imagine if theatre was founded in 2015 to instigate real change in people’s lives through theatre. It is run by founding Artistic Director, Francesca Joy and is based in Armley, Leeds. imagine if aims to actively improve disadvantaged people’s lives through theatre and we work predominantly with prisoners and people with convictions who have a range of disadvantages including mental health issues, homelessness, victims of abuse, low literacy levels, unemployment and low socio-economic backgrounds. We aim to be truthful in our artistic processes and productions, as authenticity is ingrained in our work. Consequently, we place those without a voice at the forefront of each imagine if production.
We have demonstrated that theatre is a powerful tool that can be used to reach out and connect with people from all areas of society. We create thought provoking theatre about real and challenging societal issues, focusing predominantly on the causes and consequences of social and economic disadvantage, covering topics such as domestic abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues. The theatre we create is based on the world around us comprising real stories from real people. We aim to create work that is inspiring, entertaining and unashamedly honest for intimate audiences. All our productions are rooted in truth and we have toured to over 20 theatres across the UK including a month long run at The Pleasance at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We have performed to over 3,000 audience members receiving critical acclaim in the press and have also been supported by Sir Ian McKellen.
“The scripting is as sharp as the performances. Francesca Joy has an obvious talent for creating poignancy from the ordinary. The abuse cycle is real and we’ve seen it portrayed in soap opera abuse storylines. Yet the physicality of the performances and the nuance in the writing make it all feel heartbreakingly new.” West End Wilma on imagine if’s production, You Forgot the Mince, 2017
We have also worked internationally, most recently working in prisons in America with several companies, including with Tim Robbins and his company ‘The Actor’s Gang’ in Los Angeles. We have also worked in India in slums, orphanages and with Bangalore-based theatre company ‘Yours Truly’.
imagine if has a strong track record of working in prisons nationally and with prison leavers in the community, with a geographical focus spanning across Yorkshire. Over the last 5 years, we have worked in 26 prisons across the UK and USA, engaged with over 4,000 prisoners and continue to support prisoners when they are released into the community, for as long as individuals require support.
“It was the only thing that was inspiring in prison. Because of Bird on the Wing, I got a job within four weeks of getting out and I have remained in work since” Bird on the Wing Graduate, 2018
imagine if’s flagship theatre and employability intervention for prisons, Bird on the Wing uses evidence-led theatre techniques to address several risk factors for criminal behaviour, including interpersonal skills, communication skills, employability, and positive personal narratives. Bird on the Wing has been researched and developed over four years and imagine if hires former participants and people with convictions to test and develop the content every year. We use practical, drama-based activities to support prisoners in various ways. During the three week course, prisoners develop practical job-seeking skills, as well as application and interview skills. Prisoners learn and develop performance skills, working together to create a performance that focuses on their motivations and aspirations for life after prison. Towards the end of the intervention, the performance is presented to potential employers and support agencies at a networking event. We support every single Bird on the Wing graduate, for as long as they need, upon release. This support is offered in the form of the Phoenix Programme, which has grown organically and in response to prison leaver’s needs for support upon their release since 2017. Phoenix is open to all people with convictions, in addition to the Bird on the Wing graduates.
“A key part of the success of Bird on the Wing is the long-term support that it offers to prisoners after their release.” The Yorkshire Post, 2019
Phoenix is a post-release support programme for prison leavers which uses the arts to develop key employment and life skills. It has been created in consultation with prison leavers, who imagine if already works with. Phoenix is a programme which works with people who have convictions in a holistic manner, providing practical support and arts-based opportunities to assist in positive resettlement and maintain motivation to cease offending behaviour.