Theatre director Sheryl Hill is creating a one woman, auto-biographical, docu-theatre production about the complexities of obesity and how weight loss in promoted within the United Kingdom.
Working with director Ellen Carr she aims to stimulate a healthier, more empathetic conversation about obesity in a culture where fat-shaming frequently occurs.
So who are you, and what is this?
I’m Sheryl, I’m 29 and I'm obese.
I’ve wanted to make a piece of theatre about obesity, and my personal experience with it for a long time. Now I finally have the courage to do this, and am in a place where I’m prepared to take a risk to use my experience of being fat to help open up the debate further. I want to explore what obesity really means to those who suffer from it, whilst seeking to find a way to combat it. A way that actually works.
I’ve decided to face the fear and do it anyway, because I don’t think this conversation has ever been as needed as it is now.
And what are you actually going to be doing?
Over the next eighteen months, I’ll be conducting an investigation into the obesity crisis and the reasons behind why the nation is not only getting heavier but struggling to lose weight. Is it really just as simple as eat less, move more, or is there more going on?
And in the process I’ll be examining my own history of obesity whilst I, a woman left breathless from climbing the stairs, will train to lay the foundations of a permanent, healthy new lifestyle driven by fitness and the question, well, what can my body actually accomplish?
In the process I plan to attempt physical challenges including the London Marathon, Three Peaks Challenge and cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats (yep, really) to test what my fitness best is and what it will mean for me, if and when I get there. And what that achievement could mean for the discourse surrounding how we tackle the obesity crisis.
By doing this, I hope to offer another perspective for tackling the obesity crisis whilst bringing together partners who can make a difference on a national scale and inspire audience members who feel as trapped in their body as I do now that a healthy, permanent change is possible.
That sounds really hard, are you going to be okay?
We have thought about concerns you might have with this project and are working to ensure all changes I make to my lifestyle are achieved in a gradual and healthy way. I’ll be having a monthly check up with my GP throughout this process, as well as taking advice from other partners on this project, who we've asked to be involved due to the advice and support they can provide. And this is an eighteen month process ensuring that we have factored in time to do this healthily.
Fundamentally, there is always the risk that at the end of it all, I could be sat on stage a year and a half from now and I haven’t achieved my goals.
That is an ever-present genuine risk. If it does happen, it will demonstrate that you can have the best of intentions but obesity is a more complex thing than we give it credit for, and if I do succeed it will be after a lot of hard work, self-reflection and support from my network which in itself may demonstrate how much more we need to do to help support obese people than we do currently.
Okay, and the theatre part?
Over the 18 months of my journey I will be creating a theatre show with my creative team. This performance will be about me and my journey, and the things I learn about obesity in the UK along the way. Footage filmed throughout the process will be played on stage as part of the telling of this story.
Why theatre, why not just a documentary?
I’ve been making theatre professionally since 2012, so theatre is the natural medium for me to want to tell my story in. But more than that I think theatre has a huge power to develop tolerance because of its unique ability to engage people in shared time, space and experience.
So what’s the plan?
As you can see this is a massive project. So we’re breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Time is being divided between training for sporting events, carrying out research and doing creative work. My first sporting event is a 5k run in March, followed by a 10k in June.
In June we’ll do our first creative research and development session. My co-director Ellen and I will spend ten days doing in depth research. We’ll run two focus groups, filmed by videographer Sam Franklyn. We’ll then spend five days in a rehearsal room with the full creative team (myself, Ellen, Sam and designer May Jennifer Davies). Ellen and I will present research findings to the team, and we will play with what the performance style of the show might look like and how we can incorporate the video footage on stage. We’ll end this process with a work in progress sharing to get feedback on our work so far.
The rest of the process looks like this:
Where will my money go?
As you can imagine this is a big project with a big budget. Right now we’re focusing on budgeting and getting funds together for 2017. We’re using this campaign specifically to raise money for our first creative research and development session in June. The budget for that looks like this:
This is £11,730 which is just a fraction of the overall budget for creating this 18 month project.
We’re asking for £2000 from this crowdfunding campaign with a stretch target of £5000. The £2000 will be used as match funding in a Grants for the Arts application to Arts Council England. We will be asking them to fund the rest of our R&D budget.
If we reach our stretch target the additional funds will go towards the ongoing costs of working on this project. Things like filming and publishing weekly videos, spending time producing and developing the project each week and travel to meet with new partners and experts in the field.
We’re also researching and applying for other funding opportunities, and putting together a plan to raise funds for the project moving forward.
Who are you working with?
I’m working with co-director Ellen Carr who has run her theatre company Witness Theatre since 2011. Ellen makes work about contemporary taboos in our society, and aims for that work to open up space for people to talk about these taboos.
Sam has an MA in Digital Documentary Filmmaking, and spent two weeks filming an ultra-marathon in the Brazilian jungle. He’s passionate about using the camera to tell personal stories.
May has a background in filmmaking and has just completed an MA in Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Art during which her working partnership with Sheryl began after she directed her final project. May is interested in the relationship between film and theatre, and the power of theatre to bring about social change. "It's so exciting to be on board with this project. What Sheryl is taking on is hugely brave and inspiring and it's a privilege to be able to work alongside the team right from the beginning to develop the show together".
The project is also being supported by various organisations who are joining forces with us, including Rabble (www.joinrabble.com) , a sports company, led by Charlotte Roach, dedicated to putting the fun back into fitness and HOOP (Helping Overcome Obesity Problems) UK (www.hoopuk.org.uk), a charity working tirelessly to break down the stigma attached to obesity and ensure that all children and adults struggling with obesity are given access to the services which are right for them.
Okay I’m in. The rewards on offer look really exciting!
Definitely! All of us on the team are so grateful for any support given to this production. Anyone who helps make this project happen will have so much love and gratitude from us, and good thoughts sent their way! But sometimes it is nice to have something tangible as a token of our appreciation. If you're reading this and thinking 'rewards? Where are these rewards?!' then you can find details all about them on the right hand side of this page :)
We would love for you to join us on this journey by supporting this production and the change that it wants to bring about to an important and timely topic.
Thank you for your generous donation and for spreading the word!