In March 2020 the world changed dramatically for everyone. We were faced with a global pandemic that was impacting on everyone’s lives. As a company, we went into react and respond mode – thinking about how as a theatre producing organisation we could support people during this crisis and what was our role/part to play.
On a personal level, I thought long and hard about the bigger picture. That in a crisis, surely there was more that I could do and was able to do than stay home, and stay safe? Essentially, work from home. I was torn by a need to do more and the demands of my everyday job.
Whilst this internal dialogue was going on, I got a message from someone I’d worked with on an applied theatre project years before. At the time, she’d been the matron in the Emergency department of a busy London hospital. Now, she was an Emergency Care lecturer at Coventry University and wanted to know if we could work together again to support healthcare workers. Previously we’d used theatre to explore patient care and wellbeing, now she was asking, could we use drama to support healthcare worker wellbeing? My immediate thought was, yes! Or at least, we should try. And so we did.
We set-up a workshop at the height of the pandemic with 8 healthcare workers. The workshop aimed to provide a supportive space to share healthcare workers experiences and use creativity to help inform and inspire the script for an audio artwork. The workshop was co-delivered with writer, Nick Walker, and myself, and supported by a psychologist and researchers.
On the evening of the workshop, the rain clouds threatened as we gathered online and checked-in by sharing our feelings in terms of the weather. As the rain fell, I listened to the moments of compassion they described, the moments of transition between themselves and their worker-selves, their experiences of the clapping.
It was moving – and I’m truly indebted to the Healthcare workers for sharing their experiences with us so openly and for letting us know that in doing so, they felt they had the space to reflect and to share with others about their own experiences; that they wanted more people to hear their stories through the piece.
We all hope that through Boats On An Ocean, you too will be able to get a snapshot of their experiences, and a sense of their lives through the first phase of this pandemic.
An unintentional outcome was that the healthcare workers reminded me that there is a place for theatre during this pandemic. At a minimum, it can find creative ways to share stories like these, but there is so much more potential for theatre than that.
We’re currently looking at ways to continue to develop this project. We’ve got plenty to learn from, more that we can do, and many more people to reach.
In the meantime, grab your headphones, take yourself into a quiet and comfortable spot and have a listen to Boats On an Ocean, written and directed by Nick Walker.
Content Warning: This piece contains themes of mortality and illness and is based on real life testimonies from front line NHS workers during the Covid 19 pandemic.
Featuring as part of the Coventry Creates online digital exhibition. We are interested in hearing audience responses to the piece – please tweet us using #BoatsOnAnOcean.
Coventry Creates is a joint initiative launched and funded by The University of Warwick and Coventry University, as part of The City of Culture University Partnership, to support creatives in the run up to Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.
For more information, please contact Susan Wareham.
Quote Images © Andrea Pieri Gonzalez