Engagement

The methodology behind the creation, realisation and sharing of the creative outputs from the WP5 Co-POWeR research was collaborative and participatory. Each output was developed in consultation with and in response to feedback from the research participants and audience members.

Scroll down for the evaluation, feedback and reviews of the play breaDth and policy brief or access through the links below.

 

 Actors at a table with computer on zoom call Theatre Evaluation

 Participants on a zoom screen Theatre Feedback

 Poster 3 advertising performance of breaDth Theatre Reviews

 A coloured line drawing of the COVID-19 virus  Academnic Publications 

logo for copower  WP5 Policy Brief

Theatre Evaluation

Original aims of the theatre project & what was achieved

Original Aims:  The project involves working with about 100 testimonies from BAME participants from across UK & co-creating theatre with those based in London & Crawley. It draws upon the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic where theatre can become an avenue for creative, participatory & therapeutic avenues. We consider participants as key change-makers with vested interest in the wellbeing of their families & communities. We want to better understand the facts behind tremendous pressures on BAME communities & healthcare during COVID-19 & share them for 1) theatre 2) filmed drama & 3) public debates.

The project will achieve this by engaging the following people & methods in creative process:

a) Writer Raminder Kaur will conduct research to establish insights & notes from c100 people’s testimonies, focusing on a series of themes including COVID-19 emergency laws, provision of care, impact on youth's mental wellbeing & physical health

b) Tarun Jasani to develop music for production stage

c) Script to be developed alongside community engagement representatives & feedback from Dramaturg & Director

d) Writer to explore storytelling styles based on interviews supported by music to complete the first draft of script

e) Designers to develop materials to complement storytelling

eii) Sharing of ‘work in progress’ to which venue programmers, tour bookers, partners & members of the communities engaged in creative process will be invited

f) Video recording & editing of play to screen online with Q&A with older people, those with disabilities, carers & national partners

g) Developing marketing/press strategy & materials

h) Evaluation & Writer to revisit script based on feedback

i) Sohaya Visions & MGT to develop a strategic approach towards a full production with partners.

 

Summary of Final Research Outputs and Activities

1 Completed script of play breaDth

1 Blog on collaborative creative process behind scripting of play breaDth

1 Full (recorded) performance of play breaDth with live audience

1 Scaled down (recorded) performance of play breaDth with live audience

1 Filmed Recording of performance of play breaDth at Brady Arts Centre

1 Hybrid Screening of filmed performance with live intervention from actors

1 Online Screening of filmed performance with online intervention from actors

Web pages also on Sohaya Visions  and Co-POWeR websites

 

April – July 2022 Research Activities

April 11th 2022             Script Workshop

                                      1st reading of script with participant feedback (hybrid event at Birkbeck and online)

                                      Workshop script with actors, writer, director and dramaturg

April 12 – May 9th       Script re-writes

May 10th – 20th           Play rehearsals

May 11th                      Movement workshop with Alda Terracciano. 

                                     Sound and breath workshop with Karen Boswall  

May 23rd                      Full R&D Performance of play with set, costume, full lighting & projection 

                                     Brady Arts Theatre, Whitechapel. Performance

                                     Live audience feedback and subsequent online feedback          

                                     Performance filmed by volunteers

May 24th                      Scaled-down R&D performance of play. Birkbeck Arts Week

June 15th                     Screening of extracts from play at Co-POWeR Briefing to Westminster.

July 16th                      Screening of filmed performance of play and discussion, 

                                      SOAS South Asian Heritage Month Festival. 

                                      Live actor participation during discussion

July 17th                      Online screening of filmed performance of play and discussion. 

                                      Live actor participation during discussion

June & July                  2 Presentations

                                      International Federation of Theatre Research international conference, Reykjavik 

                                      Gender & Politics international conference, Ljubljana

July 18th – 31st           Filmed performance available online for further audience feedback

 

Summary of collaborative and participatory methodologies

- All the above activities included participant collaboration, some physical, some online.

- Aural feedback offered during activity was recorded and transcribed.

- Physical Feedback forms were completed, submitted after physical events and scanned

- Online feedback forms were completed after each event and anonymised responses compiled

- Discussions were held after the theatre performances and both physical and online screenings were chaired and provoked by the actors who remained in character. This is an approach to audience engagement known as ‘Forum Theatre’, inspired by Augusto Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ (1979)’ The discussions were recorded and transcribed.

- Feedback has been collated according to the questions identified: Lessons learned: How the project has helped participants, cast, crew & others develop. Suggestions on how to improve the play breaDth. The effectiveness of breaDth in communicating key messages on COVID-19 and discrimination. Suggestions on how to improve play’s public impact in future and the longer-term impact of the project.

Chronological breakdown of aims and achievements

April 2021 - April 12th 2022 - Collaborative and participatory script-writing

April 11th 2022: Script Workshop:1st reading of script with participant feedback (online). Workshop script with actors, writer, director and dramaturg

A poster advertising a theatre play workshop

AIMS

 a) Writer Raminder Kaur will conduct research to establish insights & notes from c100 people’s testimonies, focusing on a series of themes including COVID-19 emergency laws, provision of care, impact on youth's mental wellbeing & physical health.

c) Script to be developed alongside community engagement representatives & feedback from Dramaturg & Director

d) Writer to explore storytelling styles based on interviews supported by music to complete the first draft of script.

ACTIVITIES: During the writing process, the writer explored different storytelling styles based on the transcribed interviews. She was supported by music that she used to complete the first draft of the script and shared with the composer/sound designer. The play was entitled breaDth and was read for the first time by actors on April 11th. The identified themes of COVID-19 emergency laws, provision of care, impact on youth's mental wellbeing & physical health were all addressed through exploring the home and working life of two neighbouring families and some of those with whom their lives intersect.

The community engagement representatives gave their feedback on the script during an online discussion after the first reading. This dramaturg, director and writer then worked alongside the actors responding to the feedback they had received.

Actors sit around a table reading a scrupt, participants on a zoom call are projected onto the wallA camera films acrtors reading around a table while researchers liaise with participants at a computer

The reading and workshop were filmed and Research Fellow Karen Boswall wrote a blog based on the recordings and her own observations:  See Karen Boswall's blog

April 12th – May 22nd 2022 – Rehearsals & Script Development

April 12 – May 9th Script re-writes.

May 10th – 20th Play rehearsals.  (including movement workshops with dramaturg Alda Terracciano & sound and breath workshop with sound designer / composer Karen Boswall)

A simple stage design of a carpet, sofa, chair and pot plant on a stageActors stand on a stage working out positions

AIMS

b) Tarun Jasani to develop music for production stage

ei) Designers to develop materials to complement storytelling

ACTIVITIES: As Tarun Jasani was unable to develop the music for the production on stage, Research Fellow Karen Boswall, who had attended and filmed the reading, the participant feedback and the subsequent workshop with the actors and had come from a background of film and theatre sound design and composition, listened to the music used for inspiration during the script-writing and developed, composed, recorded and mixed a music score and soundscape based on the script and the reading. This was reworked in collaboration with the performers and used for timing of dialogue and movement scenes during the final days of rehearsal.

A set was designed by Constance Villemot who also designed the costumes for each character. Constance worked in collaboration with the Stage Manager Colbert Newsome, Research Fellow Karen Boswall (responsible for projection) and Graphic Designer Edgar Lushaju to produce a series of drawn sets to be projected during the performance to complement a simple set. The homes being distinguished by a sofa, and the hospital, a chair and bedside table. The music, sound, projection, costumes and lighting design added to the layered resonances of the script and the complex exploration of ideas around breath and its resonances for both viruses, COVID-19 and racial discrimination.

