Finding Our Common Wealth

A group of people laughing and smiling with their arms around each other

At the start of 2024, Common Wealth began a new venture, employing a Performance Collective, a group of young, working-class creatives who are paid two days a week to train and create political theatre together using Common Wealth’s methodology. 

This week, our Communications Associate, Saoirse Teale, chatted to them about what it’s like to work as a collective, what they have learnt from each other and about themselves so far, and their thoughts on working in this way.

Common – as in in-common, poor, shared

Wealth – value, riches

“We’re all weird…we’re a bunch of misfits!”

Many members of the collective have often had feelings of difference, of being othered in professional and/or creative spaces. Whether this is because of neurodivergence, feeling too young or too old to be taken seriously, being the only non-British person in the room, being the only person of colour in the room, being the only working-class person in the room – the collective have all felt unable to relate to those around them, not feeling safe enough to take risks or take up space in professional and/or creative settings. The Performance Collective spoke about quickly bonding with each other over mutual experiences of not fitting in, struggling in conventional work environments, or not feeling like their lives or experiences are reflected in the wider creative sector.

“Before I joined I was worried that I would fall behind, because I don’t come from a theatre background. I thought others would be further ahead than me. I’m used to being the only non-British person in spaces like this, so on the first day when I heard different voices and met people from all different places, it put me at ease.”

Non-hierarchical Exchange

The Performance Collective found a lot of connectivity and a sense of belonging through difference. There are many skill sets in the collective, one member has formally trained in theatre; others have creative backgrounds ranging from visual arts, DJing, dancing, writing – they believe that their skills all hold equal importance and that there is a non-hierarchical attitude to sharing knowledge with each other. This also extends to sharing opinions and beliefs. Several members of the collective said they had never shared their views on politics or social issues in a professional environment before, and that to be working in a context where political views are discussed so freely was liberating but also unnatural, commenting that many of them have censored their views in professional settings in the past.

“The thing we have in common is that we are all different, I don’t have to be afraid to be myself. I bring my own thing and that’s good enough, I don’t need to try to be anyone else.”

The Performance Collective spoke about learning from each other almost constantly when working together, and when talking over food or on walks on their breaks: some members explain “drama lingo” to others and others teach the group about socialism. There’s no need to feel embarrassed about not knowing something already, the knowledge and wealth in the room is shared without judgement. 

“My idea of unity is opposing thoughts or opinions, different countries, different cities, different lives – we still have a mutual respect for each other.”

Some collective members commented about how working with others in this way is allowing them to gain transferable skills, such as giving yourself permission to speak up, being able to affirm boundaries and express feelings without worries of being dismissed both in professional and personal settings. A significant thing for them is feeling safe enough to take risks in this space, such as reading out loud  or dancing in public for the first time. Others spoke about noticing a change in their overall confidence levels and being more sensitive to other people’s boundaries, and conscious of showing others respect through action and conversation. 

Hold on tightly, let go lightly: inspiration, letting go of ego & hive mind

Taking up space: we’ve been reflecting on why we have imposter syndrome and why many working class people don’t think the industry is for them. One member of the collective spoke about access and perception: 

“We always hear ‘get a real job’, it’s probably because in our communities, we work to have money to live, so not many people can afford the luxury to just be creative because most of the time it doesn’t pay.”

The Performance Collective want other young people in Bradford to see that having a career in the creative industry is valid, that being an artist is a real job, and that there is value in creativity and a job in the arts isn’t just for one type of person. If you’re passionate about something, it is valid. Don’t let others deter you or a fear of rejection limit you. 

We’ve also been considering how living in an uber-capitalist environment conditions young people to be hyper-critical of themselves and their peers, and how working in a collective has helped challenge this. They talked about how sometimes they have experienced anxiety over sharing their ideas in other settings, struggled to work in teams, or struggled to make art alone over fear of judgement from others or not deeming it good enough themselves. Working as a collective has changed the way the collective make art and communicate their ideas, bouncing ideas off each other and creating their own hive mind!

“Bad ideas lead to good ideas, you may not be confident in an idea but if you say it, that might make another person think of something else that really works. We all feed into the process. We’re less precious with our ideas because the work belongs to all of us so there’s less ego.”

Trust & Working Collectively 

The Performance Collective discussed the idea of being able to trust and rely on others whilst working collaboratively and how this feels like a new experience. Many young people have had poor experiences working in group settings, whether it’s one person having to do all the work, poor dynamics working with others you don’t know very well, or conflict because of differing ideas about a project. As a result, putting training time into exercises specifically to explore how to work as a team and share ideas equitably has been very beneficial for some collective members.

“Working collectively in school, I felt a lot of pressure when working in groups, I found that often I couldn’t rely on others to do the task and I had to do all the work for them. It’s nice to learn from people who are a bit older than me. It’s nice to be able to rely on the people I’m working with, and we all contribute equally.”

Similarly, some collective members commented about noticing a difference between how they speak in groups and confidence balancing speaking and listening, especially as a neurodivergent person.

“In the first few weeks, I felt like I spoke quite a lot, whereas now I feel like I have a greater sense of when to speak and when to listen. Will what I’m going to say be useful? or is it just my thoughts that sometimes feel like they have to come out at that moment? It’s been quite useful for me, as someone with ADHD, to explore that in the space.”

Common Wealth have loved working with our Performance Collective over the past three months. We are fascinated by all the learning, sharing and creating that happens each week, the mutual sharing of ‘common wealth’ amongst the group and the wider team is a true celebration of what we want to achieve as a company – celebrating the value in working-class communities finding common ground.