Our Stories & Spotlight
Behind the Mask 2021-2024
In 2020 Covid 19 struck and we found ourselves having to come up with innovative new ways to continue the Behind the Label (BTL) project. At the same time we also became painstakingly aware that the client group was:
Experiencing new issues as a result of Covid 19
Growing (as a result of job losses, relationship break ups, mental health issues many more were experiencing the themes common to BTL from homelessness to exclusion)
From this we created the idea of Behind the Mask with the goal of taking the learning from BTL and combining it with both the new issues that covid had brought into the mix and the older issues it had exasperated. We also saw the need to adapt our approach to cater for virtual meet ups and filming with people in the process.
The Behind the Label project, looking at the stories behind the labels groups with issues are often given, took off (with a People and Places grant) in 2018. These years afforded us a time to understand the community, their needs and struggles. We learned things that did and did not work, what attracted people to this kind of work and how to tailor what we do to this. We ran arts projects that were workshops based on telling the stories behind our labels and how sharing the stories reduced isolation and segregation, encouraging a better education of related issues among the wider public.
Taking what we learned on the Behind the Label project and world developments in 2020 with Covid 19 we have created a new project concept entitled Behind the Mask targeted primarily at those who have or are experiencing homelessness in its many forms. Throughout the project we will create a series of short films which can be used in other settings. One of our goals is to work with high schools and disseminate the work to them, showing the films and creating discussion packs around this.
Our work challenges people’s assumptions about this community and the community’s assumptions about themselves and their capabilities.
TVO & Multi Story Media Ltd (MSM)
TVO works closely with media company Multi Story Media Ltd. to create film content and do all filming. MSM create on all platforms - from digital to hard copies; social media to books; live work and film.
Working with Applied Film means people determine the media, the storytelling and the audience with MSM creating or co-working with projects in answer to the needs of the participants, the clients and the audience.
Working with the same approach and undergoing the same training as those in TVO means MSM work safely and sensitively with issue-based projects. They use formats that are non-intrusive and help people tell their stories.
TVO & Covid-19 (2020/21)
Things began as normal this year with meetings to plan out the Behind the Label (BTL) activities and then in February one of our long-standing BTL participants passed away unexpectedly. While working with a vulnerable group we have almost inevitably lost individuals in the past, the passing of Matthew McLay hit the group hard – participants, mentors and staff. There were many reasons for this but perhaps the fact that Matt had come through so much and been with the project since its first day, changing his life throughout, contributed to the great sense of loss. Matt had turned his life around, had secured his own flat and was successfully living independently, managing his health problems and alcohol addiction, and was back in touch and a regular in the lives of his children and grandchildren. He also had influenced others with the positive changed he had achieved. We realised that we need to have meetings/workshops to work through and process the loss for all involved. This enabled a period of reflection both on the loss of Matt but for many of our clients, also on their own lives, their choices and the risks they live with. Less than three weeks following Matt’s funeral and in the midst of these workshops the UK was moved into a full lockdown.
Initially all came to a standstill although we maintained regular calls to check in on participants and peers on BTL. Once we realised that lockdown was going to continue for a lengthy period of time, we decided that we needed to look at how we could adapt our project to work with Covid restrictions and the subsequent limitations on meeting up and other activities.
We approached this by organising workshops through zoom and google meets. This was easier where we were working directly with organisations who could help facilitate this. However for individuals and those still experiencing homelessness it was more challenging.
Additional problems came in the form that:
Covid presents a serious health threat to a vulnerable group as most of those we work with were already suffering from comorbidities. While one might expect this to have a reflective consequence of taking better care of oneself, for many in this group fear leads to a default of more self-destructive behaviour and placing oneself in dangerous situations.
Many street homeless no longer had an avenue for begging or were visible on the streets for interaction to take place. As shops and restaurants closed street homeless no longer had avenues they had previously used for interaction and support in the street. Many felt more cut off and lonelier than before, many feared what was happening but had nobody to discuss facts with as opposed to conjecture that was spreading fast. Also the majority had little access to the news and did not understand what was happening and why.
Many in this community already suffered with isolation and feeling marginalised. Covid exasperated this.
As time proceeded we set up more online checks and group online meetings where possible through the organisation where some individuals were based. We enhanced and extended our online training for our facilitators and for the peer mentors to support the changes Covid had brought and to look at alternative ways of conducting the content from our workshops and regular meetings to meet the situation.
We made smaller groups to work with facilitators and peer mentors online/by phone and then set up regular feedback sessions (on a weekly basis) with facilitators and peer mentors to see where we needed to improve, how we could do this and to ensure we were adapting to a regularly changing situation.
This was all key to the mental health issues which surfaced or worsened for many. In addition we had tentative interest which then grew from people who during the first lockdown found themselves suffering with mental issues, turning to alcohol/drugs and people who were experiencing homelessness for the first time due to the loss of work breakdown of a relationship. This was a new dimension to our community and again we found ourselves adapting to this and how we could best support them within the project.
When lockdown lifted, we began meetings in a new space based in Cardiff city centre – we continued these meeting throughout the period permitted by Covid restrictions and also used the time to keep preparing peer mentors and enabling them to grow in the work. In this area we saw significant and notable development among various individuals. The group meetings were especially supportive for working through mental health issues and coping mechanisms for the pandemic. We also attempted to put better measures in place for a possible return to lockdown.