A coloured line drawing of a desertA coloured line drawing of a man in a blue robe and turbanA coloured line frawing of a corridor splattered with red paint

May 23rd and May 24th 2022 – Sharing of Work in Progress in London

May 23 rd Full R&D Performance of play with set, costume, full lighting & projection plus audience feedback and discussion at Brady Arts Theatre, Whitechapel

May 24th scaled Down R&D performance of play (reduced costume, set and lights) as part of Birkbeck Arts Week, Birkbeck University.

An asian doctor and nurse in PPE are in conversation, an old white lady sits in a hospital chair behind them A multiracial family looking towards the camera. The father wears a pakistan T-shirt and waves an England scarf

AIMS

eii) Sharing of ‘work in progress’ to which venue programmers, tour bookers, partners & members of the communities engaged in creative process will be invited

f) Video recording & editing of play to screen online with Q&A with older people, those with disabilities, carers & national partners

g) Developing marketing/press strategy & materials

Poster 1 advertising performance of breaDth   Poster 2 advertising performance of breaDth   Poster 3 advertising performance of breaDth

 

May 25th - July 31st 2022 – Video Editing, Website building and filmed performance dissemination

 

June 15th Presentation of video-clips and websites at Westminster, July 16th  &  July 17th two screenings of filmed performance with live / online discussion and feedback

 A seated audience watch a panel discussion with film clips projected on a screen behind  Actors sit on stage during Q&A

AIMS

f) Video recording & editing of play to screen online with Q&A with older people, those with disabilities, carers & national partners

g) Developing marketing/press strategy & materials

f) Video recording & editing of play to screen online with Q&A with older people, those with disabilities, carers & national partners

ACTIVITIES: Extracts from the recording of the play were screened during the WP5 presentation at the Co-POWeR Policy Briefing at Portcullis House, Westminster on June 15th to about 100 people. The event was co-organised by Co-POWeR, the Women’s Budget Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. It was attended by Members of Parliament (including chairing by MP Naz Shah), policy-makers, and members of the Co-POWeR research team, community engagement and research participants. Further selected edited clips from the recording of the performance were also made available on the Sohaya Visions website and information and photographs of the research shared on the University of Sussex research web pages. Links to these were also included on the Co-POWer web pages.

The fully edited filmed performance of play was screened on July 16th at the SOAS South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) Festival: Journeys of Empire and Dispersed Diasporas. A discussion with live actor participation followed, using a format inspired by forum theatre.

An online screening of the filmed performance of play followed on July 17th, using a similar approach to the discussion with on-screen actor participation during the discussion held over zoom. The filmed performance remained available online until July 31st. The live and online screenings and subsequent online availability were promoted to all research participants and associated organisations and associations, members of parliament, university academics, social workers and others working in social engagement among BAME families and communities.

 

Collated Feedback

Introduction

This section is made up of selected anonymised feedback from transcriptions of five recorded feedback sessions, six completed online feedback questionnaires and 20 completed printed questionnaires from the following events and activities:

Events and activities where feedback was gathered 

  • April 11th 2022 - Recorded and transcribed discussion with Research Fellows, research participants, writer, dramaturg, actors after first script reading (online questionnaire for participants and online questionnaire for researchers and theatre practitioners)  9 online participants, 9 physical (18 total) 0 forms completed)
  • May 23rd 2022 - Recorded and transcribed discussion with members of the audience after first research and development (R&D) performance, Brady Arts Theatre (Approx. 40 in audience, 30 minute discussion with audience, 0 printed questionnaires)
  • May 24th 2022 - Recorded and transcribed discussion with members of the audience after scaled down research and development (R&D) performance during Birkbeck Arts Week (Approx. 40 in audience, 30 minute post-show discussion with audience, 7 completed printed questionnaires)
  • July 16th 2022   Recorded and transcribed discussion with members of the audience after screening of filmed performance of play at SOAS South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) Festival (Approx. 40 in audience, 30 minute post-show discussion with audience, 13 completed printed questionnaire).
  • July 17th 2022 Recorded and transcribed discussion with members of the audience         after online screening of filmed performance of play and transcribed comments in zoom chat (42 attendees, 30 minute post-show discussion with audience)
  • July 17th – 31st 2022 Online questionnaire shared with audience of online screening and continued online presence of full film. (52 views of online film in the first two weeks, 6 completed questionnaires

General notes on the feedback

It is notable that although online feedback forms were shared with participants and with researchers and theatre practitioners at the first feedback event on April 11th, none were completed. This led to an emphasis on encouraging immediate completion of printed feedback forms at subsequent events and a more proactive approach to gathering written feedback after subsequent activities which resulted in a total of 26 completed written questionnaires. The research team have nevertheless concluded that spoken discussions immediately after an event, that are recorded and subsequently transcribed, although more time-consuming, is a more effective way of gathering useful feedback. Most of the feedback that follows was gathered in this way. Where the feedback collated below was submitted on a written form, this is identified in the citation reference.

The feedback is collated according to the following themes:

1. Lessons learned: How has the project has helped participants, cast, crew & others develop?

2. Suggestions on how to improve the play.

3. The effectiveness of breaDth in communicating key messages on COVID-19 and discrimination.

4. Suggestions on how to improve play’s public impact in the future?

5. Longer term impact of the project

1. Lessons learned: How the project has helped participants, cast, crew & others develop 

This is a subject that I haven’t really thought about before, in terms of how a carer might endure racism, it makes me think of my grandmothers. One grandmother was a nurse, .. and my other grandma was a carer and these are things that they probably would have endured back in the 60’s or 70’s, possibly 80’s. But this is modern day, and to know that these are real stories, .. and to know things like this are still going on, even during the pandemic, for me, I find this quite eye-opening. (Actor, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22)

This play is multifaceted, and thought-provoking.  (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

COVID-19 is the setting to expose existing injustice (Audience member, Performance, Birkbeck Arts Week, 24 May 2022, completed feedback form)

Great narrative on ‘Breathing’ (Audience member, Performance, Birkbeck Arts Week, 24 May 2022, completed feedback form)

I am acutely aware of the intersection of COVID with black lives matter, highlighting racism, but these (stories) really moved me to expand my focus to the frontline workers experiencing racism too (Audience Member, in ‘chat’ Online screening, 17/07/22)

It was very insightful and enlightening. (Audience Member, Screening of filmed performance, SOAS 16/07/22)

Ibn made me think about how the past connects to the present - how we don't learn from history (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

We are only concerned about what's going in our own country, so the kind of prejudice we have (in India) is based on caste system and religion, especially the Islam religion was targeted a lot, but I got a new context from the play. It will be so helpful in my research work (Member of audience, Online screening, 17/07/22)

It’s so clever and shows that historically, this has been happening before and it’s happening now in our lifetimes as well. (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, On line participation)

I really felt sorry for Reg, and I really liked the character of Edie…. There’s a lot of ignorance, and I like the way he’s calm and he deals with it, and he’s got to the point where he’s used to it now. He’s educating, slowly, slowly. (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

One thing that struck me (was the question) what can we do for carers more to support them? What do they need the most, you know whether they’re caring in the home, which is so very prison like and then outside of the home. What is it that they need?  I think this play brought out all those different layers.  (Member of Audience, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

It was just the kind of isolation and all that goes with it that struck me (in the play). The impact it had on people and the further impact that it’s still having on people now, on their mental health and how do we look at that and address that would be nice to explore even further. (Actor, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

