Merthyr Tydfil is a large post-industrial town in the south Wales Valleys. Once the largest town in Wales todays it is Wales’ fourth largest town by population. Merthyr has a radical socialist history: the place where Keir Hardie was first elected, where the red flag was raised and the working class uprising saw the death of Dic Penderyn ,Wales’ working class martyr.
In more recent years Merthyr has bared the brunt of negative publicity with programmes such as Skint by Channel 4 pumping out negative representations of the town, labelling local people as benefit cheats and drug addicts.
My experience of Merthyr has been a different story, having worked in the area for the past five years I have watched as the community has come together to create shows, attend workshops and take care of each other. There are too many projects to mention that have celebrated the strength of this place and the people that live here.
One actor I’ve worked with expressed how few opportunities existed in Merthyr before an outside institution came and created a piece that involved local people.
‘Merthyr’s got a lot of history with the boxers and the iron works. Before I got involved with ...................... I didn’t know anything about the arts in Merthyr because it was never shown to us. Little murals on the walls show us what Merthyr was like years ago like the steam engine and the iron works. The only arts I knew about were Joseph Parry that was the most I ever knew, years ago’
“My feeling would be that we’re working for the community and we’re there to help. I would cover stories that are relevant to the people in that community. In Merthyr there’s a lot of unemployment and sickness so I’d like to do plays that bring these into the foreground so we don’t have to just live on what the telly says. Most of the time the telly makes us out to be crap. Give us a chance.”
Rhiannon Popp Artist & local resident
The workshop is with drama students at Merthyr College it’s in the former town hall, recently restored after being a nightclub. The building is beautiful, grand. It’s in this building Keir Hardie would have shaped his Labour manifesto.
I have a class of 20 students that are from Merthyr and the surrounding areas, they’ve all have a keen interest in theatre and the arts so are really engaged and excited to talk about it. We talk about social class, what it means, what they think and feel about it and if it impacts on their lives. We question the role of theatre and the arts – and create manifestos of what they want the future of the arts to be.
In groups discuss
What is class?
What does the term working class mean?
What strength can we learn from the working class?
What commonalities do people share across class?
As individuals create 5 questions you would ask yourself
5 questions you would ask yourself about class
5 questions that occupy your life
5 questions you would ask yourself
5 questions you would ask society
Take a piece of paper and use these prompts to finish off each sentence
I make art because…
Art should be…..
In small groups write
a manifesto for the future of the arts.
Participants response to.....
Who defines class?
Why do we have to have class?
Do we need to be divided?
Why aren’t we equal?
Why am I not accepted?
Does class tell us who we are?
Why are the lower classes less important?
Pushing through everything
Working for what they have
They do the jobs others don’t want to
I make art because it’s a way to express myself
I make are because it inspires me to question my inner thoughts and feelings
I make art because it inspires me and makes me happy
I make art because it makes me part of a collective
I make art because it helps me escape from the outside world and I can be anyone
I make art because I want others to make art