Fluid Motion was started back in 2010 at university by myself, Leigh Johnstone, and fellow student Ali Gill. In the early days we had a strong focus on making work solely for young people, that came from our experiences of using theatre to help cope with trauma. For Ali this was coping as a single mother of three following her husband’s failed suicide attempt which left him with a life changing brain injury and for myself it was my experience of growing up with an alcoholic mother. This period of my life was the subject of our 2016 show Rum in the Gravy Boat and paved the way for the exploration of people’s lived experiences through our work, particularly focusing on poor mental health. This evolved, as we worked increasingly with communities and individuals who were experiencing poor mental health and we now brand ourselves as a ‘mental health theatre company’.
Lockdown hit just as we were embarking on a two month consultancy period, funded by Arts Council England as part of a larger organisational development project. The consultancy was about giving us the time and space to evaluate ten years worth of work, helping us to understand our audiences better, who we make our work for and why. It was also about securing the future direction of the company for the next ten years and beyond. This project came just at the right time, lockdown had meant that our workshops, performances and projects all stopped overnight. We lost a significant amount of income and if we hadn’t had the development project to work on we almost certainly would have collapsed.
We now have a new mission ‘We make theatre about lived experiences of mental health. And we do this anywhere and for everyone.’ as well as a new multi year programme plan. The theme of Year 1 (2021) is Resilience and is in direct response to the Covid-19 Pandemic and how Fluid Motion is best placed to aid in the recovery of individuals and communities through theatre.
One of the biggest challenges for us this summer was what to do about our annual All in the Mind Festival. The festival is now in its fifth year and is known as the UK’s leading outdoor mental health arts festival. It is a huge part of our annual programme and is a safe space where artists come together to share their work and where audiences can be delighted and inspired. We were determined not to cancel the event outright and felt it was important during this time of national crisis to still offer artists and audiences the opportunity to engage and take part in something meaningful. We made the quick decision to cancel the outdoor event in the park and put all of our time, energy and money into developing the festival online. We received emergency funding from Arts Council England which allowed us to work with a digital marketing agency to build a bespoke website that allowed audiences to ‘wander’ the festival on an interactive map. We programmed 37 artists, all of whom made brand new digital work for the festival or adapted pre-existing content. In total, across the weekend of the festival, we had just over 5000 people log on and engage. This was an incredible achievement seeing as this way of working was all completely new to us. Moving online meant we reached more people, engagement with the over 65’s went up by 32% as well as programming theatre that we wouldn't normally be able to do as the festival is usually outside. Lastly, the full programme is still online, meaning that audiences can still watch and engage with the content right up until February 2021. Visit the festival website: www.aitmfestival.com
We adapted our education project ‘1 in 10’ during lockdown, which is usually a theatrical residency in secondary schools delivered across one week. The project aims to provide high quality, focused, drama-based intervention for young people to explore mental health topics, increase understanding and encourage positive mental wellbeing. We created an online drama workshop that could be delivered to key worker students in primary schools which encouraged them to think about how to maintain a happy brain. These responses were turned into short animations publicised on our website and social media channels during the lockdown period.
Lastly, lockdown gave us the opportunity to re-evaluate, like it did for so many of us. For me personally, it gave me a chance to think about the journey we had been on as an organisation and where we wanted to get to. I wrote a blog in July called ‘making everybody count’, it was part therapy, part manifesto, part call to arms. You can read the full article here but in a nutshell I talked about how the key to Fluid Motion’s future success is the democratisation of everything it does. The need to put people at the heart of everything we do. How we need to open up every part of our process and share the challenges along the way. How this democratic overhaul has to go beyond an annual AGM and has to go beyond a feedback form thrust into a hand at the end of a performance. It has to be owned and created by the people that the company exists to serve and it has to be in conversation with as many people as possible.
The last few months have been a tough time, like it has for so many of us but the arts are needed now more than ever; it is part of our national recovery. Fluid Motion has an important role to play over the months and years ahead and we would love for as many people to be a part of that journey as possible. Do get in touch with us if you're interested in our work, would like to get involved or just want to say hello.
By Leigh Johnstone