I think we realise that there’s kind of unprecedented rates of depression and mental health issues now and we all are part of society, yet we just don’t value human connections and that’s what (the play) does for us.  (Member of Audience, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

I really enjoyed it. I thought it was very engaging - script and acting - and it brought back so many memories of lockdown and Black Lives Matter. I was quite shocked at how submerged those experiences have become so quickly. (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

I really enjoyed watching the streaming of breaDth yesterday and it has given me a real opportunity to reflect on covid lockdowns and restrictions and what we've all been through. (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

I thought it was incredibly engaging and emotive, the connection between the historical and the present worked so well, the actors did a fantastic job, and - in particular, the scene with Reg and Edie - did continue to play on my mind afterwards. (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

It was a moving and engaging play and I found the discussion afterwards very insightful. Thanks once again and kudos to all involved! (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

My goal for viewing this play was to grow in my awareness of multicultural issues and marginalized populations. The play achieved this for me. The focus of loneliness in the elderly community, as well as the racism experienced within healthcare, were two dimension of awareness that I have not given much attention to. (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

The play made me think of chronic mental health issues (Audience member, Performance, Birkbeck Arts Week, 24 May 2022, completed feedback form)

In sum, cast, crew & audience learnt about real life experiences of:

1. COVID-19 pandemic & racial inequality

2. prejudice among older people

3. precarity of frontline workers especially the life of a carer

4. loneliness & mental health illness

5. parallels with historical & contemporary pandemics through the 11th century mystic, jurist & narrator Ibn Khaldun

6. each other' experiences as the play generation more discussion among participants

7. precarity of freelance artists & impact of pandemic on their struggle to find work, some of whom left the sector

8. progressive learning from workshops, film & events to improve the play

 

2.The effectiveness of breaDth in communicating key messages on COVID-19 and discrimination.

Highly charged show of purposeful content to support influence future care policymakers for respect and understanding of caring...to create environment for positive use of resources and funding for society wellbeing and better health (Audience member, Performance, Brady Arts, 23 May 2022 – comment by twitter)

A refreshing play with historical and current relevance (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

The play was a wonderful evocation of the lives experiencing and coping with Covid at the margins of our society. Discrimination, precarity and loneliness were themes that resonated throughout. The long histories of pandemics and the lessons not learned reflected in the play were particularly creative. (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire) 

I thought the play was amazing and really demonstrated the various challenges ethnic minorities faced during the ongoing pandemic. (Audience member, Screening of filmed performance, SOAS, 2022, completed feedback form)

I was rooted to the screen, I absolutely loved it… .. everybody’s experience and what they felt (is there), …  Covid has affected us all in so many ways and yea! … it was captivating for me. (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

It was a delight. And picks a pace for momentum and wider interest. I wish it every success as a worthy and purposeful project of great significance for social and health care justice. (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

One thing that came out very, very strongly in our interviews was the care, the love and the connections and that I think you really brought so much to life in the play .. That was very, very moving to us who were doing the interviews, it came out so clearly from the carers, from the unpaid carers and the paid carers. I think that really mattered. That’s what makes us see the person.  (Researcher from WP3, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

I think the stories are great because it showed it (the COVID-19 pandemic) from a carer and key worker’s side, which is really good. (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

I thought it was really moving play and I loved the way you brought these kinds of elements together, it felt seamless and really powerful (Member of Audience, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

‘Interesting to see how the interaction between BAME carer and white service user on stage was handled with consideration, my favourite part of the show’ (Audience member, Performance, Brady Arts, 23 May 2022 – comment by Twitter)

It was really very, very moving having done the interviews with the communities to see it all brought into this piece of art and performed so brilliantly... I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that was brought to tears at points.  (Researcher from WP3, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

Racism is less to do with colour but more to do with cultural differences, in how we perceive ourselves as an identity and how we see ourselves owning that power of a position of authority. Therefore, within the play, everyone holds an opportunity for power and to drive a change or respond to a challenge, or just to accept what happens. And each of them take it in a different way (Actor, Online screening, 17/07/22)

This play really brought me back to lockdown and the worry about risk that friends and family were facing in their frontline work (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

It was very thought provoking and resonates a lot as a carer and volunteer coordinating mutual aid groups in Leicester over our whole lockdown of nearly 2 years, The BAME community took caring to the next level too as touched on for example regards food bank and diet suitability as mentioned in the play. The BAME community cared for BAME and wider community and provided the BAME culturally preferred meals and food rations and set up own food banks and caring branched out as outreach as well as n home, and NHS side (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22)

I liked the story of family and their friendships and connections…the interweaving of various strands of narratives. the c14th account, the mime (Audience member, Performance, Birkbeck Arts Week, 24 May 2022) 

It’s making a valid point about the visibility of a certain kind of labour which is about providing care to other people and the little value you place on that in society. It isn’t getting monetised, it's invisible. .. this is just so deeply entrenched in our society that this labour isn’t free so it falls on people who are foreigners and migrants (Member of Audience, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

You picked up really well on the shunting out of cases back into the community which we know caused, incredible suffering across society.  (Member of Audience, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

Some of the carers, they get spat at, they get pushed away, and they are dealing with the (conflict at) home as well, and their families not liking what they do. …  they are dealing with this every single day. What does that do to their mental health? It captured everything. (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

I have two brothers that are doctors. One of them used to work with the elderly and he used to get racism all the time. “You black, you nigger, why are you with me, just go.” And he’s a doctor who is taking care of them. …  it just made me feel that the world as it is, the police and the families and the work they are doing, … I worry for them and their mental health. So, that is the feeling that I got. It really is emotional. (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

I loved the part where the mum is stuck upstairs and the dad watching the football while the young person was asked to go and help the mum…I felt like I was there and wanted to tell him “You go and help your wife!” Seriously, it just felt we were there. …Thank you (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

I obviously didn’t like Edie at all at the beginning, but towards the end, that (empathy) was developed beautifully in the scene with Edie and Reg. It really came out. … and this resonated with some of the narratives that came from you all, interviewees, research participants, and the way that you feel so much compassion at the same time as experiencing racism, so for me, that worked really well. (Research Fellow WP3, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

It was very crisp and there was a lot to say in such a small play. It shows the amount of hard work put into it so that the stories reach the audience in an effective way. Kudos to the team. (Online Audience Member comment in chat, 17/07/22) 

It brought back memories of the two pandemic years and how families and communities tried to support each other and the news about BAME communities being most affected (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

I was worried for Reg when he was arrested. I wanted to know if discrimination formed part of Ibn Khaldun's experience of the Black Death - I thought the historical aspect was really interesting and worked. (Audience member online screening 17/07/22)

I liked excellent acting, the humour in it, the realism, all characters were strong (Audience member, Performance, Birkbeck Arts Week, 24 May 2022)

Realistic detail about BME experience during the pandemic (Audience member, Screening of filmed performance, SOAS, 2022, completed feedback form) 

What came out from the interviews (was) that these issues were structural. They were longstanding and the pandemic exacerbated things, but it didn’t necessarily change things. There were differences, and I think that the play brings this out very well.  Differences because of what was happening at the time, and the racism got worse, and it crystalised (with) the issues of the virus and people’s exposure to the virus in the pandemic but those were really entrenched issues.  (Researcher from WP3, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

