Launched last week, The Group Therapy Programme challenges the boundaries between art forms to "stretch the imagination of what storytelling in a modern digital age can mean".
Produced by innovative London-based publisher OWN IT!, The Group Therapy Programme: (Interpersonal Learning) tells the story of a fictional group therapy session where the characters express their feeling about love, loss, depression and heartache through a series of animated RnB pop songs threaded together with animation to produce a 20 minute film.
In keeping with OWN IT!'s multi-media approach to storytelling, The Group Therapy Programme has been released as a digital book, film and music EP, with the digital book including exclusive bonus material such as unseen illustrations and sections from each of the contributors.
The project was conceptualised in-house at OWN IT! by publisher Crystal Mahey-Morgan and songwriter/composer Jason "Cuba" Morgan, who then pulled together an international team of four illustrators (Caroline Lee, Daniela Skinner, Ellen Leber and Kirsty Latoya) four singers (AJ Lewis, Sharon Rose, Dee Ajayi and Amy Holt), three animators (Gabreal Range, Caroline Lee and Daniela Skinner) and narrator Chris Stylianou.
"The project began with the lyrics and compositions of four unrecorded songs," Mahey-Morgan explains. "We were interested in finding a creative way to really capture the story of the songs and present them in a unique way across different art forms, and working with different kinds of artists. The release of the project across the different platforms was informed by our desire to reach different audiences with the hope of stretching the imagination of what storytelling in a modern digital age can mean."
What's the gap in the market?
"We spotted a gap in the arts space generally for a creative collaboration across books, music, illustration and animated film which together told one narrative," Mahey-Morgan says. "But we were driven less by trying to fill a gap in the market and more by how we could tell the story we wanted to in the most creative way and which would have the biggest positive impact on the people who engaged with it.
"Art in all its forms has often been the greatest tool of empathy and resistance in simultaneous measures, and we felt that this was a good time to release a narrative which centres around people listening and sharing their feelings in an open and safe space."
Success so far?
Over 100 people attended the launch of The Group Therapy Programme at The Rio cinema in Dalston on 4th June. The launch included a screening of the 20 minute animated song film (which appears in the digital book) and a panel discussion with the contributors, who talked about the processes, challenges and highlights of pulling together an international, multidisciplinary project in two months.
Panellists also spoke about their desire to be involved in the project as a way to de-stigmatise mental health issues and promote art as a form of therapy - for both the artists and audience. Mahey-Morgan reports that downloads of both the book and music EP have been encouragingly healthy through iTunes/iBooks and the OWN IT! online shop.
"Working on a project with 12 contributors where each individual contribution is so linked to the telling of the story over one piece was definitely a challenge but in a very positive way," Mahey-Morgan says. "Pulling together such an ambitious project in two months and choosing to release across three different types of products (book, music EP, film) definitely added to the pressure but the team was strong. The challenges including the timeframe added to the creative process and final piece."
The ultimate ambition for the project is to further establish OWN IT!'s vision for rethinking storytelling by using different artforms and platforms in fluid ways.
"Our digital book includes a 20 minute film and four soul/pop songs and this re-thinks what a book or indeed any of these individual products are," Mahey-Morgan asserts."The Group Therapy Programme is a new type of hybrid book/music EP/film product all in one, but crucially available in the digital book space through iBooks."
Mahey-Morgan is passionate about engaging the next generation of content consumers in literature and literary spaces. "We use the non-book related branches of OWN IT! such as the music, fashion and film to grow book audiences not just for our own business but for publishing as a whole," she says. "In addition we hope the themes within the book and overall concept encourage more empathy and for people to communicate with each other, particularly when it comes to metal health.
Diversity is high on their agenda too. "Everything about The Group Therapy Programme feels very representative of society from the eclectic mix of contributors involved to the characters in the story and the audience who attended the launch. This was not by design but a natural consequence of working with so many contributors and telling the story of a group of people expressing universal feelings. We hope that more art released by industries across the board but especially in the publishing will be more representative in their approach from who they work with, to the content they put out, to the audiences they reach."
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"For anyone trying to do something different in publishing, don't limit yourself to the confines of what publishing does or tells you is possible now. Think about what is it you want publishing to be and if it doesn't already exist, go out there and create it. If it does already exist, don't be afraid to re-invent it."