Coventry City of Culture Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company Present New Co-Production, Faith

A major series of events around Coventry will allow audiences to experience faith in all its forms through food, discussions, promenade performances, installations, and open spaces

People can join in person or online
Friday 10th – Saturday 11th September 2021

Coventry City of Culture Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company will create a new theatre experience in collaboration with City Voices. The experience will take place over 24 hours in locations across the city and online. Faith is directed by the RSC’s Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman, and will invite audiences (both in-person and virtually) to immerse themselves in the diverse faiths of Coventry, a proud interfaith city, through music, theatre, art installations, rituals, discussion, and dialogue. Tickets, which are free, will be available to book for pre-registered audiences on Friday 20th August, with general on-sale on Friday 27th August. Casting information to be confirmed.

Faith has always been part of Coventry’s story. Yet how we – as world citizens – experience faith, both as individuals and as communities, manifests itself in different ways. Look beyond the spires of Coventry’s iconic Cathedral and you’ll uncover a rich and interconnected sacred architecture of Gurdwaras, Mosques, Temples and Churches of all denominations where Humanists, Quakers, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Rosicrucians, Methodists, Catholics, Pagans and countless other faiths, and those of no faith at all, live side by side.

At its heart, Faith will explore what keeps each of us going in tough times, and how people of faith, and of non-religious world views, understand and celebrate the chapters and mysteries of our lives. As we begin to understand the effects of the pandemic, and to recover from our losses, it seems more important than ever to see each other fully, respect our differences, and find new ways to go forward.

Faith includes four promenade performances written by Chris O’Connell, (Theatre Absolute; Shop Front Theatre; Frantic Assembly; Cardboard Citizens; Paines Plough; BBC) and Chinonyerem Odimba (Artistic Director and Chief Executive of tiata fahodzi; Unknown Rivers – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs; My Best Friend Married A Warrior – BBC iPlayer; Black Love, Paines Plough), with contributions from a wide-range of local participating writers in the City Voices programme. These performances will feature a cast of eleven professional actors (to be announced), primarily from Coventry. Faith is inspired by dialogue and research with community leaders from a wide range of faith groups and young people across the city, including the members of Coventry’s Sacred Space Initiative. Coventry’s Sacred Square Mile runs from the city centre into north Coventry and encompasses faith buildings from almost all of the major religions, as well as green and other sacred spaces that are used by people of all faiths and none. Representatives of these diverse faith communities will take an active part in the Friday evening activities and in the ceremony of lights on Saturday 11th September.

The experience will span 24 hours and will encompass a variety of events delivered live in the city and online.

In-person programme:

Theatre designer Tom Piper, famed for his poppy memorial at the Tower of London, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, will create an evocative visual representation of the existing ties and connections between the different faith groups. Faith communities across Coventry will join together physically, with Coventry’s places of worship set to be tied together with Coventry blue ribbons, creating a beautiful temporary tapestry through the city. Coventry-based composer Sayan Kent (Maggie May, Liverpool Royal Court, Calcutta Kosher, Kali Theatre) will compose an original score to accompany the whole project.

Laura Nyahuye will be collaborating with Tom to create a beautiful reflective installation in the cathedral ruins exploring the relationship between faith and mental health.

On Friday evening, an invited audience of faith and community leaders will come together in Swanswell Park to share food and engage in discussion about how faith shapes their lives. Audiences will be able to access resources online to host their own conversation about faith at home and cook dishes that have special meaning in different religions.

Saturday morning sees faith centres and spaces across Coventry opening their doors and welcoming in audiences, offering them a chance to experience their faith through ‘Open House’. This will be a chance for those who might not usually visit places of worship to spend time with someone’s faith (in whatever shape that might take) and to learn more about their beliefs, practices, and work in the community. Whether through a performance of sacred music, a shared cup of tea, a chance to observe prayer, or simply the discovery of a space for quiet reflection, this event is sure to open hearts and minds. One highlight will be a video project with young people from three different faith based schools talking thoughtfully about what faith means in their lives and how it is changing across generations.

Audiences will also be invited to join four different intimate walking performances across the city throughout the day, telling the stories of Coventry families and friends and their very different relationships with faith and hope, through a series of journeys with the city as the stage. Performances will also encompass a movement piece from the Belgrade’s Youth Theatre Group.

The Messenger

Chris O’Connell presents The Messenger. Beginning on Stoney Stanton Road, audiences are introduced to Baani, who faces the imminent death of her mother. Tasked with getting a message to her father, she agrees to meet him at Pool Meadow bus station, but this is a journey she has never made before. Baani is resourceful and very good company but will anyone help her find her way?

The Return

Also written by Chris O’Connell is The Return. Taking place on the cathedral steps, two old friends meet after almost 40 years. Seeing both each other and the Coventry they love through very different eyes, the piece explores whether it is possible to betray a city, and if so, whether it can forgive you.