I just wanted to say to all of you involved in the project that I thought it was really well done, it was very moving. I'm an anthropologist...and all the questions that have been asked are a lot about understanding hierarchies, power, misuse of power and all of that. So I think it's really important that the connection is also made to the covert situation in things like the football match and the racism that came after, and also the connection to the Black Death. The historical resonance made it just a very fascinating play and an important one, as well. (Audience Member, Online screening, 17/07/22)

 

3.  Suggestions on how to improve the play.

I think that further exploration of a correlation between the communities that are portrayed could enhance a theme for social justice, and advocacy. This would give additional insight into the possibilities for change - if that is a direction that is desired. I do think that the concept of the correlation between the plague and covid could be further explored and taken into many different directions. For me, this was one concept that was not as clear in comparison to the other themes presented in the play. (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

It might be good to show an even more complex picture, with a few more BAME and non-BAME characters showing different (discriminating and non-discriminating) attitudes. (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

The story has depth, making it feel realistic, but there could be further twists to interweave how some of the characters relate to each other. I found this area was a bit polarised. (Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

The different scenes and sub plots could be more interwoven. Definitely performing to more and diverse audience would help developing the play (Audience member, Screening of filmed performance, SOAS, 2022, completed feedback form) 

Maybe there could be more about the carers struggle with providing care informally. (Participant. Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation in chat)

Couple directly transforming to being brother sister is bit distracting. Could put monologue in scene - make it easier to accept (Audience member, Performance, Birkbeck Arts Week, 24 May 2022, completed feedback form)

I’d love to see some of Ed’s (Edie's) stroppiness and prickliness when (s)he comes out of his/her delirium, to see some more of his/her feistiness, which will give more context to when (s)he is in the scene with Reg in the second bit…. Because they have that great dynamic between the doctor and the nurse, and it’s not clear how much Ed(ie)’s aware of, but maybe (s)he hears more than they realise and comments on it. (Actor, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

Pace, slow down, needs silence pauses to create tension (Audience member, Performance, Birkbeck Arts Week, 24 May 2022, completed feedback form)

 

Themes to address further:

What comes first your moralistic duty or your day-to-day duties? Duties you have to run your house, duties to education and to the job that you have, or those you have to go out there and support the call? … but yeah if you could take a day off you would be standing in the front-line, fighting for the cause. So we'll see how the play develops and we can actually explore more about it. (Actor, Online screening, 17/07/22)

Who is the intended audience in terms of demographics? … when it comes to reception, are we thinking of people like us (older) or the modern day generation as well, who you can show a 6 second clip and they can absorb and digest a large amount of information. We don’t want, in the end, people to say, “this is a great play, but maybe not for me’ and then you end up watched by one sort of people, when the people who need that information more are the generations that are coming up. (Participant. Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

And the pain Ed(ie) has that (s)he has not seen his wife/her husband. Most of the people who left us during coronavirus, people were not able to see their nearest and dearest. Even back in India, I have lost my cousins and many other people, and people were not able to see the face in the end because it was all zipped. It’s not a right way to say bye-bye to somebody. The emotion is there. This is something again I we can highlight a little bit more, because I know this is emotional, so I we can give a spotlight to this as well. (Actor, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22)

It’s about tone. I think it’s important to either make a choice, .. is it really theft or is it people’s deep, deep sense of insecurity which we all felt at the time. … I’m sure we all remember from when lockdown first happened, 2020, there was lots of hoarding going on, people talk about hoarding, and in the play we have the Khans who are collecting lots of dahl and rice,  and Edie collecting all these needles, and an important point, this is not just about greed and selfishness, it was really about insecurity and a certain kind of uncertainty, like how long will this go on? Do I need to get 100 rolls of toilet paper in case it goes on for a year? Am I taking these needles from the hospital because I might need them for the long term. Not that I’m stealing them. …. There was a lot of insecurity that was revealed and people actions crossed a line between legality, morality and self-protection … (Actor, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22)

 

On the theme of Ibn Khaldun’s character and portrayal

Ibn must have a purpose and at the moment, that purpose is observing. I didn’t understand how Ibn interacts or does not interact with the characters, as far as the audience is concerned. (Actor. Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22)

It’s not a time travelling play moving between the past and the future, but it’s like in Harry Potter you have the ghosts in Hogwarts that interact with the students. They are from the past and they are not in the present exactly… and I thought it was really interesting because he’s saying all these things that happened, and we sort of hear them, but the characters in real life, they are not interacting with Ibn. They are not aware of the things that have already happened. It’s like he’s present but the people in the play don’t see him, and I thought that was a pretty good idea having him as a ghost. Maybe if you put too much interaction, then he becomes like more of a person and loses the quality of the ghostly figure. (Research Participant, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

The historical context is excellent, to know the difference of past and present and how it connects, but it didn’t further my interest. I found more interest in the contemporary scenes and the interaction between the characters. If I knew a way into Ibn, and how Ibn related to the characters, then I know if the characters are real or not – or are they just another illusion? (Actor playing Ibn Khaldun, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22)

About Ibn, would it be possible to start the stories by having a brief dialogue between Ibn and Reg? just to bring the notion of crisis a bit more to the front? (Participant. Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22, Online participation)

I think I want to know from the audience point of view, who is the central character that drives the narrative and where should I look? There's so much in terms of layers within the play. My feeling is actually, it more or less works as it is, but as it moves from Community to Community and from different hybrid and presentation platforms, I think it gains its own sort of nuances that we didn't see before. So does my character help or hinder? If there isn't a clear cut message of who he is or what he is, does it matter? (Actor playing Ibn Khaldun, Online screening, 17/07/22)2.4 Suggestions on how to improve play’s public impact in the future?

(It) is really important is to bring back the play to those communities that contributed to the stories and the real life experiences, so, to Coventry, to Leicester, bringing it to the community centres where a play, a story can open up conversations, can open up debates around subjects that don’t normally have centre stage (Researcher, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

(It) would be good to perform to different communities/schools to generate discussion about and create insights in the ways in which the pandemic revealed structural problems/inequality and the human capacity to show support and overcome differences (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

I would like to show the play to our research participants at some point. I would therefore like to see a profile of a BAME older person in the play - as they cope with Covid within their families and communities. (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

Maybe you could show the video in a training centre for nurses and carers and ask them what they think about it.  (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

I feel like it is important to teach children about empathy, empathising with other cultures and understanding their point of view (so include children’s venues) (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

I think this piece could work within community, university and theatre settings as well as used for training within a professional context (care homes, hospitals), particularly as it's approximately 50 mins (could be reduced for training purposes to 30 mins followed by conversations/ reflections). (Audience member online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

Outside of theatre or arts centre settings it's possible to identify community, university, care home, hospital and other relevant settings via local authorities, councils for voluntary organisations and you'll have access to university contacts. Theatres/ arts centres could include: Albany Theatre, Coventry. Attenborough Centre, Leicester. Rich Mix, London. Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London. Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield. Old Rep, Birmingham. Crescent Theatre, Birmingham. mac, Birmingham. Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton. Lakeside Arts, Nottingham. Hawth Arts Centre, Crawley. Unity Theatre, Liverpool. Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. These theaters have small/ middle scale performance spaces and have a history of programming community arts so are probably more accessible in terms of availability. Obviously contact will need to be made with them to find out about interest and where they are with availability over the next 12 months. This will also allow you to find out what spaces they do have and how they can support with marketing the play. These are also geographically well placed (but you could also look at Bristol and Newcastle). (Community Engagement representative, online screening 17/07/22).

 

5. Longer term impact of the project

The longer-term impact was in theatre, policy circles, education & mental health. 