We were fully aware that a production was not a possibility this year and so we decided to work with some of the returning group members who already had confidence to perform and create a one-hour filmed show. It aimed to educate people on them being a marginalised group trying to cope with Covid, the restrictions, the stagnation of their lives in new and different ways and also, as always, to have fun light-hearted moments where they could laugh at themselves and the situation (something which has always been key to our work is developing the ability to do this in order to prevent a situation becoming too overwhelming).
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One participant remembered what she felt like on the first day, ‘Starting out, there were all different people and all different experiences in one room – am I suited? Can I relate to people? Everyone’s the same as me really…… how not to judge is what I learnt’. The TVO sessions featured a lot of games, exercises and discussions aimed at participants understanding themselves, what motivates or demotivates them, confidence and body language, exploring how they can value their life experience and realise their full potential.
As with all TVO courses nothing is set in stone and we worked with the energy in the room and the needs of the particular group on the day. It’s led to some fascinating sessions and some very special moments.
The WISE mentor and co-ordinator at The Wallich, Liz Warburton told us she’s still getting responses from participants long after they’ve left. ‘They might have had a light-bulb moment when they’re working, or doing something and a bit of the course suddenly pops into their heads! I got an email recently from one participant who graduated last year, just wanting me to know that he gets what we were on about now’.
The latest participants have just graduated and the response has been so encouraging that WISE is expanding to cover 2 bases in south Wales Cardiff and Swansea.
If you would like TVO to design a training package for your organisation or group contact us at email@example.com
10 Years of TVO & CIYOTA
Behind the Label - Performances
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 xxx and good luck in your new show x’
Our Project - Confessions & My Story - Dawn Sheldon
Dawn was a TVO regular, fundraising, work-shopping projects and applying her considerable creative talents to our short films and performances.
Dawn was fearless – no memory or experience was too dark or uncomfortable to explore which she did in our CONFESSIONS workshops and performances with shocking and hilarious results.
The idea of CONFESSIONS is to create a monologue based on an event in your own life. Something uncomfortable, dramatic, awkward or difficult or just odd, that perhaps you can’t shake off. It all starts with one sentence.
Over the 3 day workshop we play games, tell stories, create scenes and build a dramatic story of nine minutes on this one sentence. Each monologue is co-created with feedback from the other participants in the workshop, and is by turns a laugh, emotional, annoying, difficult and unexpectedly therapeutic.
The performance is a unique experience. It’s very intimate with a maximum of 3 chairs to each performer. The audience experience up to 9 very personal stories and are left with their own thoughts and feelings about what they’ve just heard. It’s never written down. It’s a created piece learned through repetition.
Initially Dawn was dubious. Her treatment for breast cancer affected her memory and she worried that she would struggle to get through the piece. She loved performing though and was willing to give it a go. On the night she found the techniques worked and her story flowed effortlessly. The experience helped her get her confidence back.
She very kindly adapted one of her performances, which we’re delighted to share with you here. It’s a lovely memory of her.
1961 - 2016
CONFESSIONS is a TVO workshop.
Ideal for exploring our own stories, the dark and the light.
Creating monologues for actors
Our Project - Behind the Label 2016
Behind the Label (BTL) is an Applied Theatre project created in partnership with the Wales Millennium Centre and The Wallich. The ground-breaking project worked with a group of people with two things in common – they had all experienced homelessness and suffered severe loss of self esteem.
Some were battling alcoholism and drug addiction, whilst others had suffered domestic and/or sexual abuse. Others had mental health issues, some had learning difficulties.
All had been 'labelled' in some form or another and felt that nobody saw or cared about who they truly were.
BTL’s goal was to empower them to tell their stories and show the person behind the label.
BTL offered two pathways.
In Pathway 1 participants completed an 18-week internship exploring what goes into the staging and presentation of theatre, from ushering to marketing, light design to set build.
In Pathway 2 participants learned about Applied Theatre and creating, devising and acting.
Both pathways culminated in a full scale production entitled 'Behind the Label', where participants explore their own stories.
"In a performance that is funny, entertaining, and simultaneously heart breaking, what stands out is the courage of all participants to take ownership of their stories and speak out on their terms."
My Story - Benson
In 1995, Benson's village was attacked by rebels who were slaughtering rival tribes and warring with the Congolese army. Separated from his parents and siblings, he risked his life to escape, finally arriving in Kyangwali refugee camp in 1997.
Everything he’d come through led him to aspire to a better future not just for himself but the refugee community around him.
He survived many bouts of malaria and near-starvation, and throughout he studied and achieved qualifications. He firmly believed that education was the route to freedom and a better future.
"It is is a tale of strength and endurance beyond what I believed possible; yet the strength and endurance were never mine. It is a story of faith and trust even when it seems all hope is gone; it is a story of love though it is not a love story."Benson Wereje
Benson talked often of the pain he felt on witnessing such great sadness in his life. He never speaks in a piteous or dramatic way. He has a look that to an outsider may seem blank but when you know him you see it is a look of knowing and understanding of pain beyond words, beyond all comprehension. It knows no words, no comforting expression. It is a sharing of a love that is so profound it brings a sorrowful aching to your heart. He tells me that this is learning to cry with no sound; learning to cry with no tears.’Jennifer Hartley, Director