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Guest Blog: Jen Heyes On The Truth To Power Cafe Going Digital

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Introducing a digital streamed version of the project

Guest Blog: Jen Heyes On The Truth To Power Cafe Going Digital
Truth to Power Café

I've been a director for over 20 years, after returning to education and gaining a drama degree in 1998. Born into a working-class family, I'm based in the cultural melting pot that is Liverpool. Over my career, I've made work that's stretched from beautiful, empowering grass-roots events to directing Lesley Garrett with the RLPO, and large-scale, site-specific works in tobacco warehouses, bombed-out churches and cathedrals.

In 2015, I began to direct Truth to Power Café, a project whose values link directly with one of the core values of my work: combining professional arts with community arts in what I believe is a vital form for artistic and social renewal. The arts shouldn't be a luxury. They should be central to our daily lives, regardless of our social status.

In asking the question "Who has power over you and what would you like to say to them?", we are also asking "Who are you really, and what people, places, and experiences contributed deeply to the making of you"? In doing so, Truth to Power Café pushes the notion of theatre and what it can be, and presents it as a civic space, in which a community gather to reflect on their experiences on both a personal and a political level.

It's a simple premise which goes back to the Greeks, and which is now being lauded as a new theatrical genre in its own right, thanks to its humility, collective artistic exchange, and the sheer audacity of inviting strangers into a theatre space and giving them permission to become authors and performers of their own true stories in front of a live audience. When you combine that with project creator Jeremy Goldstein's story of the power his father had over him, it becomes a very powerful, cathartic journey for the participants and their audience.

Developing a digital theatre adaptation of Truth to Power Café has always been on the table, but it was lockdown which made it possible. It was obvious to Jeremy and I that as people were being silenced by lockdown, it was more important than ever to keep the project alive and to continue to reach as many people as we possibly could. In the first instance, we came up with a very simple digital format which enabled participants to respond to the question via recording themselves at home on their phones, and the response has overwhelming. Since April, over 70,000 people have viewed the videos on Facebook alone.

Soon after, we were approached by the radically inclusive Montgomery College Cultural Arts Centre in Maryland, USA, to stream a digital edition of the show in the run-up to the US elections in November. It was this invitation, and the money we received from the Arts Council Emergency fund, that enabled us to green light my adaptation of a full digital theatre event. Last Saturday, the event was streamed from the USA, and from Friday, it streams in the UK as part of Bloomsbury Festival. In 2021, we will tour the stream in the UK and internationally.

Initially, we were concerned the digital adaptation would lose the cathartic experience of the live show, but this hasn't been the case at all. We filmed the piece on location at our London home of Conway Hall and the participants were recorded via Zoom from their homes in UK and USA via Montgomery College.

We've ended up with what we believe to be a powerful, thoughtful and engaging work. The honesty of Jeremy and our participants shine through like never before. We continue to bear witness, share and empathise. There is no doubt that Jeremy Goldstein's Truth to Power Café changes lives. Now I know that is a big statement, but time and time again the participants keep telling us how the experience of taking part has proved to be a catalyst for positive change in their lives. Who can argue with that!

Find out more about Truth to Power Café here

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