Theatre workshops for people affected by homelessness thanks to National Lottery players

Theatre Versus Oppression received £187,478 of National Lottery money to run their Behind the Label project to provide a series of applied theatre workshops to people affected by homelessness in Cardiff. They are one of over 160 projects that received over £15 million for health and wellbeing projects over the last year. We spoke to Suzanne Phillips about their project and how they are hosting a show starring service users at Wales Millennium Centre.

“Behind the Label is an Applied Theatre project run by TVO in partnership with The Wallich and Wales Millennium Centre. Started in 2016 it uses drama and performance to give marginalised people a voice, tell their story and offer a new perspective on a social issue and the reasons behind it. Our aim is always to create compelling performances that challenge the audience to look at different perspectives.

“We take a trauma informed approach. The participants decide what they want to do and how they want to do it, moving at their own pace. People come because they want to, not because they have to, and slowly friendships are formed and alliances made. Ideas are shaped through games and carefully constructed exercises. Some sessions are heavy, some emotional but all of them are filled with humour and laughter.

“This week Liam came in. He’s been living in a tent for 2 years. Everyone worried about him but he said he was safe. After the session last week he said he went into the Council (something he had previously been resisting, reluctant to ask for help and positive he wouldn’t get any) & they offered him a B&B until permanent accommodation could be found. He looked a different person and he shared his happiness with the group who have supported him throughout.

“For us (TVO) leading the group this is what the experience of Behind the Label is all about. It is ultimately about a performance but so much of the quality of that performance is based on the relationships and trust built in the room. Participants who have no experience of theatre or drama all share life experiences, homelessness and the issues leading to their current situation. Often they reflect on their lives and why they have never spoken about what’s happened to them before. Some worry that going back to the past & talking about it will get them depressed but soon realise that the sharing and the exercises help them process the past and move forward in the present. Each week they return, and each week they share a little more.

“Some have anxiety being in a group and meeting new people. They’ve hidden their feelings, not trusting that anyone would be interested in the real them. Each week they come up with a word for how they’re feeling when we start and when they leave. Often they’ll leave the session feeling ‘lighter’, ‘better’ or ‘inspired’.

“This week they all left with a smile and words of support to Liam, one went home to work on the chorus of his rap, another with a promise to research an idea they’d had for the performance. Each week we’re recording something of the project and putting it on the Behind the Label Facebook page so that at any time they can follow they’re own process.

“We got a text on Thursday from a past participant. She wanted the group to know that she was returning home to her family. She had finally gained access to her son and she wanted us all to know she felt her confidence to fight for access came from being involved in Behind the Label. She wanted the current group to know ‘I would never been able to do it if I never got the chance to be part of a wonderful organisation x please can you pass this on to everyone that’s mattered me and good luck in your new show x’

“We’re keen to continue the workshops afterwards with as many homeless organisations as possible and we’d love to hear from you.”

To vote for Behind the Label go to OR use the hashtag #NLABehindtheLabel on twitter. You can also follow the campaign on Twitter: hashtag #NLAwards. Voting runs from 9am on 24 July until midnight on 21 August.

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