Interest has been generated by other theatre venues especially with regards to the novel look at prejudice among older people. 3 reviews were written available here. www.sohayavisions.com/breadth One was written by the IJRA and assistant, Aakash Wankhede.

‘From several perspectives, while exploring how people are feeling suffocated through a

combination of disease and prejudice, the play opened a lot of eyes. It is a hard-hitting

drama that is not to be missed.’

Another 2 were written by audience members, Anisha Debbarman and Grant Foxon. The former highlighted the play’s relevance for Islamophobia and caste discrimination that also marked the pandemic in India:

‘Directed by Mukul Ahmed and written by Raminder Kaur - based on interviews with carers and those cared for by the Co-POWeR team - a team of actors, dramaturg, designers and crew delivered a compelling drama that weaves between the past and the present while engaging the audience in debates about problem-solving and future pathways against racial discrimination.’ 

The latter commented on the synchronised arts in the play:

‘breaDth was a truly astounding work on COVID-19 and care that almost dipped into magical realism. From the onset the ‘estro poetico’ nature of the sound design beautifully complemented the image on stage to such a degree it was difficult to tell where the poetry of dialogue ended and the music began.’

We created an illustrated 4-page policy brief and sent to various sectors including about 200 MPs, Civil Servants, Councillors and those in the arts, health and care sectors. Impact on policy as visible with comments from key influencers including the Ministerial Support Group at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports who wrote:

'Thank you for your correspondence of 2 July to Matt Warman MP, Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure... I was interested to read the policy brief & the recommendations & have also passed it onto the relevant policy team...Ensuring that our arts & culture is more inclusive and representative of everyone is good for creativity, good for communities & good for business. The government is clear that it expects the cultural sectors to represent our diverse society in their artistic talent, workforce and audiences.'

Regarding education, the play has been scheduled to be played at various educational institutions including Sussex University, Warwick University, Leeds University and SOAS. It has also been integrated into courses on visual anthropology, race and racism.

Regarding mental health and other social pressures and systemic change, this is clear in feedback below that also requests that the filled play be used for training in health and care sectors:

There’s something about a play about carers where you...crystalise all these elements (of isolation). The situation for carers remains the same, nothing has changed and for those that are being cared for. I was a carer briefly and that lack of human engagement is there because the system doesn’t enable the carers to do their job well, even post covid or pre covid. So, if you can take that (play) somewhere and bring this to a big audience, I think it would be incredible.  So, thank you, it was really, really special.  (Member of Audience, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

I think the only way to reach people who may be also biased or prejudiced, is by doing plays like this and showing emotions and how people feel in interaction, so that people can identify with it. (Audience Member, Online screening, 17/07/22)

It’s all about education. Education doesn’t mean we just have to be literate, (it’s about) educating ourselves, being humans… (Audience Member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion, 23/05/22)

You see so many signs in train stations, ‘we have zero tolerance for this and that’ so for Reg to have to just take it in this setting, whereas in so many other departments in the rest of the world, they are cracking down on it. I think there’s clearly a lot more work to do. (Actor, Birkbeck workshop 11/04/22)

It’s more about believing in yourself …You can teach your kid, believe in yourself, you are unique, you are the one, you have your own identity (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

What is really important, is to have plays where we can have also these debates where we can debate things, where we can share ideas, where we can create platforms, Co-POWeR in the end is a platform for gathering voices for gathering views. (Writer/Researcher, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

There should be more understanding and more awareness, more training rights, knowing one's rights. Perhaps that gap between the policymakers and the real people on the ground who are doing the hard work, sometimes unrecognized and rewarded, should become more official, and that gap should shorten. (Actor, Screening of filmed performance, SOAS 16/07/22)

If we don’t teach our kids about (the impact of) sending that information out, then they’ll grow up with that (same behaviour) and they’ll keep on singing the same song. I think its starts with us as parents (Audience Member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

This is part of the research project with policy recommendations so all the findings from the research have been presented locally and nationally to policy makers. From there, it really depends whether they take them seriously, but we’re absolutely committed to trying to push for structural change. (Researcher from WP3, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

In terms of next step, well, obviously we need to apply for more funding it could take a year could take less, it could take longer, and that would then hopefully involve more physical live performances. We understand that filmed theatre is wonderful and Karen did an amazing job with the idea if you can watch that. It is very wonderfully done, as is the rest, but in the end, people...want to go back to theatre and experience it live, and I think that is the next stage. (Writer, Online screening, 17/07/22)

 

6. Positions, opinions and debate provoked by performances

There are three kinds of carers, the carers who are in institutional settings, hospitals, care homes, etc. and the carers who are unpaid family members etc and then there is a carer you have to travel around in between everybody else. All of them are unvalued not under undervalued. (Audience Member, Screening of filmed performance, SOAS 16/07/22)                

In a society when you disrespect Carers/mothers and the health workers, art, and teachers, I don’t know what plague is waiting for us. (Director, Birkbeck Arts Week performance, 24/05/22)

I’m a mother of a bi-racial child and...he’s not white enough to the whites and he’s not brown enough to the browns so, where do you stand?  Can he just get away with humour? (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

Humour helps because I’ve often listened to people saying outrageous things and so I look for a similar topic. (I’m) always reminding people, (to) try to get them to get a perspective of what they’re saying and how irrelevant and how irrational it is (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

If we take ourselves back, in each country where we belong, racism doesn’t mean only colour, skin, tone but, it’s all about ‘groupism’… Racism (or) ‘groupism’ is everywhere, so it’s more about believing in yourself. It’s not about accepting the situation, (or) go with whatever nasty comments you get. People are… not accepting you. So, I think that is what you can teach your kid, believe in yourself, you’re unique, you are the one, you have your own identity. (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

I can really compare that racism cannot be distinctly about colour because in India here, it was in terms of the economic pursuits of people. The unorganized and informal sector workers were affected differently. … Britain was fighting the two kinds of pandemic, COVID and racism. In India it was the internal migrants exodus from the urban areas back to the rural homes. (Audience member, Online screening, 17/07/22)

The part of the world where I belong from, a household mother is just doing what she’s supposed to and no one acknowledges the fact that she’s probably doing a job of two people .. while taking care of the family and … working as well, (so) let’s start with the respect first and everything else can follow (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

I feel like it is important to teach children about empathy, empathising with other cultures and understanding their point of view, what they’ve grown up from and this virus, covid 19 has really pushed that sort of understanding of how people understand empathy at each other’s, that is what I sort of picked up from the play.  (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22 

(We need more places) where elderly people could come and just read newspapers and talk among themselves.  If they just in some way can feel that they are not alone, (so) they don’t have to just listen to their heartbeats all the time in their own house, I think that may help. (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

The memory café sounds fantastic, but one of the things that has come up is how a lot of these really great initiatives aren’t necessarily culturally sensitive or responsible to the particular needs of BAME communities. Memory cafes for example might not have or reflect on memories that say my dad might have had from Sri Lanka.  So, I think that’s something that we’re trying to bring out in the research that whatever the initiatives are, they need to be sensitive to those particular needs of racially minoritized communities. (Researcher, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

There’s a befriending service so people become friends with older people, visit them or you know or try to provide other stimulation that is not medically based (Audience member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

How do we put caring at the centre of society?  It’s a very vague idea but it can be helpful and depends how far we can take it.  (For example) the Care Manifesto is a group of feminists and researchers, artists and academics which is very, very interesting reading about how to change society around the perspective of care and what kind of new structures could be created if we put care at the centre of the social community and structures.  (Audience member, Birkbeck Arts Week Performance 24/05/22)

Caring is not … about caring selflessly. It’s a job and you have protection as a worker to be safeguarded from that kind of abuse. I work in the care industry, and you don’t have to accept abuse.  (Even with a zero-hour contract), he (Reg) can report it to the employer and someone else can care for that person.  It’s not about ignoring the abuse. They can take it further than that, they don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to accept it (racist abuse) you can refuse to care for that person, it’s in your right as a worker. That trumps the care for the older person.  So, you are protected from that kind of abuse.

