Interim Project Report
Graham Lister, Jeremy Weller, Lala Meredith-Vula
In September 2015, film and theatre director Jeremy Weller, visual artist Lala Meredith Vula and producer Graham Lister were engaged on behalf of De-Montfort University to work on a research and development project exploring the opportunities as well as the complexities around a possible large-scale community drama involving the many different communities of Leicester.
The project set out to examine and understand Leicester’s diverse communities and how they might come together to create a large-scale piece of community activity. It was agreed the format of the final proposition would be identified and fixed during the R&D phase and would be either film or live performance.
Jeremy Weller is a world expert in Social Inclusive Art. His work has focused on connecting with some of the most challenging environments, both nationally and internationally. He has worked with the most recalcitrant and difficult subjects, telling the story of their lives in the form of film, theatre and radio.
Feedback from audience members who attended the final performance was overall startlingly positive. Many commented on how deeply moving they found some of the performances and expressed genuine enthusiasm for a further, more substantial piece of work to be made.
“To hear this group of young adults from ethnic minorities speak about and describe their feelings about their home city, Leicester, was a truly memorable experience. It was raw, poetic, thoughtful, reflective, full of wisdom, and, most importantly, everyone expressed in their own way a real urgency and desire to move forward in a positive way, often coming from a dark past, and to change society for the better. There was such confidence and energy, such calm and mutual respect, and the expression of core values were deeply moving: peace, love, and tolerance. It was wonderful to experience the sheer thirst of these young people – whether through rapping, storytelling or comments – to get on and thrive in their home city. All this was driven by a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Underneath one could sense uncertainties, questions, fragilities – some half-baked thoughts, views and opinions. One could feel the need for reassurances, support, more engagement and dialogue, and a positive vision. These young people deserve that. They are trailblazers for a whole generation. Indeed, they are our future.”
Chris Szejnmann, Professor of Modern History, Loughborough University
“Powerful in its raw shape, the audience witnessed something quite extraordinary during This IS Leicester. Jeremy Weller’s fresh company of dignified and eloquent young people, some performers some not, used rap, poetry, song and storytelling to command our attention. With insights borne of hard experience, and with humour, sensitivity and maturity, the cast confronted us bravely with their personal truths, world-views and aspirations. This is powerful content crafted in workshops with Weller, the sense of ownership from the cast is apparent in every word and gesture, insisting wake up audience- think about this! Indeed the audience did interrupt to question the cast, such was the impact of their performance. Surely we need this work with these voices whether it becomes a film, a play, or a movement – to allow debates about the state of the nation to happen, the ones we don’t see on the news on a daily basis? As the performers said, the multi-cultural city of Leicester is a mosaic but you can see the cracks when you get up close, like you can in any relationship. Vote for these young people and Weller’s work, this is the next generation and they are rising up so let’s listen and debate, not patch over the cracks.”
Head of Arts Department, DMU
“This is just to say last night’s performance was really exceptional well done- I hugely enjoyed it. Please can you pass on our congratulations to Jeremy and the team of superb young people he found to tell their stories, and everyone involved. I wasn’t sure what to expect and the combination of the film, the setting, the people there, and the way it all morphed into a wonderful immersive experience made it one of the best performances I have seen for a long time. The skill with which every young person was helped to find their voice and tell their story was wonderful and the whole thing was really uplifting and a testimony to modern Leicester. Whew! What more can I say! I loved the way the audience began to join in- I just assumed it was intended, because of the consummate way the young people engaged with it. It was so natural- art making the best of nature- and all those detailed speeches, songs and raps were flawless. It was also nice when we all ate together at the end too, and it was great to find out more about how it all happened from Jeremy and the young people. Good luck with the next phase!”
Sarah Levitt, Head of Arts and museums, Leicester City Council