A Community Transformed | WANTED (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

As part of Transform Festival ’16, Chris Goode & Company brought the community of Leeds to life on the West Yorkshire Playhouse stage. For this devised piece, the company asked the people of Leeds what they most wanted to see onstage, and then developed these ideas into three-minute segments woven together in a full-length performance.

I was entirely unsure what to expect from this performance, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. In the space of an hour and a half, I saw a group of young children dance around in superhero costumes as a form of peaceful protest against ‘killing people’, watched entranced as a live white rabbit hopped around an enclosed pen for three minutes, I saw David Bowie reincarnated, and watched an adorable three-year-old chase after her mum and dad as four members of the company mirrored her movements. These moments were entertaining, and filled me with such joy as I saw the people of Leeds representing their own stories and their own desires on stage.

There were also moments that had a far more profound effect, and that were touching in such a personal way that almost drove me to tears. A segment put forward by Leeds Mencap represented life with learning disabilities through the metaphor of reaching the top of a mountain, and as the performers came forward holding hands in support of one another, snow falling on their shoulders, I felt the weight of this important message, and of understanding that what is a hill for some, is an Everest for others. Leeds LGBT was represented through a collection of their own experiences, read verbatim by the core ensemble and in many cases cast against race, gender, and sexuality, making those stories so much more effective. The performance as a whole asked its audience to evaluate their own place within the Leeds community. It examined notions of privilege, power dynamics, the future of Leeds youth and our own interactions with other. Wanted left me questioning my own position as a university student who made a second home for myself in Leeds four years ago, and it encompassed the strength of Leeds as city which celebrates diversity and creativity.

wanted

If the intention was to represent the Leeds community onstage, Chris Goode and company certainly achieved their goal. Alongside the company ensemble performers were those people whose stories were being represented, creating a level of truth and honesty the likes of which I yet to see on any other stage. Rather than simply appropriating the material they collected, the community at large had a chance to be actively involved in how their stories and experiences were represented on the stage. Not only is this type of work important ethically, but it makes for far more interesting performances. Watching a woman fight against the stigma of her wheelchair was far more engaging and had much more of an emotional effect than any actor could have.

Rose Wardlaw, a member of the core ensemble, said of her involvement in the project: “I’ve found this whole experience completely liberating both as a performer and member of community and in understanding that the two things are inherently connected. Going off stage and seeing cast members, both from the community and professional, overcome with emotion because they feel they’ve shared a part of themselves and been heard is something I will never forget. I hadn’t expected to find it such a deeply moving experience. These people have shared a bravery, truthfulness, love and empathy which much of traditional ‘theatre’ would struggle to replicate.”

Art and theatre provide us with opportunities to share our cultural experiences in a unique and deeply personal way, and I feel lucky to have been in the audience at what is frankly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Wanted left me with an incredible feeling of warmth and love for the city which has become a home to me. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was exactly what I wanted.

I look forward to next year’s Transform festival in the hopes that the unknown corners of Leeds are once again brought into the spotlight.

*****

‘Wanted’ – Chris Goode & Company
Transform Festival 2016
West Yorkshire Playhouse, 22-23 April 2016
http://www.wyp.org.uk/events/wanted

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