Rattle Snake on World Mental Health Day.

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OPEN CLASP production of RATTLESNAKE by Catrina McHugh directed by Charlotte Bennett

Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day and it made me think about the two characters in Rattle Snake. Coercive controlling behaviour in domestic abuse impacts on their ability to think, feel and to escape.  They are both trapped, not only by the perpetrator but by the state.  Tactics are used to annihilate, reduce to nothing and no-one is in their corner.

JEN:

In the first couple of months we were happy, he was good with the girls 

But then, I was having a bad day. I suffer with depression

James came home from work, the house was a mess and the dog wouldn’t stop barking

He’s particular about the work surfaces, they need to be wiped clean, I know that, its just his thing, if its not wiped clean, if there’s a stain, no matter how small, he can’t relax

He starts to clean the work surface, then the cooker, he empties and repacks the fridge, mops and polishes the floors.  He scrubs the whole house and doesn’t stop till its 12 o’clock.  He puts the lead on the dog, slams the door and is gone for two hours.  He comes home and goes straight to bed

The next morning I make his breakfast, bait and say ‘I’m sorry’

I make sure I clean the house top to bottom every day.  I know its not fair on him, I feel ashamed that I’ve let the house go, I feel bad I’ve upset him

I’m walking on eggshells

 

Mental ill health can be a result of domestic violence, and it can also be used against victims/survivors, to threaten and control….later in the play there is a family court scene and the perpetrator tells the judge ‘she’s mad’ and ‘unstable’ and ‘shouts at the kids’.   How the state views mental health, the stigma and discrimination his weapon.

I’ve been asked to write an article about Rattle Snake and two of the prompts are ‘Why are the issues worth tackling?’ and ‘Why is theatre useful in tackling these issues?’

I met a young man/boy in a referral unit yesterday.  He watched the play, and then asked to speak with me afterwards.  With his teacher present, he told me about how his real dad had been like the man in the play, how his dad, like the man in the play, had moved on to other women, had more children and how his mother and the other women are now free.  However, though he is safe, he is also triggered when the ‘real father’ tries to get in touch with him.  I am especially proud of the children’s voices in the play, they are being heard and they need to be, as we know their mental health is also being affected and they are also in need of services and support.

When writing this blog I wondered how to end it, why am I writing it, other than knowing it was World Mental Health Day and that had made me think about the play and the two characters, but also the real life women I’d interviewed to make the piece.  Then I returned to the prompts.  Why are these issues worth tackling?  Answer: because domestic violence/abuse affects us all – this isn’t a play about others, these issues are present in each and every one of our lives; we know someone in this situation (or have been).

Coercive control is present in the majority of domestic abuse cases, and the presence of coercive control means there is a higher risk of death (two women are killed every week), not only of the victim/survivor but the children.  A recent study ’19 Child homicides’ found that in all cases the perpetrator had access to his children, with 12 families having access granted by the family court.  It matters because we find ourselves in 2017 living in a world where others feel a sense of entitlement to take away another person liberty, to control, threaten and annihilate.

The second prompt is about ‘Why is theatre useful in tackling these issues’.  The theatre Open Clasp make holds the voices of the women who put their trust in us.  We take this theatre to diverse audiences, access the arts to those others find hard to reach as well as mainstream theatres.  We have a huge responsibility to make the best theatre we can to ensure the biggest impact, and Rattle Snake is doing just that – theatre is unique, its live, playing out in front of you – audiences are left breathless, valued, empowered and angry and I like that.

