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Jeremy Weller – Visiting Artist Talk – Notes

Posted in 20/21, Artist Talks 20/21, and Contextual Research 2021

Jeremy Weller has devoted his life to social action and investigation through performance. He is perhaps best known as the Artistic Director of the innovative and influential GrassMarket Project (GMP) theatre company. Weller’s vision integrates issues of social exclusion and social justice into the artistic process and seeks to improve peoples lives through engaging them in their own potential for creativity.

Jeremy Weller has become the leading exponent in the area of inclusive, person-centered and immersive theatre/film, in which people with no previous experience of performance get the opportunity to work alongside professional actors. As the Artistic Director of the renowned Grassmarket Project (GMP), Jeremy began making drama projects in Edinburgh some 20 years ago with plays performed by minority groups, using Radical Drama as a social intervention process.

Weller introduces us briefly by talking about his past experiences that has motivated him and his work, including talking to homeless people, in particular one of which describes themselves as an actor has told Jeremy they constantly need to act in order to survive.

Weller has worked in warzones, maximum security prisons, gangs in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Brazilian favelas, ex soldiers, ex para militaries… Weller has done a documentary with the BBC on people at the roundhouse.

It’s a common assumption that working with these people that they are very vulnerable, however Weller suggests that these people are actually more resilient and aren’t as vulnerable when compared to most. Weller has had a childhood where he has experienced gangs, and so feels he can connect with these people on an emotional and intellectual level. He is very mindful of peoples vulnerabilities and did nearly 4 years of cognitive behavioural therapy to make sure that he was hyper aware of someones emotions, so he was very cautious. He has never had a difficulty dealing with these people and that vulnerability is a dangerous word to apply to groups that are marginalised as it sometimes ghettoises them. He states with a previous participant they felt people judged him less because of being in his plays.

When asked if he found the experiences of making drama has had a long term impact on peoples lives, he responded stating they he personally has travelled from huge disadvantage and marginalisation in his childhood, and he knows the journey very well. Yes, these people lives can change and have, but also no, many peoples lives haven’t changed because it is a huge task to move from their childhoods. Weller is constantly fighting against the simplification of labels, the silly tropes that people give out to describe complex human beings.

Weller likes to deal with the emotional stuff… the stuff that can’t be quantified. When he hears about slave industry he thinks of real blood and real suffering that was done to people. Weller humanises people that are stereotyped through his work. He uses performance in order to create empathy. When someone is on stage, the audience empathises. When the people aren’t actually acting and showing himself.

Wellers next project is domestic violence, he lost his sister due to domestic violence and domestic violence is become an epidemic.

Weller thinks it’s valuable to express uncomfortable things and inner torment.

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