“This is what I’ve had to look forward to and has helped me with my recovery. I’ve met some amazing people and feel confident. I don’t feel trapped anymore, I feel positive. Instead of feeling nervous, embarrassed and scared I wake up happy.” Participant
This case study looks at Staging Recovery. Geese Theatre Company worked with adults in recovery from substance abuse to create an ensemble that writes, produces and performs new work in a range of settings. Find out more about Staging Recovery by watching the film and reading the project summary below.
The UK Branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Sharing the Stage initiative ran from 2014-2018. It supported arts projects in which vulnerable and under-served groups of people 'share the stage' with professional performers, and projects that are based on partnerships between arts organisations and social partners.
Phase One supported the research and development (R&D) stage of 14 consortia projects. Phase Two ran from 2016-18, supporting 10 consortia projects to full production of the work created through the participatory process.
Geese Theatre Company is a team of theatre practitioners who present interactive theatre and facilitate drama-based groupwork, staff training and consultation for the probation service, prisons, young offender institutions, youth offending teams, secure hospitals and related agencies throughout the UK and abroad.
Historically Geese’s expertise had been in developing and delivering participatory arts interventions in custodial and secure settings. Sharing the Stage offered the opportunity to work on its vision of creating safe, crime-free communities and for the arts to be recognised as a powerful vehicle for individual and social change, in this instance, demonstrating the impact of arts engagement in improving recovery rates. The goal was to create an ensemble for people in recovery, working in partnership and collaboration with a range of agencies and artists in Birmingham.
The group had not met before May 2016, many had never experienced theatre or drama before and all were at various stages in their own recovery. After 12 intensive weeks exploring different theatre techniques and other artforms, such as film and movement, they performed at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The REP) for a public audience. Unlocked, devised and produced by the ensemble, incorporated their new skills to tell the story of the journey they had been on throughout the course of the project.
Over three years, the Sharing the Stage project formed a large part of Geese’s overall portfolio of work and provided the opportunity to develop its local, Birmingham community offer, specifically with people who are vulnerable and marginalised due to substance misuse and addiction. Over the 18 months of the project Geese:
- Delivered eight ‘taster’ sessions for 10 participants
- Received 28 new referrals from partner agencies
- Delivered 63 creative sessions, of which 10 were with associate artists
- Worked with eight new collaborative artists and continued a relationship with Fallen Angels, a dance company for people in recovery
- Worked with 21 people as ensemble participants, of which 16 performed their own devised pieces at a high profile event or venue, such as the The REP, and in the community
- Engaged audiences of approximately 240, many of whom have never seen a theatre performance before or been inside a professional theatre building
- Held three reflection and feedback sessions for participants
Staging Recovery was the name for the ensemble, decided on at the end of the Sharing the Stage funding and they have chosen to continue using the name. There were a number of significant outcomes, for Geese, the professional practitioners and participants.
A powerful vehicle for individual and social change
Feedback from participants, audiences, referral agencies and the wider sector has been consistently positive at public performances and with invited audiences:
“I work for [an agency] so it was very valuable to see recovery played out from a service user’s point of view.” Audience member
“An excellent example of how the arts can promote wellbeing, examine complex lives and be socially inclusive.” Steve Ball, Associate Director, The REP
Building partnerships and awareness
Geese developed a growing partnership with The REP and specifically with one of their Associate Directors; their work brings new participants and new audiences into their venue, providing a 'bridge' for people who might not think that a large city centre theatre was for them.
“The REP is a prestigious venue and fitting place for these voices to be heard.” Audience member
The company also had the opportunity to develop links with numerous agencies around the city that are working with people with multiple and complex needs, including Reach out Recovery, Changes UK, Crisis, and SIFA Fireside, which provided referrals, wraparound support or signposting services for participants, and shared its expertise with Geese.
“[There’s] a high proportion of people suffering from alcohol and drug addictions – it’s important that productions like this are available to the public to reduce the stigma.” Audience member
“Being a recovering addict, I was stuck in that box and couldn’t get out without the help of others.” Audience member
Building confidence and gaining skills
Case studies and broader participant audience feedback demonstrated the power of the arts to change a person’s recovery journey, increasing recovery capital:
“I don’t like talking out loud, I can go shy, but working with Geese has opened me up – and I feel great!” Participants
“It has made me more positive and confident about what I’m capable of.” Participant
“This project has shown me that change is obtained by effort.” Participant
“This is what I’ve had to look forward to and has helped me with my recovery. I’ve met some amazing people and feel confident. I don’t feel trapped anymore, I feel positive. Instead of feeling nervous, embarrassed and scared I wake up happy.” Staging Recovery member
Final performances at high-profile events and/or at high-profile venues were significant in inviting other organisations within both the Birmingham arts and social welfare communities to recognise the benefits of using an arts-based approach with marginalised groups and of encouraging new participants/audiences into venues.
