Elena Brearley: “We are active participants in our own lives, and we have power to influence the future”

Elena Brearley talks about her involvement in the Future 20 collective and creating art that heals:

What’s your artistic background?
I just finished a degree in Drama from the University of Manchester. I’m really grateful to the department there because it is really strong in teaching applied theatre and participatory arts practice. They gave me a lot of opportunities to learn about how drama and storytelling can be used to create positivity and light in the world. I’ve been closely involved with The University of Manchester Women’s Theatre Society. This past year I co-facilitated and co-directed a piece of theatre with them called ‘The Reanimating Project’, which was a collectively devised show inspired by interviews done with young women in 1989, all about sex and relationships. A few years ago I made a documentary, The Beautiful World of Richard Muirhead, which is about a friend of mine who is a well known character in his community. I wanted to make a film about him because he’s had a lot of challenges in his life, but he has this crazy joy that I really admire. Sometimes I make zines which are collections of my cartoons, essays and poems, and sometimes I write and sing songs.

Tell us about your practice now – what’s the most satisfying thing? The most challenging? How has it evolved?
The work I’ve discovered I most enjoy is facilitation. That involves leading and supporting groups for projects and workshops. I’m interested in how this can be used to improve social cohesion. The best thing about it is getting to work with people and getting to experience people’s expression and creativity.

One of the challenges is developing the emotional intelligence to be able to support people through good and bad times, and finding the skills to facilitate difficult conversations and conflicts. Another challenge for me has been learning that you don’t need other people’s permission to make things happen.

What made you want to be a part of Future 20?
That it was an interdisciplinary project, and that it was focused on climate change. It has been a space that has allowed me to feel less alone in feeling deeply disturbed by so much of what is happening in the world right now, and has given me a place to channel those feelings into something that is more positive and hopeful.

What’s the most exciting part of this brief for you?
That it is a collaboration between people from different disciplines. I really love hearing the other’s perspectives because where they are coming from is often just completely out of my frame of reference.

What do you think art brings to your life?
It gets things out of my system.

We’re living in very unusual times – how do you think art can help us deal with that?
Art has been healing people and is helping us to understand what is going on within ourselves and with each other, so I think it will continue to do that.

What’s your biggest artistic ambition?
Creating a community space where there’s always something going on and someone to talk to, and where people of all ages can come and meet people. Where those places exist, there’s always some magic and energy around them, so I want to be part of creating a space like that in the city. Before that though, I have a lot of learning and growing to do ?

Future 20 is a year-long project – how has that affected your practice?
I have felt supported throughout this process in a way I haven’t experienced before. Sarah, Rosie, Debbie, and Ivan have always just encouraged us to have no limitations on our thinking in a way that has been liberating. My thinking and my interests have developed and gone in ways I never imagined.

What role do you think the arts should play in building the future?
That they keep reminding us to think about the world from other people’s perspectives.

That they remind us that we are active participants in our own lives, and that we have power to influence the future.