Amy Christer

"[Leicester] is big enough to have lots on offer, but not so big that it has lost its sense of community"

Image credit - Matt Cawrey

What do you do?

I am the Heritage Support Coordinator at Y Heritage and Artistic Director of 14/48 UK. Y Heritage is a National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project which sits within their Kick the Dust programme. It is hosted by Leicester YMCA and sees organisations apply to a group of young commissioners, aged 16-25, to fund their heritage projects. It’s my job to work with the organisations throughout the application process, and support them throughout their resulting projects, encouraging them to keep young people at the heart of their work.

14/48 is a speed theatre festival that originated in Seattle in the mid-90s. Since 2013, I have been running the festival in the UK alongside my husband Bob. In normal circumstances we oversee festivals in Leicester and Wolverhampton, and I am responsible for running the Leicester Festival at The Y and Attenborough Arts Centre. The last year has seen us explore things we never expected, and move two festivals online in May and November of 2020!

We are currently delivering 14/48 Takeover online, a children’s version of the festival where young people have worked with our team of writers to create 4 plays that will be directed, scored, performed and edited by our wonderful community of professionals. The plays are being streamed for a family audience as part of the Spark Festival.

How did you get to where you are?

I studied Drama at Wolverhampton University. I imagined I would move on to teach Drama, but by my 3rd year I chickened out of applying for a PGCE as I didn’t think young people would like me!

I took part in a graduate scheme with Gazebo Theatre Company, a wonderful local company, touring secondary schools and working with, yep, young people. I loved it, and they tolerated me, so I continued to work in Theatre in Education for 2 years, touring schools as an actor and facilitator. This led me directly to running a weekly drama session for 13-16 year olds at The Y. One Monday evening, while I was waiting for my class to arrive, I noticed a poster on the wall advertising that the theatre was looking for a full time Education Officer. I applied and was successful. 14 years later I am still employed by The Y, having taken on various different roles in that time, including programming for the theatre and my current secondment to work on the Y Heritage Project.

14/48 UK was a long time coming! I met my friend Kerri when we both performed in a pantomime in 2004. She had recently returned from Seattle and was raving about this odd sounding festival that had introduced her to the most amazing community of artists. Fast forward to the autumn of 2005, she contacted me to say she was bringing the festival over to Wolverhampton and would I like to take part. I jumped at the chance, and totally fell in love with it. I knew I wanted to take part again, and more importantly I wanted to introduce the festival to Leicester. 8 years later I finally got the chance. I produced the first Leicester Festival as part of my role at The Y in May 2013, and everyone who took part decided they needed it to be a regular event. The 14/48 Projects in Seattle asked me to take 14/48 UK forward and, having just found out I would be starting another new project in becoming a mother, me and Bob decided to take 14/48 UK on together. 8 years later it is still going strong, developing and adapting. We have a huge community of veterans who have taken part in the festival to date and they are all responsible for making some truly magical things happen over the years.

Why do you love what you do?

There are a couple of themes to whatever roles I seem to find myself in. The first is co-creation with young people. It has been present in so much of my work at The Y, and continues to be what drives the Y Heritage project. 14/48 was created as an adult festival. In developing our Takeover version we are putting children’s words in adults' mouths rather than the opposite, which usually happens in youth theatre. It just makes sense to me that in creating work for young people, they should be asked what it is that they want. It’s something I remind myself and my colleagues of daily. I keep threatening to get a print for the wall saying “let’s ask the young people”. I do also find it amusing that, having decided early on that young people wouldn’t like me, I have spent my entire career working with them!

The second theme is creating safe spaces for communities to grow. Whether this is running a 48 hour theatre festival, or mentioning on social media that I was taking part in a 30 day yoga challenge, and ending up with a Messenger group of 17 friends from across the globe to join in and cheer each other on. I get a huge kick out of making people feel at home. My favourite part of any 14/48 festival is the launch meeting when the veterans all come in acting like they own the place (which they do for those 48 hours!) and the virgins entering the building looking terrified, and very soon being taken under someone’s wing. By the Saturday night they are all veterans and they will have made lasting friendships and be planning all sorts of ways to work together again. They did it all themselves but I enjoy providing them with the opportunity.

Why Leicester?

Leicester is my home, it’s where I grew up, it’s where my family lives, and it’s where my children are now forming roots. I have always loved it as a city. It’s big enough to have lots on offer, but not so big that it has lost its sense of community. It is rich with arts, culture and heritage which are all things I care deeply about.

Having started my career in Wolverhampton I noticed a huge difference in the local arts community when I came home. Everything in the West Midlands seemed more joined up, whereas in Leicester everyone seemed to be working on their own thing in their own little corner and I initially found it very difficult to make connections. That was my main reason for wanting to bring 14/48 to Leicester, to bring over 70 artists together for a weekend and create for creating’s sake. I’ve noticed a huge shift in the last few years and I can see so much more collaboration. I’m not suggesting 14/48 is solely responsible for this but I think it has had a significant impact at the right time. I’m always astounded by watching a brilliant project, assuming the creators had known each other for years, and finding they met at 14/48.

What next?

The Y Heritage programme will be live until December of this year. You can find out more about the projects we have funded, and how you can be involved, on The Y’s website.

In our house we refer to 14/48 as our 3rd baby. There’s no getting away from its development being dictated by the ebb and flow of our growing family. Our youngest starts school in September (maybe!?) and it has long been our plan to use the milestone as a time to develop and grow. We would like to see how we can develop more children’s work, and better support artists who are underrepresented in theatre, so these will be our first priorities. We will also continue to deliver our main festival three times a year, whether that be virtually or in person. One thing is for sure, or next real-life festival will be one hell of a party!

Reader Recommendations?

I finished watching It’s a Sin last night. I was late to the party, but if you haven’t seen it you can still catch up. It was funny, and tragic and beautifully raw. The cast were amazing and it is one of the best things I have seen for a long time. I highly recommend it.

My 30 day yoga challenge (see above) has now extended into doing yoga every day of the year so far. I’m aiming to keep this up until at least the end of lockdown 3 if not beyond. This has all been ably assisted by Yoga with Adriene. You can find her videos on YouTube, there a all sorts of sessions available, ranging in length, ability and content, and she has a lovely dog called Benji too.


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