Catrina McHugh MBE

Image of Jen & Suzy by Keith Pattinson

 

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Finished and unfinished blogs, plus Parakeets

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This time I will finish this blog.  Below you will see two that are unfinished, one written the night before my birthday in June, the other after my holidays in July.  I’ve been unable to catch a moment, ponder or think, as the moments are so quick, fast and diverse.  So what are my thoughts today as Key Change is upstairs rehearsing for their final show at the Gala Theatre on Saturday, filming live to be streamed across the world in November.  With Carly and Jill sitting on desks nearby working so hard on all the detail that makes this possible.  After days and nights of stress regarding the rights to use the music in the show, our Associate director Laura Lindow, her heart racing, working close with our Creative Producer Jill Heslop to problem solve.  Artists & composers stepping close to help, Roma Yagnik and John Alder and today there is a feeling that all is slotting into place and everything is ok, more than ok. Going upstairs to see the show is like walking into pure magic.  The actors, Jess Johnson, Cheryl Dixon, Judi Earl and Christina Dawson, plus onstage Stage Manager, Kate Lewis aka McCheyne are just such a force of talent, it’s no wonder Key Change won the Best of Edinburgh!

Jill is wearing headphones while she types, juggling both shows, Rattle Snake and Key Change.  Setting up photo shoots with Ron Hogg whilst we set up Key Change for Saturday.

Carly is busy doing insurance for Key Change, finances/first aid stuff/business plan/Intellectual Property, finances being the biggest thing on her list, and funding (she just said)….all this before flying to Ireland to get married next week.

I’ve been working on Rattle Snake, the auditions and  script, tweaking and adding bits, thinking and reading about Family Courts and the need for a culture change, with judges and some (not all) those at Cafcass – about the deaths of women and children at the hands of perpetrators.

I’ve been worrying about some of the women who have helped make Rattle Snake, feeling in such a juxtaposition, excited about the new addition to the cast, giddy to tour and reach audiences in the North East, York and Soho London and the profile and potential, and at the same time finding it hard to know that the women who helped make it still can’t breathe the air of a free person.

I’ve been talking to people in Los Angeles and New York about productions.  I’m planning a trip to Edinburgh hoping to see great theatre that inspires, and meeting up with the lovely Carol Tambor.

I’m preparing for Jill to leave us, at our AGM there were tears and tankards, and next week we’ll have a last office moment.

We have new board members joining and opportunities presenting themselves all the time.

There’s shifting sand, not quick sand, it’s a movement, that sees sand replaced, not with the same but with new and as I wait for Debbie Beeks to start, I feel excited at what this new member to join our team will bring.

Once the filming is complete on Saturday, Jill says goodbye on Thursday, Mary returns the week after, Debbie starts and Carly has been back to Ireland, got herself married and returned to us, we will (as well as managing Rattle Snake and Key Change going live in November, plus a little trip to the palace) be gathering with our board to look at the programme of work for 2018-2022.  The next chapter is huge, working nationally and internationally.

There is a lot going on, Open Clasp never stops, lists are long, the staff, creative teams, board, patrons, advisors and the women we collaborate with are a powerful force making unforgettable theatre with the aim of changing the world one play at a time – this is becoming a reality.

Oh and last night a saw a flock of Parakeets sitting in an apple tree, with a magpie hopping around a rooftop just behind.  The sun was shining, bright and yellow, it felt so surreal and magical.

28th July 2017

Trains, Planes, Birthdays, Titles, Celebrations, tears, words, stories and truth

Since my last blog I’ve attempted another, half-finished  and not posted till now (see below) I wrote the night before my birthday, talking about losing a toe, gained an MBE, was reflecting on my time working with women, hearing other stories, one’s hidden behind the words first spoken, harder to hear and even more urgent in the need to spoken.

I’ve written in our Annual Review about the rage, honour, tears and pride with SUGAR.

Before I went on holiday we had our Annual General Meeting, balloons, flowers, cakes, tears, goodbyes, speeches and a total honour of having our collaborators speak in the room with us.

I went on holiday to the island of Lesvos and wrote poetry, my wife and I, shaded by my orange shelter, the sun, which was previously an enemy due to a little basal skin cancer, now manageable with factor 30 and time out of the midday sun.  The first week we were joined by our lovely son, friends, are chosen family.  We’d agreed to bring our favourite poem (and we’re not necessary poetry people).  This had been inspired by my lack of sleep and ability to read books or novels due to my menopause, so I’d asked my son to buy me poetry for my birthday.  I’d also gone to hear Collette Bryce read her poetry, the week before and loved her words

So we laid on the beach, this queer family and read things we liked and written.  We cried and laughed together, asking each other to read the poem they didn’t feel they could, so sharing the ones hidden behind the ones read.

