30 March 2021 / Grants and Awards
Analyse Thou – A Zoom Theatre Project
Jeremy Allen received one of our Covid-19 Support grants last summer to develop a Zoom Version of Analyse Thou, partnering with Response and Oxfordshire Mind to offer significant support for people with mental health issues. He writes for us here:
Analyse Thou was first performed in 2016 as part of the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee festival. Since then it has played at other venues, including Oxford’s Old Fire Station. The play was written by myself, Lee Woodward and Jodana Janse Van Vuuren. Analyse Thou explores the inner workings of well-known Shakespearian characters through a series of therapy sessions. In the original version, we had Hamlet undergoing bereavement counselling, Titania confronting her childhood traumas through hypnotherapy, and the Macbeths undergoing marriage guidance counselling. The tone is light but insightful – our goal has always been to highlight mental health issues by finding parallels within well-known Shakespearean texts. We now wish to take this format and apply it to the Zoom platform, with the audience eavesdropping on a fresh set of characters undergoing therapeutic evaluation.
Who we are
Yonder Cloud Theatre was founded in 2020 with the intention of performing plays based around health or social care issues. From the outset, we were keen to develop scripts alongside partners working in the sector, reflecting their first-hand experiences via writers’ workshops and research gathering sessions. Another aim was to address local needs, employing individuals recommended by our partners where possible, and empowering them with core skills to ease their transition back into the workplace.
Yonder Cloud are myself, Jeremy Allen, and Lee Woodward. My background is as a playwright and actor. I have worked extensively with UnderConstruction Theatre and my resume includes While They’re Away (UnderConstruction, Museum of Oxford), Perfect (SatMatCo, Oxford Old Fire Station), and in 2020 I was part of The Theatre, Chipping Norton’s Speak As One project. In the upcoming project, I will act as producer and lead writer.
Lee Woodward is an experienced writer, actor and director, who has specialised in devised theatre. His work includes Txtlife (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough), Mapping Wonderland (UnderConstruction, Oxford City Centre) and recently he has contributed to 6FootStories’ Arts Council-funded digital storytelling project The Decameron Revisited. Lee will be directing and co-writing our new version of the play.
The Covid pandemic was obviously a critical factor in our decision to embrace an online platform, but moving forward we wish to continue using this format to reach audiences who may have difficulty attending live theatre once things get back to normal (or the “new normal”). Exclusionary factors may include lack of income and limited mobility, but at the moment we are focusing on prohibitive mental health conditions such as contamination OCD and depression. We have been inspired in our endeavour by fellow Oxonians, Creation Theatre Company, who have staged a number of well-received Zoom shows and who have given us a model to follow. Availability permitting, we hope to use Creation’s Zoom technician for our two Analyse Thou shows scheduled for June, 2021.
For the Zoom Version of Analyse Thou, we have partnered up with Response and Oxfordshire Mind – two organisations that offer significant support for people with mental health issues. These partners will be sourcing volunteers to participate in a series of writers’ workshops and providing an online audience for our shows in June. The workshops will enable contributers to make suggestions on content and to relate experiences that parallel the themes depicted in the Shakespearean sources. Another strand of the project we are excited about is the temporary employment of a Response service user – in the role of Administration Assistant – helping to fast track their re-entry into the workplace. Finally, Response will be setting up a post-show Q&A with mental health professionals who will address issues explored in the performance.
As this is very much a research and development project, evaluation will be key to a successful outcome. We are being helped in our evaluation process by theatre academic Dr Jonathan Lewis, the only person globally to have written reviews on all formative live Zoom productions and attended their post-show discussions. Audiences will be sent a digital survey on their experience of the production and accompanying post-show discussion. Our partners Response and Oxfordshire MIND will be asked for further analysis of the creative content of the play and the ways in which Analyse Thou meets their own aims and objectives. All team members will reflect in diary form on the process of creating the piece and their experiences working on Zoom. There will be two post-show evaluation workshops – one with partners Response and Oxfordshire MIND and one with the creative team. We hope that since there is very little research on Zoom plays centred around mental health, our evaluation of Analyse Thou will be contributing to a knowledge base of the format, to be made available to the wider theatre industry.
After evaluating and learning from the two trial performances in June 2021, Yonder Cloud intends offering Analyse Thou to other providers and users with audiences in isolation e.g. hospitals and care homes. We will continue to develop evaluation processes to inform and educate the industry in creating work for the health and social care sector, offering best practice guides. Additionally, we will continue to explore ways to deliver quality theatre via Zoom and other online platforms. Our remit is always to work with vulnerable people who lack access to theatre – accessibility is our watchword.
Analyse Thou has been generously funded by Arts Council England, The Society for Theatre Research and Oxfordshire Councillor Priority Fund.
If you would like to contact us, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on twitter @CloudYonder or the Yonder Cloud Theatre Facebook page.