Geese has increased its skills and extended its reach as an organisation in the following ways:
- Working in community settings with people who are leading potentially chaotic lives and Geese’s understanding about the additional support required to maintain their participation
- Always working towards a performance outcome shifted its practice, developing new skills in creating frameworks and structures which enable all ensemble members to participate in that final performance.
- The ability to develop good quality partnerships at a very early stage (with social welfare partners, venues, and other artists).
Staging Recovery was subsequently funded for a further three years (until June 2020) by Paul Hamlyn Foundation which has enabled its further development and growth.
The most important learning for Geese was designing a programme of creative work that produced a powerful and entertaining performance and enabled the participants to explore and articulate their own messages. The level of vulnerability of some of the members meant that great skill in facilitation was needed and the practitioners had to immerse themselves completely in the process at times. As an organisation, Geese was mindful of the role it played in people’s lives and now continually assesses boundaries and professional practice.
The process of evaluation raised interesting and important issues for practitioners: working on this project has shown that ‘we didn’t necessarily know what we thought we knew’; this reflection has contributed to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and wider business plans. Similar data was gathered from participants, and these patterns have encouraged Geese to look more closely at the evaluation data collected, what it means and how it is reported and processed.
Staging Recovery advanced the company’s knowledge of the subject area. As a direct result of this project, Geese created a new performance ‘Fear of Flying’ for audiences in recovery in the community and toured this to five local organisations in 2017, which was extremely well received and has raised the company’s profile in these communities.
Geese was able to look at its engagement and impact over a much longer term than previously: Staging Recovery was the first project where it was able to evidence change over longer periods and with some members of the ensemble having been with Geese for over two years, it is able to evaluate and reflect on its methodology and theory in a new way as well as strengthening the evidence base.
Following the end of the Sharing the Stage funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Geese was successful in securing a further three years of funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation Arts Access and Participation fund. Staging Recovery has developed since the completion of the Sharing the Stage project, and now works with people in recovery from a wide range of issues, including homelessness, a range of addictions, domestic abuse and offending behaviour.
Since then, the group have welcomed new members and created a number of pieces, using multiple arts forms and exploring universal themes such as family, choices and personal development. Each time they meet, the group have around 12 sessions to work with new artists, improvise scenes and build the final piece.
In the last year, Staging Recovery has performed at The REP, ACE Dance studios and at the centenary celebration of Birmingham Voluntary Sector Council. They also perform in community settings, such as Crisis UK and CGL Reach out Recovery.
Existing ensemble members remained with the group, some for one or two programmes, some for all of them, and their influence and input has supported and shaped the group. The group all expressed in feedback the importance of the responsive and pastoral care given alongside the creative sessions. The group has remained cohesive and produced several performances:
- October 2017 - The Fisherman - performed at ACE Dance and Music and Summerhill Terrace (Reach Out Recovery residential rehabilitation)
- February 2018 - Complexed - performed at Blue Orange Theatre and Birmingham School of Acting
- May 2018 - A Little Bit of Hope - performed at mac Birmingham and ACE Dance and Music
- Geese invited the ensemble to perform and collaborate on its 30th Birthday event ‘The Art of Recovery’. The performance acted as a catalyst for an afternoon of discussion around the role of participatory art for the individual, for the community and for the more traditional arts establishments. After the performance and a Q&A with the members, they nominated members to interview each other about their experiences and one member joined the panel for the discussion.
- The ensemble performed to an estimated total audience of 355 over these six performances.
- July 2018 - Staging Recovery were invited to present a piece at a ‘scratch night’ on the final evening of Tilt Festival, a night of scratch performances from emerging artists, young people's work, community work and aerial acts. The invitation came through the use of RoguePlay as a venue for sessions and engaging with its Artistic Director as a collaborative artist.
- September 2018 - Staging Recovery took part in a week-long, intensive project with Fallen Angels, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Birmingham Hippodrome, culminating in The Patrick Centre, following numerous collaborations with Fallen Angels throughout the development of the ensemble. This was an opportunity to spend a week in a high profile arts venue amongst numerous creative artists.
In 2018 Geese has been exploring the balance between the aim of creating an experienced, increasingly professional ensemble where members can continue to develop; and the aim of continuing to have an accessible ensemble, creating new opportunities to engage, new links and partnerships and new performances. Geese has responded to opportunities and will be carefully monitoring their impact. Whilst aware of the tensions that may exist between these aims, it is an excellent opportunity to interrogate the tensions (which will exist in any long-term participatory project) and the company is keen to explore the ways forward and to take any learning, both for Geese and for the wider participatory arts sector.
Read the other case studies Read the evaluation report