There was an earthquake while we were there, and this filtered its way into my words and poems and weird to be lying on a beach risk assessing a Tsunami.

Now I’m back home and on a train to London, casting for Rattle Snake

Unfinished

23rd June 2017 – Birthday, Honours and Titles

Its my birthday tomorrow, and its like Christmas, New Year and my yearly pilgrimage to the island of Lesvos.  Birthday’s give you moment to look back to last year, what you were up to and what you are doing now.  My year has been full of gains, wins as well as losses.  I’ve written in our Annual Review about the women we lost during the SUGAR project, these losses ground us, ensure we don’t’ fly to high, or close to the sun.

I’ve had personal loss, and heartache to and felt pride in the projects created, and giddy at our awards and honours.  In May of this year I lost a toe, in June I gained the title of MBE, an honour for ‘outstanding services to disadvantaged women through theatre’.  This is a win for the region, acknowledgment of women’s theatre, great theatre that is capable of flying across the world and opening the doors of prison, and theatre critics.

Ruth and Jess Johnson (not married or civil partnered, their surname a coincidence) are heading a project first started back in 2014.   The play, created by young people in Northumberland is about Child Sexual Exploitation.  They wanted to educate teachers and professionals in the hope that they would in turn open the school gates and let the play reach young people in classrooms across Northumberland – and in 2017 Northumberland DA made this project a reality and its now visiting and numerous community centres.

The projects partner is West end Women & Girls Centre with their brilliant Peer Educators in Domestic Violence.

At the same time we’ve been working with real life mother and daughter on Don’t Forget the Birds.  Supported by Queens Hall Hexham and Black Theatre Live, this was showcased to a small audience and we learnt that this piece excites and scares in equal measures.  They were brilliant, but we didn’t know it till an audience was sitting there.  The play was originally called Roses, and Cheryl suggested Don’t forget The Birds, and we agreed it’s a better title.

Unfinished

Ten Green Bottles

Collection-of-Green-Glass-BottlesI had ten toes and one has fallen, broken and subsequently been amputated, so I’m currently off work, officially off sick.  I’ve been busy crocheting my way back to recovery, matching patterns and playing with colours.  Tuesday and Wednesday of last week saw the stitches come out, the big reveal, and my foot has changed, the shape and feel….and it’s a challenge to get your head round, its different, there’s a gap, space but with change I have opportunity, to walk without pain or discomfort, to wear shoes that don’t hurt and to get back on my bike and ride.

 So I’m off work and trying not to open emails, but I do (some). I hear echo’s and whispers of projects that continue to grow and impact during my absence, and it feels good (our play about Child Sexual Exploitation (The First Time is Free), along with Rattle Snake and Key Change as they reach out to audiences, communicating and making change during the month of May 2017.  

 Change is afoot, so to speak.  Jill Heslop is leaving us in August of this year, and we’re recruiting.  When someone leaves Open Clasp it’s a massive shift for the team, and not unlike my toe, a gap appears and it can feel a little scary.  Change can feel like a threat or a risk (and don’t get me wrong when Jill talked to me about the possibility of leaving last year it was a blow, I love working with Jill, she is amazing, has been incredible and I love her head, politics and passion) but with this news came Jill’s desire to do a PhD, and then being awarded this at York University, with the focus being with Open Clasp still, so we lose her in one way but gain in another.  

 However this still leaves us with a chasm and in this moment you think ‘how do you replace Jill’ well of course you don’t, like my toe, it’s not possible, as when other members of the team have left in the past, like Sally (our first administrator) then Roma (who was with us for 10yrs) – when people leave and others join, we rely on the strong heart of Open Clasp to keep a steady beat.  We shift our shape, open our door and embrace change – welcome it, learn and continue to grow.  Open Clasp belongs to the North East, I can’t tell you how proud I am of this achievement.  We are nationally recognised, owned by the women we have collaborated with, along with the organisations that have fundraised to support access to the theatre created over the past 18 nearly 19 years. 

