In a celebration of one of the most religiously diverse cities in the UK, Coventry is to host 24 hours of art, theatre, music, food and debate aimed at exploring belief and promoting the connections between faiths.
The Royal Shakespeare Company and Coventry City of Culture have teamed up to produce Faith, a series of free live events in September, including four promenade performances and an art installation by the creator of the 2014 Tower of London poppy memorial.
Erica Whyman, the RSC’s deputy artistic director, described the event as “a long-form slow pilgrimage through the city”. She has worked closely with local community leaders and faith groups since launching the project four years ago.
She said that she had never done anything on this scale, “especially through a pandemic”, and that “it feels like mobilising a city to have a conversation about how we see each other and what we share”.
The promenade performances, with a cast of professional actors, tell the stories of Coventry people while using the city as the stage. Written by Chinonyerem Odimba, a playwright and the artistic director of tiata fahodzi, and Chris O’Connell, a writer and the artistic director of Theatre Absolute, their themes include love, loss, fear and resilience.
Odimba said working on the dramas through the pandemic had been challenging. “The project is so place-based, but I couldn’t be there to get to know the city,” she said.
Instead, she relied on Zoom conversations with faith and community leaders. “The extent of dialogue between them was extraordinary. They were always pointing me on to another faith community. In Coventry, all these faiths don’t just exist alongside one another, they actually support each other.”
Tom Piper, who created Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the acclaimed installation featuring thousands of ceramic poppies that marked the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, is physically connecting different faith communities with a tapestry of blue ribbons. This will be accompanied by an original score by the Coventry-based composer Sayan Kent.
Places of worship and faith centres throughout the city will open their doors to visitors, offering sacred music, prayer, quiet reflection and tea. The 24-hour event will culminate in a ceremony of lights, with 500 candles lit at dusk in the city centre.
Whyman said she was also keen to attract people of no faith. “There are people absolutely firm in their nonreligious views who, in moments of crisis, feel very small, in need of a moral compass, searching for the strength to continue. We might talk about the human spirit, or our community, or God or gods. There’s a point of commonality in adversity, and that’s really driven the project.”
Chenine Bhathena, the creative director of Coventry City of Culture, said the arts had “a unique power to strengthen connections, promoting understanding of our significant differences as global humans, but also recognising our similarities, as we all work together for peace, justice and healing in our world.
“With music, theatre, art installations, rituals, food and conversations, there really is something for everybody, and we invite audiences to open their hearts and minds to the diverse ways in which we as humans lead our lives and live by our beliefs.”
Faith will take place on Friday 10 September and Saturday 11 September.