by Will Hunter, Communications Executive, National Institute for Health Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC)
Hard Evidence, a new production developed through collaboration between public contributors to research, academics and creatives from acta community theatre in Bedminster, Bristol, highlights how getting involved with research can empower women who have experienced domestic abuse to support others in a similar situation.
Will Hunter, Communications Executive at the National Institute for Health Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC), caught up with Shass Blake and Alison Prince who wrote the script with Ingrid Jones (acta) and will perform in the production in November. They came to the project after being involved in the CoMForT study, led by Dr Natalia Lewis at the Centre for Academic Primary Care, which developed and pilot tested a trauma-specific mindfulness course for women with experience of domestic abuse and post-traumatic stress.
Thanks for joining me! I just wanted to start by asking what inspired you to turn your experience with researchers into a theatre piece?
Alison Prince (AP): I think it was Noreen’s [Research Fellow, Patient and Public Involvement, at Bristol BRC] idea, to make it into a show I mean. She wanted to think creatively about how we could tell the story of patient and public involvement (PPI). There were about seven or eight of us in the PPI group and the two of us decided to step up and do it. I was interested in writing the script as I had done other writing projects with Bristol Old Vic about the area I live in in Bristol (Southmead) and really enjoyed it.
And what would you say the main story of the production is?
Shass Blake (SB): It’s about that journey to becoming a survivor and how being involved in PPI and research can provide support in that journey. We wanted to create something that could be used to help people realise this could be part of their journey too.
Can you tell me a bit about the process of making the production and how you got involved?
AP: In terms of the process, we had weekly sessions over Zoom, for a few months. In the beginning we were given ice breakers and then just put in a room together to see how different stories and story lines developed and then we picked out the best bits we could use.
SB: Yeah, and I think we were just left to talk about our experience, but not use our actual experiences to shape the storyline. The artistic control was left to us, and just talking to each other so it felt like a very natural process. It felt really in the moment. We just went with it and that’s how it grew, really. There was no pressure on me or Alison to write or tell any particular kind of story. So, when we got in the room together, we just bounced off each other.
Was there anything you were apprehensive about?
AP: I remember Ingrid [the director, acta] mentioning that we would write a movement piece into it and I was thinking “What do you mean a movement piece?! There’s no chance you’re getting me to do that.” But I’m really glad that we added that because it’s the way that each character grows throughout the piece.
You mentioned previously that this was about showing stories of PPI and supporting others in their journey to becoming survivors. Were there any other messages you wanted to get across?
AP: I think we wanted to get two things across, really, there was the one about support but also we saw this as an opportunity to make people more aware of less commonly known forms of domestic abuse, like financial control.
Could you tell us a bit about how you became involved in the CoMforT study? Would you do it again?
SB: Yeah, I got contacted through a support group I was running, it was another group related to fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), so I was contacted through that. I got involved to represent the women that suffer from fibromyalgia which can be triggered by the trauma of domestic abuse.
AP: I’ve already done about three or four other studies!
Would you encourage others to take part research studies then?
SB: Yes definitely, like I said earlier I really want to show people how their journey can be supported by research. I think the more people you can get involved in studies the better the research will become, and the better influence people will have on research. Not just because the researchers are hearing about experiences and conditions straight from the horse’s mouth, but also they [researchers] are getting a much better understanding of how to communicate and engage lay audiences and patients with the research itself.
But you can see things changing in this city, you see a lot more people want to be involved in studies like this. It’s exciting!
I heard you have future plans to develop the production, what’s next? What are your hopes for the recording and the performance?
AP: Well we’re going to go back into the studio to spend two or three weeks to start working with Ingrid to start adding and editing scenes. We had a mini meeting about where it will be used in the future but don’t think it’s been decided yet.
Personally, I think it should be played to younger 16/17-year-olds who could become vulnerable.
I think it’s going to be a really good tool for schools or universities to give people awareness of risk they might be at of domestic violence.
SB: The play focuses on the financial abuse side of domestic violence, which we both had experience of and I think it’s a softer approach so a lot of people don’t even realise their money is being controlled. So that was quite a good subject to focus on, so I agree with Ali. I think this would be a really useful tool to help raise awareness of it.
The performance will run for two nights in the middle of November. If you’re unable to join us a recording will be available shortly after.
You can buy tickets for the performance here:
Find out more about Hard Evidence on the Centre for Academic Primary Care website.