Creative Spotlight: Empath Action CIC
Posted in Editorial
Creative Spotlight: Empath Action CIC
Interview by Antonia Stephenson
We sat down with Steven and Joanne from Empath Action CIC to learn more about the work they are doing through storytelling and live performance to uplift and empower the people of Wakefield District to tell their stories, and the story of our incredible region.
Where does the name ‘Empath Action’ come from?
Steven: A lot of people in the arts industries describe themselves as empaths – or that they are very empathetic. I think being able to empathise with someone is the backbone of good art and also wellness. Art can be challenging but you are touching something that speaks to people so even when it might not make you feel good, it makes you feel.
Joanne: Art can drive empathy – so if someone doesn’t feel connections with somebody else, they can be developed through exposure to different art forms. They might see a play related to something they might not usually think about.
How and why was ‘Empath Action’ created?
Joanne: One of the key drivers was that we’d worked with all these young actors who had gone through Mechanics Theatre, and then COVID hit. So not only was it difficult for these young actors to come out [of education], thinking they might have to relocate to peruse their passion – on top of that, COVID. We wanted to create that opportunity again, where they could explore what they wanted to do and not have to feel like “that’s that part of my life over.”
Steven: Another thing that’s followed on from that is shaping an arts sector that is respectful and welcoming of creatives, because often actors are put through situations that we wouldn’t allow in other sectors, for example they might be shouted at in rehearsals. We wanted to set the tone and create the model where people want to be here and I think that the opportunity to do that is a timely one because as a society, we are moving away from the idea that there are people in authority, understanding that we all bring different things to the table.
Can you tell us a bit about The Man on the Moon project, and it’s aims?
Steven: This project was originally commissioned by Wakefield Council for Festival of the Moon. Everyone involved said it was a shame we only got to perform it once. An opportunity came up with Live Well Wakefield associated with NOVA, creating a wellness programme targeting different demographics and so I came up with the idea of getting young LGBTQIA+ people together and take them loosely through the steps of making a productions. We started the sessions in August and have explored writing, creating characters and right now we are looking at dress and costuming. The last time we met, we made a board game as an auxiliary to the Man on the Moon, where your goal is to get back to the moon. It’s really letting young people lead the creativity – there’s never a wrong answer. At the same time, we’re also rehearsing a show, so some of the wellness group are young actors and some are helping behind the scenes.
Joanne: We facilitate the group members to grow and further develop – to a point where they no longer need us. It’s about encouraging people to realise they can pursue something in the creative industry. It delivers so much wellness and happiness to people’s lives – this has been the key thing. Allowing people the opportunity of finding what suits them.
What have been your highlight so far?
Steven: We worked with Hit Like a Girl Theatre to put on the production ‘97%’ at Mechanics Theatre [the name of the production is taken from an investigation by UN Women UK released in 2021 that found 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed]. After every performance, we allow people to give feedback – and about 90% of the people left quite extensive comments about the show. How much it had made them think, how much it had healed them, how much they had taken away from it and how much they wanted to see something developed from it to create change. Reading back through those, it really proved the idea that this creativity is vital, and it matters.
Joanne: It’s hitting people that want to take that on and make a difference, it’s absolutely wonderful – we were bowled over by the response. The funding for ‘97%’ came from the Mayor’s Safer Communities Fund – Tracy Brabin attended the event and said she’d heard so much about [the production]. We were just bowled over by the response.
Another highlight was a project we did with Upper Westgate HAZ for the Westgate area development. We basically took a group of people who were interested in the local area. Our colleague, Helga provided some research into some people who had histories of the area in Westgate, writing pen portraits of people. We had members of the public develop these stories into monologues, working with actors to develop and perform their monologues on Westgate to other members of the public. [It was brilliant] seeing people perform who had just come along, been given a piece of paper – and some of them were saying “I don’t think I can do this – I don’t think I can stand up and perform”. We never said, “you’re here and you have to do it” – we just allowed them the space to develop. Watching those finished performances was just magnificent – it just felt phenomenal. I felt incredibly proud of us for enabling them to do that and proud of them for their fantastic development. We were also incredibly proud of our actors – so of whom were very young – who had come along and worked with other people to develop their acting skills. I thought – wow! This has been such a wonderful piece of development for everyone involved.
What’s next for Empath?
Steven: So this is a bit of a scoop! We are really pleased to announce that we have been given a grant of nearly £10,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund to create a community costume emporium. We recognised that we spent a large proportion of our allotted money on costumes, because we required items that the average person might have around. A lot of other theatre groups and young actors told us that they always have to buy new when it comes to costume. So the Community Costume Emporium is going to be based in The Ridings. The idea is people will be able to come along if they have a group theatre production and put down a very small deposit to take away costumes, use them, wash them and bring them back. Anybody should be able to do theatre and be empowered to have great costumes. We want to make it a circular creative economy where it all connects.
Joanne: And it will have such an impact on sustainability. We’ll be running some costuming workshops, and mending workshops so people can learn how to look after clothes and prolong their lives.
How can people get involved with Empath Action?
Steven: We always welcome volunteers. We’ll need help getting our space in The Ridings up to scratch because we’d love it to be a community space as well as a space where we run our own things. We’d also love people to get involved in our ensemble acting and stage work! We want to meet as many people as possible and hear what they would like.
Joanne: Going forward, we would like more involvement in creative sector groups, going out and speaking to people. We underplay Wakefield and its creativity. We often think we play second fiddle to Leeds. But Wakefield has got something that is different. I think there is very much a heart in Wakefield that you might not see elsewhere. There’s so much popping up everywhere and I think we’re starting to get a picture that there is such a wide variety of things here. People are starting to learn and notice. There are so many people with so much passion in this city that I think we will become more and more of a creative force going forward.
Steven: That’s another way people can get involved with Empath – doing their own creative things. The more people being creative in Wakefield, the better. Our job is connecting people and for people to get involved in that, they just need to create! We both feel incredibly proud of Wakefield and excited. We really are on the cusp of being a cultural powerhouse.
To get involved, email Empath Action: email@example.com