International Women's Day 2024 - Odd Arts

Feb 19, 2024
At cloudwater, we have a diverse team consisting of 50% women who are involved in different areas of the business such as production, packaging, warehouse, retail, hospitality, and management. We value and celebrate the achievements of women as it is an essential part of our identity here at cloudwater. On february 6th, we hosted an extraordinary brew day in honour of iwd 2024 and invited women from various manchester organisations who have inspired and impacted us and their communities. Participants in the project include flawd, manchester laces, odd arts, eat well, isca, and other notable figures like maxine peake and rivca burns who attended the brew day..It was amazing to have everyone under one roof, and we cherish the result of the day which you might be holding in your hands right now. Enjoy!

 

 

Odd Art is a charity that uses theatre to address inequalities and increase opportunities for people facing discrimination & disadvantage. Featured on the can is Rebecca Friel who is the CEO & co-founder of Odd Arts. Driven by a passion for theatre as a tool for change & social justice she co-founded the charity in 2004.  

She was inspired by the Brazilian theatremaker and politician Augusto Boal and his work through the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’.  The co-founders Rebecca, Hannah & Clair spent time shadowing his work in the prisons and favelas in Rio. Taking this inspiration home the three of them volunteered in prisons and community settings, sharing some of the new skills they’d learnt and testing out the theatre approaches. 

Odd Arts and the brilliant work they do was brought to our attention through our Taproom manager Hannah whose sister works there.


What can you tell us about Odd Arts?

Odd Arts is a charity that was co-founded in 2004 & has been based in Moss Side & Hulme ever since.  It uses theatre to address inequalities and increase opportunities for people facing discrimination & disadvantage.  Odd Arts works in three main ways:  Delivering therapeutic theatre programmes in prisons and secure settings; using arts and theatre as a tool for community led social action projects; and delivering interactive theatre performances that address critical social issues.  All of Odd Art’s theatre and interactions are underpinned by anti-racism; trauma informed practices; restorative approaches; and compassionate communication.  We are locally routed and inspired, but creating work that has impact & influence way beyond our community.

What inspired Odd Arts to focus on using theatre as a tool for social change, particularly within prisons and the criminal justice system?

 

Odd Arts was inspired by the Brazilian theatre maker and politician Augusto Boal and his work through the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’.  The co-founders Rebecca, Hannah & Clair spent time shadowing his work in the prisons and favelas in Rio. Taking this inspiration home the three of them volunteered in prisons and community settings, sharing some of the new skills they’d learnt and testing out the theatre approaches.  There was also one influential theatre project they were given the opportunity to run whilst still studying (with fellow Manchester creative organisation TiPP).  As part of their study they planned a week-long theatre project in HMP Forest Bank - here everything they thought they knew about theatre was questioned - seeing now its capacity for joy, self-reflection, connection & change-making in such a dark and oppressive prison system.  Odd Arts has been delivering work within the criminal justice system for 20 years now; working in adults and children’s secure settings.  Most importantly in criminal justice settings we try to use theatre to enable people to be re-humanised - where they can express, connect, be heard, and increase their wellbeing.  Prisons are designed to oppress, restrain, and intimidate; and our goal was to provide the exact opposite… a sense of creativity and expression, and I suppose in some ways you could say a version of freedom.  

 

How did Odd Arts come to be, and how has it evolved?

I’ve touched above on some of the journey that first led to our work, and the incredible influence of Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed.  But back in those early days of trying to get into the work it was amazing how many people told us we couldn't volunteer or learn from them…. we were seen as a risk or nuisance.  So we had to just give it a go ourselves.  Before we knew it we had developed a business…. What is now the charity Odd Arts. 

Now Odd Arts employs 18 staff on permanent contracts; as well as around 20 regular freelancers, creative practitioners and actors.  We deliver and perform around 1000 workshops/performances each year; working in numerous prisons, communities and schools each week.  It’s been a challenge setting up a passion project and turning it into a charity that can provide people with ethical and secure work  that cares for our staff.  

 

Can you share a particularly memorable or transformative moment from one of Odd Arts' theatre projects?