 We have great projects coming up. The Space commission will see the company’s work, its process and the products created live streamed across the world.  We have Rattle Snake touring in the Autumn, a play that successfully trained 400 police officers in coercive controlling behaviours in domestic abuse back in 2015. Roses is a play in development, and will be touring next year (a real life mother and daughter performing their story, when prison took the mother away from the daughter and their journey to find each other again).  SUGAR, which previewed earlier this year will be out again next.  Then we have new commissions and plays bubbling, all in need of care as they find their feet. 

 We have a good and healthy culture in Open Clasp. We are collaborative, passionate and we like to laugh.  We are proud and ambitious and we are all looking forward to meeting the next new Creative Producer. 

Oh and yes my foot has changed, the shape and feel but my big toe still sparkles with glitter….

A Snap Chat

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My life is happening in snapshots not unlike snapchat, moment/days that swap from the personal to the political/professional, bouncing at speed and demanding responses, lists, resolve and care.

My wife and I bought a house with a garden last September, we’ve been renovating and now, after 22 yrs. of living in our current house, we’re about to move (this weekend).  It has to happen now as on the 24th April I’m having my second to big toe amputated.

My son and wife are the beat that echo’s in my heart and if that beat falters, then I trip, fall, catch and hold, and they to me in return.

After SUGAR’s preview I’d taken time off, spent 14 x days, painting our new house top to bottom – chasing the builders from room to room, sweeping and clearing.

Then last week my first day back I’m on a train to London, we’ve been invited to the launch of CultureUK, we’re speculating why, asking ourselves if we’ve been Green Lit for The Space Commission, that will see us live streaming internationally later this year.  I’m sat at a table reading the brochure and there we are, Green Lit, it’s happening.  I’m sitting in the BBC Radio Theatre, second row to the stage, wearing a yellow band, VIP and (on behalf of Open Clasp) am feeling special, recognised and valued.

Back in Newcastle I’m reading and reacting to responses from our preview of SUGAR, feeling good and hopeful this show will make change happen, has already done so but need to check on our audiences, collaborators, see how everyone faired with its content and the issues raised.

The cast of Key Change are upstairs rehearsing for their three week run at Battersea Arts Centre, they previewed on Friday at Trinity Academy, to an audience 80+ strong, teachers, primary and secondary, a training day, looking at mental health, addiction and abuse – the cast are brilliant, talented, skilled and strong – the impact tangible and the audience share their love of the show and its power to make change happen.  Later the cast look tired, like all actors they juggle jobs, lives, children, money, relationships and relocating.  The staff team, back at the office look tired as does the director, everyone working hard to make sure the show and each other are ok.  The cast/crew/Creative Producer and Director travel down on the Sunday, and WhatsApp tells me everyone is safe, happy and excited to be at Battersea Arts Centre – all is ok.

On Monday night, as the cast prepare to perform Key Change (opening night), back in Newcastle we had our first board meeting of the year, with three new members.  Our agenda is full and exciting. We’re recruiting for a Treasurer, need a Vice Treasurer.  We’re recruiting and considering issues of ethics, finances and the programme of work that takes us to 2022 (if we get reinvestment from the Arts Council).   I leave feel appreciative of the board, their care and distance travelled to support the governance of Open Clasp.

Tuesday, so yesterday I’m at the hospital for my pre-assessment, then picking up a coal house door, cabinets and a quick visit to IKEA (my card’s declined and I leave empty handed), then we, the wife and I find the worktop is to short, there’s chaos, shouting and hugs, more shouting and a bottle of wine drank.

Today I’m back at my desk and WhatsApp, Twitter tell me that Key Change shone last night and received a standing ovation.

Mary, Carly and I talk about my operation, whether I’m going to keep my toe afterwards (which I’m not).

