular focus on their experiences of COVID 19, upskill young people in the arts and creative industries, nurturing an interest in the arts as a viable career option and finally to uplift cultural organisations hard-hit by COVID 19 by reconnecting them with their communities and drawing audiences to them.
Our CDEC staff Gabi Lipska worked hand in hand with the Lakeland Arts practitioner Roisin McLinden starting in September 2022. We met for weekly sessions with a group of 5 young people from Queen Katherine School, Kendal. Our sessions were based on the 7 C’s of resilience as a reference framework. Together we cultivated skills for resilience through practises such as mindfulness meditations (body scans, visualisations), yoga, breathwork, learning bits about neurobiology, trust, comfort zones, active listening, story sharing, creative writing and physical theatre.
The 7 C’s of Resilience
Coping: being aware of our own coping strategies, developing and practising healthy coping strategies.
Confidence: confidence to navigate the world, think creatively, outside the box, giving and receiving feedback.
Control: taking responsibility for self, others as well as the process or objects.
Connection: with self, other people, communities, wider world, trust, building and maintaining relationships.
Character: developing a sense of right and wrong, cultivating integrity, ability to follow a moral compass.
Competence: noticing what I am doing right, what I am good at, taking risk, practise and fail.
Contribution: doing something for others, sharing thinking, being of service to others, creating community, helping.
Devising theatre from scratch begins through conversation and playing. We began by gathering the thoughts of the young people: “what does resilience mean to you?”, “why do we need resilience?”, “what were the dominant thoughts and feelings you experienced throughout the pandemic?”, “what helped you through it?” Answers to such questions were sometimes talked through and recorded, written down in various creative forms, or placed into simple physical theatre exercises, such as creating tableaux’s (still images.) The images formed the basis for the beginning of our movement practise. We built upon them by devising various long stretches of choreography.
Uncovering and unpacking experiences of COVID was a challenging task. Creative writing was a valuable tool for the young people to express themselves openly without judgement, and dig up traumatic memories in a safe space. Stream of consciousness, letters, prose, writing as a coach to yourself, erasure poetry, haikus, and other exercises were dotted throughout the rehearsal process to slowly uncover the stories we wanted to tell.
Frantic Assembly are a UK based physical theatre company whose devising methods were used to create our performance.
Trip to Turkey
As part of our process to build resilience and create a piece of work, we took our young people to Turkey in November 2022. This was a big step in the project, which involved the young people meeting other participants from across the globe, participating in various workshops and performing a “scratch” of their work thus far. It was particularly ground breaking for our group, as a couple of them had never been abroad before. It offered them the opportunity to build international friendships, participate an array of creative and resilience building activities, as well as bond on a deep level as a group.
Sharing our work
An important part of this process has been sharing our methods and tools with other organisations. The project partners have worked closely throughout the project to distribute various practises we could utilise with groups of young people. On a local level, we felt it important to share our process, and the lessons that came from it, to aid the building of a more sustainable arts community. This CPD opportunity was attended by members of the Artist Educators North West network, Anti-Racist Cumbria, RAGTAG Arts, Stellar Quines Theatre Company and freelance practitioners.
If you are an educator, creative practitioner interested in working with young people using creative expression for well-being and storytelling check our free resources
The Final Performance
A Dream of 20
Dive into a dream with us… a dream of limits and possibility, threats and safety, of hope – A Dream of 20.
This project has been such an inspiration to everyone involved. When creativity and wellbeing are championed, people are given space to heal and grow into authenticity. Thank you to the project partners for recognising this need to process traumatic times and find creative expression as a way to cultivate resilience. A huge thank you too to Queen Katherine School, particularly Jane Brierly (Deputy Head) and Michael Massey (Head of Performing Arts) who made working so closely with this group of young people possible.