Manchester Creative Residency - Week 2

Posted on: 04 April 2016

Written by: Molly

We have now entered our second week of our creative residency project in Manchester, run in partnership with local housing associations St. Vincent's Blackburn with Darwen Foyer and Manchester Foyer. Our creative residencies will engage local artists, homeless and vulnerable residents, and social sector staff to spread the art of Forum Theatre throughout the UK, expanding access to the arts and strengthening vulnerable communities. The Manchester residency will culminate in a small sharing to the local community at Z-Arts on Friday 8th April.

Our blog posts in our final week and in the lead up to the final sharing come courtesy of Kayleigh Hawkins, Freelance theatre practitioner currently working with Unity Theatre, Liverpool and Member of Open Exchange.

Week 2, Day 1:

It starts much like any professional rehearsal, with a physical and vocal warmup and it feels like a shift has happened; the uncertainly has lifted, roles like practitioner, participant and supporter worker seem less apparent, a group of theatre makers has formed. We have some more new people join and they slot right in. We work with images again and begin to recreate scenes, soap opera moments, films, news reports and this seamlessly slides into creating openings to short plays that could be put on stage at Z Arts.

The scenes are shown and it's incredible to see nerves and doubt so quickly turned into celebration of the work. Three very different moments are shown. A young lad running away from home to escape an abusive parent and the goodbye with his brother. The discrimination and harassment towards and eventual stabbing of a street homeless woman. The unwelcome welcoming from a troublemaking Foyer clique. After lunch we move on to the middle of these stories and again share what has been created. I am struck by how much has been achieved. The group don't need to research this topic; they know what they are talking about, the acting is natural and honest and in every sharing we see a story that should be told and feel the responsibility and excitement of doing so.

Week 2, Days 2-4:

Well into week 2 and our plays are shaping up nicely. The phrase ‘piece of piss’ is uttered in improv by a character talking about getting into a Foyer. It is soon made obvious to him that it is anything but easy to get in and in fact what a ‘piece of piss’ it can be for a young person to find themselves on the street. I have always wondered how so many people, especially the young, can slip through the system and am learning about the bureaucracy involved. Our group talk about their own experiences and I learn that a young person may run away to escape danger at home or from ‘the wrong crowd’ yet they are likely to only be able to receive support and be housed in that very area. I also learn that they cannot get their own benefits in their name if they are under a certain age or still in education unless a letter of estrangement is written by the parents they have run from. The other group are tackling life in a Foyer and how vulnerable a position it can be. We have some great members of staff working with us and the group are quick to big up the genuine care of the support workers, however, everyone is aware that there are a lot of rules and we see how quickly a person can loose their place. Peer pressure, drugs as coping mechanism and the harsh reality of friends being killed on the street are just some of the topics raised and no one is suggesting these are rare.

Discussion of the Forum begins and we consider the scenes the audience may want to stop and attempt to break the oppression in. The start is a great place, before anything has escalated; help that can be found from a teacher or a parent if only you speak soon enough, evidence from a doctor as to why a job centre appointment is missed before the sanction has been given, honesty with those you ask for support and a couch from. This takes a character with confidence and a knowledge of the system and what support is available to them. The next step once the troubles have escalated include combating peer pressure, controlling anger and rising above injustice. It’s great to see the young people discussing the different tactics that can be taken and see them step into each others plays and try and tackle the oppression. Some very intelligent foruming goes down and they get to practice very real life scenarios. Final tweaks are many to the plays and another gear shift takes place. With the scenes clear the actors have begun to think about pacing, voice projection and control in highly emotional moments. Genuine examples of great theatre are being shown, everyone in the room feels it. Bring on show day!


With thanks to

Arts Council England Lottery funded