Big Questions

I’m in the workshops phase of this project.  This is a process and these are the issues groups are talking about.  This isn’t the making theatre bit, the why or the ‘so what’ bit.  This is the time we consider what is being said in the workshops bit.  It’s the bit where we are making space to listen to women’s concerns, to their lived experiences.  It’s the bit when we spend time working creatively to help discussion and debate, it’s the workshops bit.  And this is the question I have been asked twice recently during the workshops, after we have discussed difficult things, things that make their lives hard.  Can making a play really change how people treat other people?

It’s a big question, and from what the groups have discussed so far, it continues on in my head like this.  Will it stop discrimination against people who come to this country because they are seeking asylum.  Will it help those experiencing racism, women who Chez/Roma, Slovak/Roma or women who are Travellers?  Can it change racist views, can it make people understand how difficult it can feel to live in this country, when you don’t know English (yet), when you are trying to get your head around the shops, schools, doctors, area and a different culture.  When you are trying to get your head around what happened before, before you came here, when it was really difficult and you had to leave, or you were forced to leave.  When you answer the phone and someone is speaking to you in English but you don’t’ understand, when your daughter is threatened with being expelled because she speaks to her friend in her first language rather than her second, which is English.  Can it change people’s attitudes when they see people struggling in the post office to make themselves understood, when people are impatient, rude and openly hostile?

Will this new play we create stop men, standing outside a factory, on a tab break, from shouting after women and their children, asking for the women to give them sex?  Can theatre change attitudes, can it make people step into the shoes of others and change how they see them, how we see ourselves…I say yes it can, I believe this because I’ve witnessed change with other shows… not on the scale I would like it to because I really would like to change the world.  I don’t want people to experience injustice, and if they do I want others to be held accountable and to change, and I don’t just mean others, as in the bad guys, I mean us, the people who make up the world we live in.  But at the end of the day it’s just a play, just a story, several stories, so how can it?

For me, empathy is the key…I talked to a woman in one of the workshops who told me of her story when she first arrived here, she is a quiet woman and had travelled a distance that would scare me, but it was one that she had to take.  Her first experience in England saw her sat on a train, her bag placed on the floor in front of her.  She said people started to put rubbish in her bag because they thought it was a bin but she also generously said ‘they didn’t know it was my  bag’, and I suppose that just it, we don’t’ know or see other people’s journey’s. Then I read a comment via a social media network that was saying how those seeking asylum get massive hand-outs (driving big cars and living a great and easy life) whilst the pensioners are experiencing huge cuts; there on after was a load of right wing people ranting about things they should be ashamed of.  But, I thought, if only they could meet this woman and hear her story, maybe they would think differently.  Though I’m still in the workshop phase, I know when I’m writing the play, my first priority will be to do the best job I can, to write a script that tells a great story, one that is funny, passionate and exciting, but most importantly one that will create empathy with those who see it.  For me empathy makes you think and if you think you change.   So….what do you think?

Catrina McHugh, Artistic Director



Starting A Song To Sing

1 May 2012

Our latest project ‘A Song To Sing’ has started (title inspired by Maya Angelou). Maya talks about the fact that birds don’t sing just because they can sing, they sing because they have a song to sing, and that’s what we are doing with this project. We are working with women, those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, and women from the Travelling Community, to find out what their Song is, what their story is and then we are going to work together to create that Song and tour it early next year.

The workshops started a couple of weeks ago and we have run drama workshops with Czech/Roma women, Portuguese women, and those from Bangladesh, Eritrea and Slovakia/Roma young women. We are at the early stages but it’s clear that women with English as an additional language feel at times on the outside. Also there is an issue with people’s names, some of the women, when introducing themselves talked about the fact that they feel the need to shorten their names because the English can’t take in too many (foreign) names, too hard for us to remember, spell and/or say. I can hear women feeling the need to change their names to English names, so they are easier for us (mainly the white community) to say, which is true for a lot of people, including me, but I can’t imagine a white English woman called Shirley moving to Pakistan and changing their name to Shamshad instead, wouldn’t happen would it?

Other women we are talking to are women from the Travelling Community. Because of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding there is a distrust of what the company will be doing and more work will need to be done to win the trust of these women, and I’m spending this time visiting these women and talking to them about the company and the project, so fingers crossed.

It’s weird to step off one project and then start again with another (we have just finished touring Swags & Tails, a play about older women and carers, paid and unpaid). I’m right at the starting line again, not knowing what will come out of the workshops and what the Song will be, but that’s exciting too and I feel the women will produce a beautiful and powerful Song, one that will change things, and that’s the point…..

Catrina McHugh, Artistic Director