The Arrival

Chinonyerem Odimba presents The Arrival, which follows a young Sikh couple as they try to find a new home. Audiences will be taken on a journey through the city centre in 1978, starting in Broadgate and culminating at the Belgrade Theatre. Taking in Lady Godiva, two-tone, and the importance of a good ruby murray, The Arrival is set against a backdrop of racial violence but told with humour and resilience, asking us to question what the ingredients for a good life are.

Generation 2020

Also written by Chinonyerem Odimba is Generation 2020, which follows the grandson of the Sikh couple, as he and his friends discover that someone they care about has gone missing. Audiences will be led on an odyssey around hidden corners of north Coventry, as they try to find him and come to terms with recent upheaval. Generation 2020 is a spirited celebration of the imagination and humanity of young people. 

Ceremony of Lights

Faith culminates with a ceremony to come together and experience the power and multiple meanings of light. Audiences will be invited to gather at dusk in Millennium Square to light one of 500 flames to create a final tapestry of lights in the city centre and to take part in a unique pledge to walk forward together, in knowledge and in hope.

Online Programme:

Faith encompasses hybrid live and digital events. For audiences unable to attend Faith in person, and for audiences who have attended, a selection of digital content will be available. Highlights include a cook-along event in the week leading up to the culinary experience, video content exploring the role of food in faith communities, and interviews with the creative team and communities involved in the projects. All performances will also be live streamed with BSL and captioning, and will be available to watch after the event via coventry2021.co.uk.

Erica Whyman, Director of Faith, and Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company said:

Faith is a Coventry-wide invitation to celebrate this remarkable multi-faith city.  Over the weekend of 10th and 11th September across the city and online, we will inspire conversations about what we each believe and what keeps us going in tough times.  Chinonyerem Odimba and Chris O’Connell have written funny, insightful, and moving plays about how faith really operates in our daily lives which will be performed with the city as our stage and our backdrop, leading to a powerful ceremony of light on Saturday evening in which everyone can take part.”  

“As we come through one of the most testing times in our lifetimes, Faith is a moment to acknowledge our losses, see and respect our differences and celebrate our resilience as we find ways to go forward in hope. It has been made in close collaboration with representatives of the faith communities of Coventry, and it has been a privilege to witness close up the spirit of solidarity and optimism that continues to thrive in this city.”

Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry, City of Culture, said:

“We are delighted to have developed this extraordinary collaboration between locally based creatives, representatives of the many faith communities of Coventry, City Voices, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. We can’t wait for visitors to immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of Coventry, a proud interfaith city of peace and reconciliation.

“The arts have a unique power to strengthen connections, promoting understanding of our significant differences as global humans but also to recognising our similarities, as we all work together for peace, justice, and healing in our world.

“With music, theatre, art installations, rituals, food, and conversations, there really is something for everybody, and we invite audiences to open their hearts and minds to the diverse ways in which we as humans lead our lives and live by our beliefs.’’

Individual programming ticketing information and timings will be available on Friday 20th August via the Coventry City of Culture website – https://coventry2021.co.uk/what-s-on/

Artist Credits

  • Created in collaboration with RSC and local community leaders and their faith groups
  • Writers – Chris O’Connell, Chinonyerem Odimba and City Voices
  • Director – Erica Whyman
  • Designer – Tom Piper
  • Composer – Sayan Kent
  • Design Associate – Adrian Rees
  • Costume Associate – Chloe Fundak
  • Associate Director – Jennifer Davis
  • Senior Producer – Jon Davis
  • Engagement Producer- Remi McKenzie
  • Digital Producer – Katherine Jewkes
  • Dramaturg – Becky Latham
  • Sound Designer – Mike Beer
  • Associate Sound Designer – Ian Bernard
  • Director Facilitator – Frankie Robson

Biographies:

Chinonyerem Odimba

Chinonyerem Odimba is a Nigerian British playwright, screenwriter, and poet. Her recent work ranges from Medea at Bristol Old Vic, We Too, Are Giants for Kiln Theatre, Unknown Rivers at Hampstead Theatre, Prince and the Pauper at Watermill Theatre, The Seven Ages of Patience at Kiln Theatre, and Princess & The Hustler which toured across the UK for Eclipse Theatre/Bristol Old Vic/Hull Truck. She is also Writer-in-Residence at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Her work for theatre includes The Bird Woman of Lewisham at the Arcola; Rainy Season, and His Name is Ishmael for Bristol Old Vic; Joanne for Clean Break, and Amongst the Reeds for Clean Break/The Yard Theatre.

Her work for young people includes a modern retelling of Twist for Theatre Centre and Sweetness of a Sting for NT Connections.

She has been shortlisted for several awards including the Adrienne Benham and Alfred Fagon awards. In 2015 her unproduced play Wild is De Wind was shortlisted to the final ten for the Bruntwood Playwriting Award. She is the winner for the 2018 Sonia Friedman Award (Channel 4 Playwright Bursary) for a new play How to Walk on the Moon, and a finalist for the inaugural Women Playwriting Prize 2020 for her play Paradise Street.