Then my final snapshot is Buster, our lovely yet challenging dog.  He’s doing his Kennel Club Silver Award tonight, which given that to pass he has to be greeted without jumping up, and when training last week with Jill our Creative Producer, he jumped up and bust her nose, he (we) will fail, I’m sure of it…. but it’s the taking part that counts, the training and learning, not the rosette – it’s the change and development of our relationship that matters most, but the rosette would be nice!

My life in a snap chat.

Final blog for SUGAR

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Photos by Phyllis Christopher

Its been our final week previewing SUGAR – and a week with diverse audiences, venues…

This morning on our final day, we performed to the women in prison. They had created one of the characters, a storyline that was one of the hardest, but the one in the most need of our audience’s ears.  It was without a doubt emotional, for the women and performers… the Worry Demon about, it’s a powerful piece with hard issues, and it’s based on real life experiences.  We spoke to some of the women who made the piece, heard their pride and read the comments recorded, all saying it was powerful and excellent – but it was too much for some, and this is something for us to reflect upon.

Rewind to last night, Thursday  and we’re in Benwell, at Riverside with 70 women wrapped around the show, all sharing their thoughts… ‘best yet’ and ‘it was so powerful’ and ‘if I knew before it was going to be about childhood sexual abuse I wouldn’t have come but I’m glad I did, and I will speak the truth too’. 

Wednesday our audience was Changing Lives, their workers and women, some our collaborators.  This show was dedicated to one of the women who had helped create Annie.  Post show discussion was once again food to take away.

Tuesday we were at Contact Theatre in Manchester, a matinee and evening performance, audiences full of friends, family, and full of love and support (that’s how it felt).  We also had the general public, other practitioners/actors/artists – we gathered feedback, critiques and support.

We had travelled down to Manchester the night before, on the Monday,  and performed to women from Direct Access hostel (in the hostel) to women who had created Tracy’s story.  This is where the Worry Demon popped up again, I thought it had gone, been banished.  It appeared when Tracy was talking about the agency worker turning her back, her attitude and the stone in the washing machine. I feared a worker was going to get the sack, for supporting the voice of the women, for exposing the need for women to be supported, given a cup of tea and care….but no, management liked/loved it, spot on – maybe the agency worker needs to worry!

This performance, as with the one on Wednesday, was dedicated to one of the women from the project.  We have lost two women on this project – we had asked both where do you see yourselves in five years, one saying she wished her mental health better, another that she could mend things between her and her sister….now no longer with us.

We end tonight with a 90+ strong audience at West End Women & Girls Centre.  Its been a roller coaster of a mini tour, a preview that has asked our audiences to tell us what they liked and what they would like more or less of. It’s been interesting, nerve wracking and brilliant.

The actors have been incredible, the task is not easy, three stories and at the same time one.  I’m really looking forward to this evening, then later reflecting on the feedback and impact.

We tour to celebrate International Women’s Day (last night someone said it wouldn’t be March if Open Clasp wasn’t touring).  SUGAR celebrates strength and reliance, but it also is a Call to Arms for change! 

 

 

 

The Sound of an Audience

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International Women’s Day at West End Women & Girls Centre, photo by Phyllis Christopher

SUGAR has been on the road for one week, previewing in venues with diverse audiences.

‘This preview tour is our chance to put a piece in development in front of an audience, to get their feelings on the work and as such is a really special thing! It carries a valuable opportunity to re-examine the piece and our communication around it’ (Laura Lindow, Associate Director with Open Clasp and SUGAR).

And we have been listening to the sound of an audience.  On Monday as we sat down to watch the show it was clear that, in the words of SUGAR’s director Laura Lindow, the ‘Worry Demon’ had joined us.  We’d decided to light up the room, unknowingly exposing the audience, leaving no shadows or dark corners to hide or step back into (we thought it was warm and inclusive).  The sound of the audience on Monday was still.  The Worry Demon, cuddled up close, joined the actors on stage and followed us to the hall were the post show discussion was being held.  There the Worry Demon left us, and we heard the audience comments; that the show was really powerful, stories that need to be told, but not with the big light on, give me shadows, allow elbow room and debate about the need and/or role of trigger warnings in theatre, and in universities.  Interesting, and food to take away.  We joined the cast, and read the comments; excellent theatre, powerful, beautiful, we travelled home through the dark roads back to Newcastle, but the Worry Demon joined us again, sat in the back, legs up on the seat.

