Hear The People Sing: Jo Cox tribute

14 April 2017

Dona Munday explains her summer project in tribute to the MP


Festgoers, I am writing to tell you about another theatre project happening 60 miles away in West Yorkshire, which I hope you can support. Hear the People Sing is a new project to honour the late Jo Cox, MP for Batley & Spen, celebrating her passion for togetherness, collaboration, comradeship and theatre. The attack in June 2016 on the vibrant young MP cast a dark shadow across her constituency, the political landscape, and the nation, but in the days which followed, Jo’s energy and personality shone through. Her dedication to social justice, love for her family, commitment to Yorkshire and belief in its young people brought light into what was a very dark week.

Jo loved theatre, and last winter, a group of us that work in the West End were approached about creating some kind of tribute evening for her. The original concept was a fundraising night in a West End theatre, but it soon morphed into something much more exciting. While 400 of you have been enjoying an amazing week of NSDF, 60 miles away in a school hall in Batley, another 80 young people have just had the most amazing week of their lives, starting to create a piece of theatre which will use the values Jo stood for to bring the community together.

Batley & Spen Youth Theatre Company has been set up in Batley, West Yorkshire to celebrate and honour the life of Jo, and leave a lasting legacy in the town which will benefit young people for many years to come. The inaugural project is a once in a life-time event which will bring a revolutionary experience to the young people of the town and surrounding areas. This project will see the company members perform Jo’s favourite musical Les Misérables. Overseen by leading West End practitioners and complemented by a team of dedicated staff with educational and pastoral experience, this production will give the participants the opportunity to work to professional standards, whether they be on stage or behind the scenes.

Hear the People Sing will take place over four weeks of residential teaching and rehearsals for 120 young people; culminating in a week of performances in August at Blakeridge Mill in Batley, where an audience of over 3,000 will celebrate the spirit of community that brought them together. The young people involved will not only be a part of Les Misérables, they will also form the cast of More In Common, a theatre piece devised by the young people and celebrating the values which Jo stood for – her inaugural speech having included the words “We have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. This piece will also be performed at Blakeridge Mill during August 2017.

The young people creating this event have been brought together from all parts of the community in West Yorkshire, and includes many people who have never done anything theatre-related before. We have specifically tried to reach sections of the community which may feel that theatre is “not for them”, consistently asking the question “why not” in our aim to reach as many people as possible. As well as the cast of 80+, we also have 20 students who will form the production team that will shadow the West End creative team. These young people will essentially enjoy a unique and priceless three-week residential work-experience project, working with some of the leading artists of UK theatre. We hope that it will expose the participants to career pathways that they may not have previously considered, increase their ambition, and teach them skills that they would otherwise not be able to access. 

We've already received great support from the project from Sir Cameron Mackintosh who has generously granted us the rights to do the production, and many other West End theatrical organisations who are providing services for free. However, the project is not cheap, so we have initiated a fundraising campaign as the ambition of this project is that no young person be excluded from participation owing to financial constraints – and with this in mind, support for the Batley & Spen Youth Theatre Company at all levels will be critical to ensure access really is for all. 

Once the summer project Hear the People Sing is over, the newly created Batley & Spen Youth Theatre Company will operate beyond this inaugural event and hopeful develop into a permanent feature of the town. 

If you would like to support this project and help create a theatrical legacy for Jo Cox in her home town, please go to our website http://hearthepeoplesing.com/ or on Twitter @LesMisBatley where you will find more information.


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