The current pandemic and resulting lockdown have had a dramatic impact on the performing arts. Spotlight… seeks to highlight the companies, organisations, and creatives working and producing throughout the pandemic and explore the ways Welsh creatives have sought to retain a platform and continue to project their voices and reach their audiences. This week, we found out more about Mess Up the Mess.
Who are Mess Up the Mess?
Based in Ammanford, Mess Up the Mess are a not-for-profit organisation running theatre workshops and masterclasses to inspire and engage young people. Mess Up the Mess make “awkward and brave” theatre by, for and with young people, determined to encourage them to get involved with theatre and ensure that theatre is not solely a domain for the privileged.
Rather than dictate and present ideas to the young people they work with, they immerse themselves in the worlds of young people and draw inspiration for their work from the young people themselves. Theatre productions are created by young people with the support of the Mess Up the Mess staff as well as a team of freelance professional artists, volunteers and peer leaders.
Through their workshops and masterclasses, the company encourage the young people they work with to utilise theatre as a means of expression and as a tool to explore the issues that matter to them most.
What has been Mess Up the Mess’ Lockdown Life?
Set to stage a performance for VE day which was disrupted due to lockdown, Mess Up the Mess faced not only having their productions and plans cancelled, but also the responsibility of supporting their large community of young people. Concerned for their community, especially with regards to the mental health of the young people, staff set up regular Zoom calls and, as always, were led by the young people, who decided to continue with their VE day production.
Streamed live online, the young contributors produced a beautiful array of performances. Without the support of the staff, technical hiccoughs arose but the resilience, skill and professionalism of the young people carried it through to success. Despite the lack of backstage camaraderie and excitement normally generated by performing in front of an in-person audience, Artistic Director Sarah Jones found one highlight of an online broadcast was the extended family of the young people who were able to watch. Relatives who lived far away or were unable to visit their young family due to the lockdown were able to watch them online, singing, dancing and expressing their creativity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a myriad of problems and interruptions for theatre companies across Wales and the world, yet they have all been experiencing them together, and a sense of community and collaboration is what Mess Up the Mess desire in their work. For sixteen weeks of lockdown, Mess Up the Mess collaborated with Company 3 and other companies and organisations across the world to create the Coronavirus Time Capsule. Devised by Company 3, each week the young creatives were set a theme and given the opportunity to produce a creative video response. Ideas were submitted to and workshopped with staff to adapt and improve the work. The creativity, enthusiasm and filmmaking skills of those who contributed were truly impressive and inspiring, with Sarah Jones blown away by work of those involved. Not only did the young people have an opportunity to be creative and express themselves, they were also given the experience of presenting and developing their ideas alongside professionals and received guidance and support on how to create a film from a technical perspective. Even those who had limited experience beforehand were able to develop original ideas without any amendments by staff.
Feeling a great sense of responsibility to their young creatives, the staff also produced creative care packages and drove around their local area to drop off packs of pens, a notebook, mindfulness exercises, creative activities and even a bag of skittles. These packages allowed for seventy young people to continue expressing themselves creatively and care for their mental health as well as simply know that the staff of Mess Up the Mess were continuing to support them.
What of the New Normal?
Unable to meet inside, the company have recently managed to have a socially distanced workshop in a local park. For their latest project, young creatives received a letter from a character, Kay, who is living in a future in which Earth has all but been destroyed; Kay wrote to the young people of the past to ask for their help in changing the course of humanity. One of the primary concerns of the young people is the environment and helping to curb global warming and pollution, so having the opportunity to meet in person in a park, whilst at a distance, allowed the young people to reconnect and discuss and explore ideas in a natural environment and consider the future.
Speaking of the future, Sarah Jones is keen to continue with more collaborative projects both on and offline. Whilst Zoom and various other platforms have been a saving grace for most through the pandemic, interacting and creating online, away from seeing people in reality, can be a difficult and draining experience. They will continue their regular workshops and masterclasses throughout the week, setting tasks and creative experiences for young people to continue to express themselves and be creative in whichever environment allows them best to thrive.
Follow @MessUptheMess on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with their projects and productions which persist despite the pandemic.
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Humanequin: Mess up the Mess is a production by Youth Cymru \ Mess Up the Mess that voices the lived experiences of young trans adults as part of a TransForm project.
Georgia Winstone is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.