Behind the Label stage design

Real-life stories of homelessness, addiction, abuse and mental ill-health were told an incredible production last weekend – performed entirely by people with experience of the issues.

Residents, service users and staff of The Wallich took the stage at Wales Millennium Centre to tell their stories, using powerful multi-media images and moving performances to challenge audience members’ preconceptions, asking them to look ‘Behind The Label’.

The production was the culmination of an 18-week project delivered by TVO in partnership with Wales Millennium Centre and The Wallich. All those participating in the project had experienced homelessness and were suffering from low self-esteem as a result of the stereotyping they faced.  Participants attended workshops and undertook internships, carrying out everything from set design to marketing and ushering, in addition to writing and performing in the show.  Crucially, participants were empowered to tell their stories and overcome the labels they had been given.

The audience at the packed Weston Studio gave a standing ovation, recognising the bravery of those who took part.

“I’ve learnt to trust people”

Laurence, a cast member, explained how taking part in the performance has changed his outlook:

“It’s been a totally different but great experience. When I first got approached for Behind the Label I said ‘You’re not going to get me on the stage’ but I did it. It was good just to get my story out and it was great to hear other peoples stories and what they’ve been through. It was good therapy and I would definitely do this again.

I feel a lot more confident and even people around me have said it, confidence is something I never thought I’d find again. The experience has made me want to go back to work and learn new skills, I don’t want to be sat around the house, I want to be busy.

I’ve learnt that there’s some nice people out there and I haven’t got to be looking over my shoulder all the time. I’ve learnt to trust people. I’ve made lifelong friends, especially the Behind the Label crew”.

“It was a privilege”

Dr Jennifer Hartley, Founder of TVO and a key faciliator of the project, said this echoed the experience of other participants:

“Participants went on an amazing journey, a roller coaster of a journey, to take ownership of their stories. They finished empowered, proud, their self esteem rebuilt and looking towards a future that they can now have hope in.

It was a privilege to work with Behind the Label and journey with the participants, sharing their stories along the way.  Behind the Label shows the power of the arts to change lives, to empower individuals and educate audiences.”

“Harmful effects of stereotyping”

Antonia Watson, CEO at The Wallich, explained how the constant reinforcement of labels makes it even harder for vulnerable people to overcome them:

“The people The Wallich support face the harmful effects of stereotyping every day. From accessing services to finding a job, they face being judged by their labels – homeless, addict, criminal – instead of as individuals.

The tremendous courage shown by those who took part in Behind The Label is truly inspiring – their performances were honest and brave.  Hearing people’s stories and seeing that there is so much more behind the label was the most moving part of the performance.

Behind The Label was a unique partnership project, delivered by organisations expert in their respective fields. We look forward to building on the partnership so more of the people we support have the opportunity to get involved in this ground breaking and life-changing work.”