Writer: Which will also to jeopardise his job. As a zero-hour contract worker, he has no rights. (Conversation between care worker in audience and Writer, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

If somebody is not treating you as a human being if somebody thinks that you're less than them because your skin colour, your ethnicity, whatever. Fine, I'm less than you, but that means I don't have to look after you. You can lie there in your own **** It's not the end of my world. I know that sounds really harsh, but unfortunately sometimes you have to be harsh with people to make them see the reality of the situation. The people who are given the care majority of brown skins or non-English accents. Therefore, if you have a problem with either of those things you're not going to get the care. So you have to make the decision. (Audience member, Screening of filmed performance, SOAS 16/07/22)

Confronting someone directly just makes them put up a wall so, I always try and find a teasing way and just keep reminding them and keep reminding them, … They may never speak to you again but it’s worth it (Audience Member, Brady Theatre Recorded Discussion 23/05/22)

I do believe that black and brown bodies are overly surveilled and criminalised, and also under-supported when it comes to health and social care. I felt it myself when I was followed by a police car on my way to visit my mother to drop off some essential shopping, and also the lack of basic courtesy that my mother experiences when she calls for updates to her health conditions. (Audience member, online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

In several countries, not in England, there is a compulsory military training. So, if you take the military budget out and put it into a compulsory medical training for everyone, I think that would take away a lot of pressure … because you can’t ignore if something there needs help, you can ignore once, twice but if it's happening persistently, you end up helping. I am sure we are in want of helping.  (Actor, Birkbeck Arts Week performance 24/05/22) 

What comes first - your moralistic duty or your day-to-day duties? Duties you have to run your house, duties to education and to the job that you have, or those you have to go out there and support the call? … but yeah if you could take a day off you would be standing in the front-line, fighting for the cause. (Actor, Online screening, 17/07/22)

When we initially read through the play, we were trying to work out what Edie’s motivations were and we talked a lot about how, for a lot of elderly people who during the during the pandemic had carers coming in, these were the only interactions that they were getting during the day. I think when she comes out with some of the comments, she does is to sort of stop Reg from leaving. Because if she's really provocative and nasty to him, then he is kind of forced to stay and try and combat those comments that she that she is making. So I think I think it's one of the reasons that she that conversation kind of evolves the way that it does is because she doesn't want to let him go and the more she can provoke him in an unkind way the longer he will stay there with her and she won't be back to be on her own. (Actor playing Edie, Online screening, 17/07/22)

The thing about Edie is that she is actually, if you take away from the illness and take her away from the prejudice, she's actually quite a sympathetic character, she replicates or represents a lot of characters that we may come across in real life, who harbour these prejudices. They sit there like rocks and they're never tackled they're never examined and people don't look at it reflexively because they don't think it's their problem. (Writer, Online screening, 17/07/22)

In fact, what BLM have highlighted is that this is not just about black lives, but also about those who are maybe unwittingly, and sometimes invisibly perpetuating racism or however you want to call it so there's a lot of examination of what people might call whiteness. So it wasn't just about putting the problem on Black lives, it was also about others who we relate and engage with on an everyday basis, structurally and in normal ordinary life. I think that's what I was trying to get across and I think you did a great job doing that, thank you. (Writer, Online screening, 17/07/22)

I think that the complex relationship between Reg and Eadie was well realised. Edie's character, her perspectives, her experiences and her outlook are familiar to me when I do interact with certain neighbours and other members of the community. Reg's constant negotiations and reassurances were incredible (although necessary for frontline social and healthcare staff), and reflected some of the language I have deployed from time to time when encountering such views. (Audience member, online screening 17/07/22, from completed questionnaire)

It's very difficult to change the prejudice in the individual, but I think structurally at the very least organizations should be setting those standards of expectations and showing what will happen if those expectations aren't met because that abuse is completely unacceptable. (Audience Member, in ‘chat’ Online screening, 17/07/22)

 

7.  Further comments from the research team

Our understanding of change comes from these opportunities to discuss things in person with people to use art as a tool for change, to make the art and opportunity for a forum where people can see things from other perspectives and on that basis, perhaps start you know, seeing things differently. (Dramaturg, Online screening, 17/07/22)

I wait for crescendos I wait for inspiration and so that's how the Ibn Khaldun figure came in, as a way of making this theatre not just about this pandemic, because that is time limited. We're kind of in this time warp where we can't really see outside of it and the pandemic is kind of lingering still so I was thinking ‘how can we step back and look at this pandemic through other people's eyes?’ (Writer, Online screening, 17/07/22)

(Summary from dramaturg of participatory process)

The process was what we called a performative research process. We had about 30 interviews that we looked at and found elements were resonating across the different transcripts. you know the different experiences which had been transcribed for us….(and) we started thinking in terms of although ethnography in a self-reflective practice. We responded to these stories by putting them in dialogue with our own, and this was a very important element, because … we brought in that kind of effective quality into the development of the first draft. And then we shared this first draft in a script reading workshop with members of the Communities interviewed in a session on line... We then had conversations with the participants who were able to give us some hints on what resonated with them most what was less relevant. What other things they would like to see. The actors who read the play, being part of those same communities, also had an opportunity to bring their own views. Following that, .. we scripted a new draft .. and then we presented it to the audience. These presentations are also really important, as well as the feedback that we are getting in writing. We are collating all these responses and these will inform the third script of the play. (Dramaturg, Online screening, 17/07/22)

 

Three Reviews 

APart of a poster for an on-line screening o the play breaDth on July 17th 2022 with eventbrite link

breaDth - A Play on COVID, Care and Struggles against Racism. Reviewed by Anisha Debbarman

What do we want?

Justice.

When do we want it?

Now!

Hands up!

Don't shoot!

I can't breathe! I can't breathe!

 

It has been two years since George Floyd was brutally massacred. On 25th May, a statue was erected to immortalize Floyd’s death at Tom Bass Park, Houston, United States. It is one of the many statues representing a watershed moment in recent history that drastically shifted global narratives surrounding racial discrimination and inequalities. And it all began with the filming of the brutal circumstances that led to Floyd’s final utterance, ‘I can’t breathe’.

It is a haunting statement that revealed inherent biases in the US police system and specifically problems surrounding racial profiling. Produced by Sohaya Visions and Mukul & Ghetto Tigers, the play, breaDth, performed at London’s Brady Arts Centre and for Birkbeck Arts Week in May 2022, reminded me of how the collective trauma rippled across various countries, finding several parallels between George Floyd’s death and others who have suffered a similar ordeal. It echoed a global sentiment that we need to have better mechanisms for redressing racism, extending to how the COVID-19 pandemic further entrenched racial discrimination.

This is where the play, breadth, sheds some light on how public discourses on racism shape our understanding and navigation of difference and inequality. The D in breaDth was to highlight the Desperation, Depression, Death, Delirium, and Disaster that was brought on by the pandemic in a deeply divided society across race, ethnicity and class. Coproduced with participants and in collaboration with the Consortium of Practices of Well-being and Resilience in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) families and communities (Co-POWeR), breaDth describes the struggles of migrant workers working in the health and social care sectors. Some of the themes performed under the play involved conversations about employment, social stigmas, and work-life imbalances faced by BAME individuals who work as carers in the UK.