I love my work.  It brings with it challenge, variety, creativity and choice.  I have had some amazing experiences.  My career has enabled me to travel to Africa, North and South America, and across Europe, performing at EU Parliament, and the Ugandan National Theatre.  I have visited Washington DC with the US Embassy and received recognition for this.  It is these 'landmark' occasions that I get asked about, and of course have given me fascinating memories; but it is the moments much smaller, and much closer to home that teach me the most.  

One afternoon, I was sitting in our office and someone I recognised knocked on the door.  I couldn’t immediately place him, but knew he looked really familiar.  He reminded me he attended a drama class every day for nearly a year whilst in prison - well over a decade ago.  He told me that those days were the darkest days of his life and that without those drama classes he didn’t know if he could have got through it.  He went on to speak about life after prison, reconnecting with his family, and his job - now a manager himself.  I realise this isn’t a transformative moment in a project, but it’s an important one for me - it reminds me that in all our interactions and work, the impact we have can be much more than we might realise at the time.

In those mornings we spent doing drama with this man and the other people in prison, we weren’t doing anything magical, just doing something human.  Theatre was a tool to enable this person to step out of his reality and reimagine himself; to communicate and connect with others; and to express his feelings through story-telling and characters.  What we are trying to provide people with is not complex, just giving people a space to be heard, to matter in the world, to find joy, self worth and feel like they belong.  

 

If Odd Arts had a theme song, what would it be and why?

I asked the team to answer this which was very funny for me to read…. The responses that came straight back were:

  • ‘He aint heavy he’s my brother’ because we carry the causes that need us

  • ‘Get up, Stand up’ as we always want to fight for what’s right and we usually say these two phrases to participants in workshops

  • ‘Greatest love of all!’ Because we believe that children are the future!

  • ‘Running up that hill’ Because it’s an uphill battle but we always want to help.

  • ‘Man in the mirror’ Because we constantly reflect on our own actions and biases and try very hard to be the change we want to see in the world

  • ‘All you need is love’

  • Going into a session ‘The eye of a tiger’.  Leaving a session ‘Another one bites the dust’.

Are there partnerships or collaborations Odd Arts has forged within the Manchester community?

Odd Arts relies completely on partnership - in fact we wouldn’t be here without it.  We owe so much to our Manchester and Moss Side community who have embraced, supported and enabled us to thrive.  Without our community partners we wouldn’t reach the people we need to - big shout out to Powerhouse, Hideaway, 84YOUTH, KYSO and all our other Moss Side & Hulme peers (and individual activists) who work together so genuinely. I haven’t nearly named them all but here’s a nod to a few!

 

What are some of the unique challenges you face when implementing theatre-based programs across such diverse settings?

With all the fun, creativity and meaningful work - comes a whole lot of challenges!  Our team is stretched and at times over-worked; the sector is financially fragile and funding feels insecure, unpredictable and difficult.  The work addresses issues daily that can take a toll on staff (racism, exploitation, mental health challenges), and the learning to be able to do this work is never-ending and challenging personally.  Staff deal with a lot of safeguarding concerns; and carry the responsibility of addressing social justice issues ethically, compassionately and safely.  We do what we can to support staff (clinical supervisors, training days, connection activities and the chance for staff to collaborate and be creative), but challenges and risk will always be wrapped up in all aspects of our theatre.  

 

What is the most exciting thing happening in Manchester in your opinion?

The continued undercurrent of creative activism to address injustice and inequality.

 

What projects do you have planned for the future?

Odd Arts likes the unknown.  Our best work comes from the community, where we are trusted by local people to quickly but effectively address real world issues through theatre.  We always plan the unplannable, knowing that every year brings us new social injustices that we should use theatre to address.   More specifically, we are enjoying some of the creative projects in prisons, more recently taking in some of the cultural institutions from Manchester to support our prison project, alongside professional actors to give industry insight and bring a bit of sparkle to these women in prison.  We are also developing an important piece of work addressing sexual assault and consent amongst young people; this is co-developed with young women and will look to challenge some normalised beliefs and behaviours that can lead to violence against women and harm to men. 

 

What’s your guilty pleasure in Manchester?

Going out to a bar straight after playing a football match without showering.  Gross I know.  But sometimes there’s football to be played and fun to be had and no time in the middle. 🙂

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