Hannah Graham On Her New Show Where Yow Frum? - A Love Song To West Bromwich
Writer, performer and REP Foundry graduate, Hannah Graham tells us about her new Furnace show Where Yow Frum? - a love song to West Bromwich, created through meeting ordinary people with extraordinary stories.
What inspired you to write about the people and stories of West Bromwich?
I used to live in West Bromwich. It doesn't have too much to do with the arts so I always wanted to make a piece of theatre, with or about that community. The people who live there make it the vibrant and diverse place it is, but there are voices that often don't get heard - the migrants, the library visitors, the shop keepers, people in cues, the temporary residents and the all-day-long bench warmers. I'm interested in the voices of the 'everyman'.
Why was it important for the community to be involved in the creative process?
I believe in creating meaningful exchanges in community theatre, not simply harvesting stories and presenting them elsewhere. The communities voice in this piece is not just an inspiration for the writing, it is the piece. The process meant establishing relationships that allowed the community to understand why their voice was important and how it would be expressed. We worked together and had organic conversations that formed parts of the script. Each and every person I met along the way contributed to the rich blend of voices, opinions and stories in the piece.
What did you find challenging and why?
Eliminating stories! There were so many and I could have gone down many routes with the text but one metaphor in particular became the glue for the piece and everything else seemed to slot into place around it.
What can audiences expect from the performance?
Authenticity. The piece aims to hold up a mirror to West Brom and introduce the audience to voices from communities they may have nothing to do with on a day-to-day basis. It's a chat with real people, a lesson on migration and a love song to the Black Country way of life.
How do you think the shop setting will add to the experience for audiences?
It's a void space which lends itself to the piece, the words paint the stories and the locations it asks the audience to imagine themselves in. The show is part promenade, meaning the audience will be moved by the action from time to time. I believe it's exciting concept to open the doors of a disused space, allowing a limited audience to have an experience of something that will never happen in there again after the event...who knows what the shop will become next.
What did you hope to learn and take with you from the project?
I wanted to take from the project a developed process as a theatre maker which allowed for the theme and content of a show to present itself along the way. I wanted to explore a way of making theatre that began with an investigation. From a simple questionnaire left at a cafe, I was led on a treasure hunt for stories and a trail of meeting ordinary people with extraordinary stories. I felt inspired as a writer about the complexities of life in such a small community; how they've lived through it and how they reflect on it. There's nothing more powerful than simple human exchanges that make us smile because we recognise ourselves in someone else's experience, no matter how different from us they may appear to be.
What did you find most rewarding about collaborating with the local community?
The two way exchange of working together. It was highly rewarding to see the groups I worked with feel empowered, valued or recognised just simply by giving their thoughts, stories and anecdotes. You can't help but feel grounded when seeing people happy because they feel they have achieved something through a theatre workshop for example, as the piece concludes 'yow cor beat a Black Country smile'.
Where Yow Frum? plays at Queens Square Shopping Centre, New Street, West Bromwich (B70 7NU) on Friday 28 July (4pm) and Saturday 29 July (1pm & 3pm). Performances are free. Complimentary tickets are available from the shop on the day, on a first-come, first-served basis.