The play opens with a soliloquy, narrated by the medieval jurist and philosopher, Ibn Khaldun, at a time of the Black Death, where he identifies social and biomedical pathologies around minorities and prophesizes the course of future events. Voices scream in the background, ‘Kill the heathen. Kill the witch! Kill the Jew! Kill the Arab! Kill the Mullah!’ – cries that demonised minority communities with the pandemic then as it does now. Although very distinct diseases, it is as if history was repeating itself. COVID-19 is also a moment in history, which will be remembered as a disease that puckered irrational fears surrounding racial stereotypes. When the pandemic rapidly spread in the early 2020s, several deep-seated fears erupted about immigration and ethnic differences. Whether they were of East Asian, South Asian or African/Caribbean backgrounds, they were targeted physically and verbally. Floyd’s death came in the midst of it all, reminding us how structural and street violence are deeply connected.

 Movements against such discrimination along with hashtags such as #stopasianhate and #blacklivesmatter were shared across social media platforms globally. These movements are displayed through voices of protesters shouting slogans in the background to the play. Their anger echoes through the theatre hall, reminding the audience of a few critical moments of 2021, where the youth took to the streets, expressing their anger about unequal treatments. These voices are in the backdrop of a simple household setting, a sofa and a carpet facing the audience members and a projected image reflected on the back wall. At the beginning, a desert setting is portrayed on the wall, chronologically guiding the audience back in time. The stage is divided into multiple timelines, from discussions between doctors and nurses to family time in front of the TV. It is as if we have been invited to witness the impact of COVID-19 from different points in the timeline.

Younger generations have moved between social media platforms to engage with global trends via Twitter, Snapchat, Tik-Tok, WhatsApp and Instagram. In the play, Aysha monitors her daughter, Aaliyah’s online activities, specifically on the kinds of news-related information gathered on these platforms. Misinformation can be rampant throughout social media, often becoming difficult to differentiate real from malicious content. It also can trample the efforts of real movements and voices.

Directed by Mukul Ahmed and written by Raminder Kaur - based on interviews with carers and those cared for by the Co-POWeR team - a team of actors, dramaturg, designers and crew delivered a compelling drama that weaves between the past and the present while engaging the audience in debates about problem-solving and future pathways against racial discrimination. Rez Kabir plays a dramatic Ibn Khaldun while Diljohn Singh plays Reg, an ambitious, empathic and imaginative carer but trapped in the not so merry-go-round of zero-hour contracts. This is all he has to sustain his young family through the pandemic and as a key worker, he needs to go out to work where he is further exposed to the virus as well as other social pressures. His wife, Bibi, played by Eleanor Fanyinka has been laid off and without a permanent contract she has no other support. Their neighbours, the Khan family, include these actors doubling up as mischievous teenagers along with Aishah Afzal playing an overworked mother, Ayshah, who also needs to take care of her in-laws in their compact house. Then there is the octogenarian Edie played endearingly by Maria Austin but suffering from post-ICU delirium as well as a bout of prejudice against those who are not English even if they are contracted to look after her in her home as precariously paid carers. She lost her husband to COVID-19 and is physically frail and emotionally fraught. Her long and exasperated breaths echo in the theatre hall, telling us that she has mixed chances of surviving the virus. Yet her robust exchanges with Reg, about her life, her husband, and her pet turtle, keep her tethered to this world. It is an incredibly nuanced relationship as there is something deeply human about Edie despite her insecurities and biases. It is magnified through the interactions she has with Reg. An ironic interaction was when Reg tries to administer medicine to Edie while she maintains that he must keep ‘barge-pole distance’. A shocking moment came when she had sprayed the room with a freshener after Reg leaves. Blatant stereotypes are targeted at her carer, who despite all the odds, is quite sympathetic to her needs and tries to bridge the differences he encounters.

Bibi’s remarks in the play hit home hard – where carers are torn between care as work and care for their own family. She complains about her husband Reg never being there for her and her toddler son.There is another moment in the play where Bibi tells Reg, that she wears ‘so many hats.’ This seems like a quintessential description of migrant livelihoods in the UK, by taking up multiple roles, part-timing in temporary and low-skilled work. In an article published during the pandemic, low-skilled workers were praised for their resilience and dedication in keeping the society going. [1]  Working during the peak of the pandemic, when most people were cautioned to not leave their homes, migrant workers risked their lives to keep society going as ‘key workers’, furthering the risks of contracting the virus. The article further stated how politicians blamed migrants for holding down wages, ruining ‘British culture’ and overburdening public services. This is despite the fact that it is mainly migrants and their descendants who have kept essential services going especially in hospitality and healthcare sectors.

The play highlights the chequered geography of care and how it was deeply impacted by the pandemic. Care and caretaking as a profession can be an emotionally draining field. Carers sacrifice more than just time for the role. While exposed on the frontline, they are also expected to handle multiple aspects of illness, trauma, and emotions of those they care for. Care work in old age homes is especially precarious, with the possibility of dealing with death on a regular basis. I don’t think there can be enough training to kit individuals out to work with all the expectations and circumstances of carers, since anything can happen and this can critically impact their physical and emotional well-being. In the last two years we have witnessed several deaths, particularly of those who live in care homes in UK as well as across the world. Those with a compromised immune system, especially people of older generations, faced a high risk to the pandemic. An article published in the BMJ states that overcrowding, poor care, and neglect are the major reasons why care homes are high risk areas. [2]

What do we want? Certainty. When do we want it? Now!

Towards the end of the play, cast members in character interact with the audience, posing critical and poignant questions on the uncertainty faced by migrant workers in the care systems. For instance, Ibn Khaldun asks, ‘How can carers be supported more? What do they need most?’ Reg asks, ‘How do I deal with racism from older people and their families when I try to do my job? Why is it only people like us and new migrants who can do this job of care? Who do we need to tell and how?’ Among other questions, Aysha asks ‘How can I be a carer in the house for young and old and try to work to support our financial needs?’ Bibi asks, ‘How can I get a job for life that does not put me in danger? How can I stop being so reliant on my husband?’ And Edie asks, ‘How can I overcome my paranoia and prejudice for anyone that looks different? How can I get rid of my worries and biases?’ Such questions were answered in a variety of ways and no doubt were very different in the second performance of the play for Birkbeck Arts Week the following day.

The play and subsequent discussion makes you reflect on the characters’ everyday challenges, vulnerabilities and resilience, ranging from barriers in their workspaces to the lack of support from authorities in terms of family welfare and finances. These are not merely theatrical characters but also based on the real lives of participants in Co-POWeR research. There is a visible gap between the living conditions of BAME/migrant workers in the care system and policies designed to help them. A few members of the audience believed that it is the lack of education and awareness about their struggles. However, the process of educating society is more than just learning about socio-cultural and ethnic histories. It also involves unlearning archaic stereotypes and opinions about cultural and racial difference while acting upon the problems and challenges to make some positive changes in society.