Tuesday we were at the West End Women & Girls Centre, now a theatre venue, open to the public.  We took advantage of the in-house lighting rig, joining our lights and invited shadows and corners.  The audience poured in and we nervously listened again to the sound of the audience, we heard laughter, tears and empathy.  People stayed behind, gave us their thoughts, wrote down the comments, and again, in the main we heard its power, the need for our ears to be open, its beauty and the song it sang.  89% of the feedback said it was excellent, same as Monday, majority shouted about SUGAR’s power and beauty.  One said good but thought it was like Key Change.  SUGAR does have echoes of Key Change, a previous show set in a women’s prison – we wanted to include the sound of the prison, as we had returned there, worked with other women, and it felt right to echo… but SUGAR is so unlike any show the company has done before, not calculated but in response to the scripts written, written in response to the women we worked with.  We have three shows in one, with song, for us it’s a huge step away.

Wednesday, still at the West End Women & Girls Centre, but this show is for the women in the local community, and at 7pm they poured through the doors.  Open Clasp is their company, they come and take their seats, fill the Mrs Robinson Hall… women who don’t ordinarily see theatre, but they come for Open Clasp.  Also in the room is women who collaborated on the show.  At first the Worry Demon is nowhere to be seen, we’re on home turf, they will love it, hard issues but they will.  The lights dimmed, and the names lit up and we listened.  Silence.  In that silence the Worry Demon took its seat.  In Act Two a phone went off, in the moment when it was the worst sound to hear, the woman searching in her bag, desperate to turn it off, shouting to her daughter to come and get her phone, to turn the sound of music off –  she shouts her apologies to the actor on stage, the actor waits, its ok, this isn’t about other, the actors and the audience are together, sharing stories about us, we can wait.  I loved this moment, everyone is taking care of the piece, the actors, director (assistant to the director), producer, stage manager, staff team and this audience member, I just loved this moment.

The show ended and we let a breath out and listened to their thoughts on the show, we again heard its power, opinions on trigger warnings, its order and need.  There were tears, and the Worry Demon interrupts conversations, points to audience members who are drying their eyes.  After the audience left, we dissected the show, response and sound.  The Worry Demon poured our drinks, and we drank.

Thursday – we’re in Durham, at Aspire, a women’s project (formerly Bridge) who like West End Women have hosted Open Clasp shows since 1998.  A lovely venue (rewind to the NHS march to London, this venue hosted those marchers (included my lovely son) in the same room and now we get SUGAR ready for a 70 strong audience.  The workers have prepared for this (we’ve sent them emails explaining the issues), they have Listeners in the audience and a Drop In the next day.

We listen again, we hear a big heart, support and laughter.  The audience loved it (maybe not the swearing) but they heard its song and embraced it.  During the post show we heard the need for change, for these voices to be heard, the talent of the actors, the beauty of the piece.  Jan Vincent, a woman I so respect talked to me at the end, she told me to stop worrying that its not too much, that its right and to be proud of the work, show… she took the Worry Demon and told it to leave, and it did, from this moment, this (our fourth show) the Worry Demon left the building.

Friday – we’re at Live Theatre, again this is home turf, we’ve performed here since the beginning and its sold out (both nights and the matinee).  Laura, Jill, Kate and the cast get the Full Monty… beautiful lights, sound and the black brick walls that surround the stage and hold SUGAR so it can shimmer and sparkle.

