Esther Johnson



Output: Digital or Visual Media

‘a ROLE to PLAY’ is an enquiry into the experiences of contemporary working life in post-industrial Bolsover, a Derbyshire constituency where coal was once king. The research features the lived experiences and dreams of four Bolsover residents, and Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover between 1970-2019. This research was conducted in direct response to the increasing numbers of unemployed and zero-hour contracts across the UK and explores the realities and struggles that residents
have encountered in gaining and sustaining employment amidst the town’s post-mining legacy of de-industrialisation.

Themes include positive and negative work experiences, volunteering, lack of work, zero-hours contracts, unemployment, and barriers that low reading and writing skills can have on work.

The research considers how methods of co-creation and radical documentary theatre can be intertwined with oral testimony to foster an approach whereby project participants’ storytelling is privileged over the questioning/answering scenario of traditional documentary. The title echoes the participatory film process and evokes the roles everyone takes in their working and non-working lives.

To achieve this output, Johnson worked with Bolsover Freedom Community Project adult reading group members, food bank users and volunteers. Johnson became a food-bank volunteer working alongside film participants, and a Bolsover Reading Group volunteer, introducing reading/writing/bookmaking exercises into classes to debate themes in the research.

Oral testimonies were recorded over 18 months with Bolsover residents. Selected transcribed testimonies where shaped into a script which participants were invited to further edit before filming.

This research was supported by Animate Projects ‘WORK’ programme, funded by ACE and Jerwood Arts.

An online premiere and webinar event were organised because of Covid-19 restrictions, scheduled for 1 May 2020 to chime with International Workers’ Day. Publications include a 16-page newspaper ‘Class Work Tribune’; ‘In the Shadow of the Beast’ for Tribune; and ‘WORK’ book ISBN 978-1-5272-5882-2.

Research Output

Artists' Q+A

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Research Method

Exploring the realities of what ‘work’ means for the way we live today, Johnson undertook the research ‘a ROLE to PLAY’ in Bolsover where her methodologies involved working with local community groups and individuals to explore their lived experiences of work.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

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Other Projects By

Esther Johnson