[1] Goodfellow, Maya (2020), While 'low-skilled' migrants are saving us, the government is cracking down on them
[1] Mahase, Elizabeth Covid-19: Neglect was one of biggest killers in care homes during pandemic, report finds, BMJ (22nd December 2021)

 An asian doctor and nurse in PPE are in conversation, an old white lady sits in a hospital chair behind them

breaDth - Filmed Theatre Review by Aakash Wankhede

The filmed performance of breaDth, based on real-life stories collected by researchers in Co-POWeR: Consortium on Practices of Well-being and Resilience in BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Families and Communities, was penned by Raminder Kaur with dramaturgy by Alda Terracciano. The play was first performed at Brady Arts Centre and for Birkbeck Arts Week in London in May 2022, followed by its filming and hybrid screening at Brunei Gallery for the SOAS South Asian Heritage Month Festival, that was then followed by an online screening with actors in July 2022 to reach out to national and international audiences.

Directed by Mukul Ahmed, breaDth was performed by the following actors who played multiple roles Rez Kabir as Ibn Khaldun, Dr Panesar; Maria Austin as Edi; Aishah Afzal as Aysha, and Nurse Tina; Eleanor Fanyinka as Bibi and Aaliyah and  Diljohn Sidhu as Reg and Bilal

The play starts with music that evokes the medieval era produced by Karen Boswall, and along with the evocative projections by Edgar Lushaju, effectively casts us back into the past.

The narrator is Ibn Khaldun, a jurist, philosopher and polymath, who narrates the event of destruction that happened due to the Great Plague that devastated millions in the fourteenth century: ’The “Black Death” is everywhere, spreading from west to east. With this comes the demonization of minorities such as Jews and Muslims.’, he says.   ‘The paranoia of past present and future’: similar to the social pathologies of the plague, COVID-19 has destroyed many lives around the world. People of all ages, gender, caste, and ethnicity have suffered due to the pandemic, some more than others, especially along the lines of social prejudices relating to race and ethnicity. This situation was exacerbated due to unequal health conditions and improper access to resources.

The problems faced by BAME communities, otherwise referred to as Global Majorities, are manifold, whether it is due to a life-threating disease or discrimination against the community. They are clearly visible with regards to the lack of resources for minority communities making their life more difficult. Children and older people are also more vulnerable than others owing to their isolation and/or fragility. For instance, with the multi-generational Khan family in breadth, there are not enough digital devices or internet access for the family to do their work including for school. Everyone has to wait for their turn to work on the laptop. With the octogenarian, Edie, we hear that she is struggling with technology, trying to retain a hold on social communication.

The lack of resources and provisions is also evident in the shortage of space in the household especially with the Khan family. Hardly any member gets privacy or space to breathe. This contrasts markedly with Edie’s house that we see later where she is left on her own in a silent house. Other times, fear of the outside, as we hear for the older Khan family members, lead them back into the safety of their small spaces.

When it comes to the hospital scene, Nurse Tina shared her experience working with the other more privileged staff where she has to face frequent taunts and derogatory comments from her colleagues even though she is doing her best to care for patients when others would rather throw them out to free up their beds. This scene makes me ponder over the apparent inequality in the medical profession, despite being viewed noble and respectable. It is further highlighted by Bibi’s comment on how some English people treat carers of colour even when they are doing their job well: “We are white which makes us all right”.

COVID-19 heavily impacted frontline workers including carers of all kinds. Many of them are from BAME communities.

The play reflects upon a pivotal issue faced by migrants from the Global South who moved to the UK in search of work - racial discrimination. Those who become carers are not immune to these preconceived prejudices and discrimination. In a conversation between the carer of Asian descent (Reg) and the white woman (Edie), you can gauge the tensions that arise from this interaction, an interaction that is not without its humorous and empathetic aspects.

The woman does not feel like she is being cared for and prefers a white caregiver, even though her caregiver is proficient and professional. She is of the opinion that migrants ‘have taken their jobs’. He knows that there are not enough people doing this kind of work due to its low income and precarious zero-hour work conditions. In fact, those on zero-hour contracts and without workers’ rights have constant fears of losing their jobs. Their worry is to earn for themselves and their families while risking their lives to help and save others.

The ‘Black Death’ of the medieval era becomes a metaphor for the ‘Deaths of Blacks’. Reports have noted the escalation of Stop and Search especially for Black and Asian men. When the police arrest the Asian carer, alleging him to be a drug dealer and robber, the layered racism from street to state is laid strikingly bare.

The audience too appreciated the play for its multiple significance that ranged from history, comedy, poetry and politics: ‘This play is multifaceted, and thought provoking‘; ‘Covid-19 is the setting to expose existing injustice’; and ‘I am acutely aware of the intersection of COVID with black lives matter, highlighting racism, but these [stories] really moved me to expand my focus to the frontline workers experiencing racism too’.  

The condition of care and carers was a strong chord of resonance: ‘One thing that struck me - what can we do for carers more to support them? What do they need the most, you know whether they’re caring in the home, which is so very prison like and then outside of the home. What is it that they need?  I think this play brought out all those different layers’.

One person pointed out how ‘very insightful and enlightening the play was’. Others highlighted what they learnt from it: ‘I thought it was incredibly engaging and emotive, the connection between the historical and the present worked so well, the actors did a fantastic job, and - in particular, the scene with Reg and Edie - did continue to play on my mind afterwards.

Another audience member noted: ‘My goal for viewing this play was to grow in my awareness of multicultural issues and marginalized populations. The play achieved this for me. The focus of loneliness in the elderly community, as well as the racism experienced within healthcare, were two dimensions of awareness that I have not given much attention to. ‘

One actor in a workshop said: ‘This is a subject that I haven’t really thought about before, in terms of how a carer might endure racism, it makes me think of my grandmothers. One grandmother was a nurse... and my other grandma was a carer and these are things that they probably would have endured back in the 60’s or 70’s, possibly 80’s. But this is modern day, and to know that these are real stories…and to know things like this are still going on, even during the pandemic, for me, I find this quite eye-opening.’

From several perspectives, while exploring how people are feeling suffocated through a combination of disease and prejudice, the play opened alot of eyes. It is a hard-hitting drama that is not to be missed.

 

Coloured drawing of desert landscape unsed in play breaDth

breaDth - a theatre play by Raminder Kaur - Review by Grant Foxon 

“In the world of rats, paranoia is king and vengeance its queen…”

breaDth was a truly astounding work on COVID-19 and care that almost dipped into magical realism. From the onset the “estro poetico” nature of the sound design beautifully complemented the image on stage to such a degree it was difficult to tell where the poetry of dialogue ended and the music began. 

With the mystic and jurist Ibn Khaldun from the fourteenth century around the time of the plague, the play uses a time-slip narrative device to excellent effect. This technique not only advances the plot but also shapes the structure of the piece into a circular cycle-like effect that denotes a sense of not only history repeating itself but also the recurrence of global diseases - diseases such as the Black Death and COVID-19 but also social diseases such as racism that keep turning up again and again throughout history.

Based on national research by the Consortium on Practices of Well-being and Resilience among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic families and communities, the play deserves praise for highlighting such taboo issues as racism amongst the elderly who have a “Pensioners Prejudice Permit” as the character of Bibi retorted. I also really liked the nuances such as when the hospital doctor and nurse were talking about the two TV comedy series, Mrs Browns’ Boys and Father Ted, and compared them not in terms of which programme is funnier, but in terms of whether Mrs Brown or Father Ted would win in a fight down a dark alleyway. Such lines are a strong reflection upon our society in terms of how we judge things not in terms of how they should be judged, but on factors that are not even relevant. 

Well directed by Mukul Ahmed and performed by Rez Kabir, Diljohn Sidhu, Maria Austin, Eleanor Fanyinka and Aoshah Afzal, it was a fantastic piece of theatre that I would strongly recommend to anyone.

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