Chinonyerem’s TV credits includes Scotch Bonnet for BBC Three and A Blues for Nia for BBC/Eclipse Theatre, Adulting for Channel 4, and more recently My Best Friend Married a Warrior for CBBC.

For radio, credits include The Last Flag, and Eve as part of This Is Your Country, Now series on BBC Radio 4.

As a director, Chinonyerem has worked for Bristol Old Vic, Theatre503, and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She will be co-directing her new play Black Love for Paines Plough, as well an audio drama for Live Theatre/BBC Radio 4 in 2021.

In April 2021, Chinonyerem became the new Artistic Director and Chief Executive of tiata fahodzi.

Chris O’Connell

Chris O’Connell has written plays for theatre, TV, and radio. Since 1992 he has been Artistic Director and writer for Theatre Absolute, in Coventry. His work for the company includes Choke (2018) TRAUM (2016), Breathe (2011), Zero (UK tour and Chicago premiere, 2009), cloud:burst (Royal Opera House, and New York premiere, 2005/06), and Car, Raw, and Kid, Edinburgh Festival, national and European tours, 1999-2003.

Chris has also written to commission for Frantic Assembly Hymns (2005), RSC, Thyestes (2004), Cardboard Citizens, Home Truths (2017), and RSC Faith (2021).

Car and Raw won Fringe First Awards for Outstanding New Work and Innovation at the Edinburgh Fringe Festivals 1999 and 2001 respectively. Car won a Time Out Live Award for Best New Play on the London Fringe, 1999.

As artistic director of Theatre Absolute, Chris co-founded the UK’s first professional shop front theatre in City Arcade, Coventry, in 2009. Since, 2018 the company has developed two multi-commission collaborative projects  – Are We Where We Are, and Humanistan – which to date have commissioned over 20 writers in the process, all of whom have seen their work realised in performance.

Chris’ plays are published by Oberon Books.

Erica Whyman

Erica joined the Royal Shakespeare Company as Deputy Artistic Director in January 2013; she takes a particular lead on the development of new work, the contemporary relevance of the repertoire, and the national ambitions of the company. She was Chief Executive of Northern Stage in Newcastle upon Tyne from 2005 to 2012 when they became known for ambitious international partnerships, the development of experimental new work, and for bold interpretations of modern classics. In 2012 she won the TMA award for Theatre Manager of the Year and was awarded an OBE for services to Theatre in the UK. Erica was Artistic Director of Southwark Playhouse (1998-2000) and then Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill (2000-2004). Erica trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School who awarded her an Honorary Doctorate in 2015; in November 2016 she received the Peter Brook Special Achievement Award.

For the RSC: The Ant and the CicadaRevolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (The Other Place); The Christmas Truce (Royal Shakespeare Theatre); Hecuba (Swan Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation (RST and UK Tour); The Seven Acts of Mercy (Swan Theatre); The Earthworks (TOP); Romeo and Juliet (RST, Barbican and UK Tour), Miss Littlewood (Swan Theatre), A Museum in Baghdad (Swan Theatre). In 2021 she directed a filmed version of The Winter’s Tale for the RSC, which was broadcast on BBC Four.

For Northern Stage: Son of Man, Ruby Moon, Our Friends in the North, A Christmas Carol, A Doll’s House, Look Back in Anger, Hansel and Gretel, Oh! What a Lovely War (nominated for two TMA awards), The Wind in the Willows, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (nominated for Best Director 2011 TMA Awards), The Borrowers and the UK premiere of Oh, the Humanity (Edinburgh/Soho Theatre). Other work includes: The Birthday Party(Sheffield Crucible); The Shadow of a Boy (National Theatre); The Flu Season, Marieluise, Witness, Les Justes(Gate); The Winter’s Tale, The Glass Slipper (Southwark Playhouse).

Erica is the Chair of Theatre 503 and Deputy Chair of Coventry City of Culture Trust.  She has been involved with the Coventry City of Culture since the bidding phase in 2016.

Jennifer Davis

Jennifer is a theatre director based in Coventry. She is a Junior Associate at the King’s Head Theatre and an Associate Artist with Theatre Absolute. Jennifer was a director on the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s Foundry programme (2014 – 2015) and graduated from the King’s Head Theatre’s Trainee Resident Director programme in 2016. 

Her directing credits include: A Haunting (Belgrade Theatre, VAULT Festival, and King’s Head Theatre); (sorry) (Birmingham REP and Assembly, Edinburgh Fringe Festival) Adam & Eve (Hope Theatre), and Cheetah Sisters (Belgrade Theatre and Birmingham REP). Associate directing credits include: Strangers in Between (King’s Head Theatre and Trafalgar Studios). 

Currently, she is Associate Director to Erica Whyman on Faith (RSC and Coventry City of Culture). https://coventry2021.co.uk/coming-in-2021/faith/ 

In 2014 Jennifer co-founded Shoot Festival: a platform for early-career artists making work in Coventry and Warwickshire. In April 2019 the festival returned for its fourth event and showcased work from 30 emerging artists as well as masterclasses and workshops. www.coventryshootfestival.com 

Written By: Julie Holman

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