Tonight one of our women from Low Newton prison is travelling four hours to join us for the show and post show. She’s travelling with her sister, who hasn’t read the script. The characters on stage represent a collective voice, they are fictional but based on real life stories, and hers is in there – like Julie, her goal is to not drink, or do drugs, to walk past a pub. We sit together in the dark and watch the show, I hear her tears, and that of her sister.  Her real life is hard, and she sees it played out on stage.  She so emotional afterwards and doesn’t know why, but she can see her life’s been hard and tough, she likes what she sees, later her sister says that being part of this has helped save her. All of us tell her that when we met her in prison, we could see her sparkle, energy and drive and so hoped she would make contact when she got out and she did. She liked a post on Facebook, and we saw her connect with us, and now she was in Newcastle, watching the show she helped make, seeing her life story on stage and it has helped, she says.  Its an honour to have her on stage with us during the post show, and she had been nervous that the audience might ask about her crime but the audience want to hear about the process, its impact, what’s next, they are supportive and embracing of the show, company and the collaborators/women we work with.  We want to work with her, stay in contact, even make a show, about her and her mam, mirroring another show we’re doing with a collaborator from Key Change.

We go home happy, confident and awake.  Its special the show, we can feel it, know it now.

Saturday – the matinee and evening performance, the sound of the audience is velvet.  Someone said that at the end, when the audience are clapping they are still knocked by the power of the piece, that they are clapping but trying to recovery still but they want to be on their feet, but they can’t stand, not just yet.  There is a need for time to process, but have a huge appreciation of the work on stage, of the company and its place in the region to tell these stories to make powerful theatre, and to make the region proud, not just locally but nationally.

Today is the first day of the second week, and we’re heading to Manchester, taking the show into the women’s hostel tonight, then sitting together with the women, our post show a meal cooked by dedicated workers from the top ten.  Tomorrow we’re at Contact Theatre, and then back to the North East, ending with our final show at West End Women and Girls Centre again on Friday (St Patricks Day) a performance that’s is open to the public.

I am so very proud of SUGAR,  it took courage to make, from the women in prison to the theatre you see on stage, but we did it, named it and the sound you hear is political.

‘We’re looking forward to moving the work forward – taking the piece apart and putting back together. Perhaps it will feel similar to this present guise, perhaps different. When the dust settles we hope to see it, what it is, has been, and where to take it next’ (Laura Lindow).

Raindrops and Rainbows

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Lines learnt, songs sang, guests and big stories to tell, done beautifully. 

This is our final week and its Thursday morning, day four – tomorrow we dress, and Saturday is the final day before SUGAR is previewed in the North East and Manchester. 

Monday we were joined by Tricia Duffy from Direct Access, a women’s hostel in Manchester providing emergency accommodation for 33 women who are homeless.  Tuesday by one of our lovely Patrons Charlie Hardwick, Wednesday by women who have collaborated on the show and Friday will be a handful of guests to see the final show before SUGAR goes on the road on Monday.  The week also included an outing to probation, no longer run at the women’s centre, now held at the old coroner’s court in town.

Things we know, the stories are truthful, powerful and have potential to trigger thought, emotion and empathy.  We know that when the cast sing, our hearts melt and break.  What we also got a glimpse of this week is how SUGAR may impact on audiences.  The guests were diverse but all shared tears, knowledge and hope, hope that this piece of theatre will change lives.

We are looking at hard issues, because during the workshops the women did. They named it/them and we stand in solidarity with these women to name/make visible and ensure that we (society) consider why we have perpetrators of sexual violence and rape, childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence –  standing with others to break the silence and shine a light on the shadows – NAME AND CHANGE IT – SOCIETY!

SUGAR argues for alternatives for women to prison, argues for better provision of care/support for those released  from prison and it also argues for prevention, for a better world, for our eyes to be open and to see.

“I was always going to end up in here (prison), Crashing, But not this time, The shame is His, Theirs, And not mine”. 

When collaborating with the women in the three groups, those in prison, in emergency accommodation and on probation, we witnessed resilience, strength, courage and hope.

What we don’t know is how it will be received by our audiences, but I think we have something with SUGAR, it holds the voices of women who are heroes in their own struggle to survive, its political in its argument for change, and its angry at injustice to all those who experience harm, hurt and hate.