I find it difficult to find time to blog, and then sometimes I don’t understand what happens to the blog and who reads it. I’m reassured though that people like to read blogs, that its of interest and can give a behind the scenes insight into the work that is being created. So last week I got my diary out and I wrote in purple all the moments I’m going to blog, after significant projects, moments when not only creating work but also other moments that go on behind those scenes to create projects, so the staff team, board and our patrons. And there you will see lies the problem with my discipline with writing blogs, I can go off and then it’s an essay and I don’t have time to write an essay… so then the task will fall of the list, because now it’s a task and I don’t have time.
But I want to try and write each week, but bits, not chunks because the work being created, our collaborations, dilemmas and learning is of interest to me, and if that is the same for others then I should be more disciplined. So this is my attempt to step up my blogs. I failed on Friday to write about our Promise project, and then I’ve moved on and this week I’m working with a real life mother and daughter on our project Roses, but before I write about that, I’m going to give an overview of Promise below…
I can’t write about this in detail as there was so much and I didn’t blog as I went, so below is the forward written for the script called SUGAR. The forward explains the story of this trilogy, and the trilogy holds the voices of the three groups of amazing women we worked with earlier this year. It’s a play in three acts, and I will go back to this and talk more later in the year (it’s going to be previewed in March 2017)
Sugar was devised with three groups of women in the UK during Spring and Summer 2016. The groups were in HMP Low Newton, a closed prison for women in the North East of England, women in a hostel providing emergency accommodation in Manchester and women on probation attending a Women’s Hub in Newcastle upon Tyne (West End Women & Girls Centre).
In May 2016 we set up residency in Women’s Direct Access, Manchester, UK, a hostel that provides emergency accommodation for women who are homeless. For six evenings we met with the women in the hostel’s canteen, ending each session with us all sitting round a table and eating a cooked meal, provided by dedicated staff that supported the project to happen. Some of the women attended every session, others, pulled by the smell of cooked food, joined the sessions as they concluded; others joined in the middle of a session. We collaborated with 21 women in total.
The women pulled on their own experiences to create a character called Tracy. Often, new women joining would ask ‘who’s Tracy’, and then start to share their own stories that led to them being in the hostel. All the women saw the hostel as a place of safety and were extremely grateful for the provision, understanding that it’s this or the street, or a punter or a perpetrator.
Act 1 – Best Girl in Sixty Streets is a piece of fiction and Tracy is a bit of each and every woman who attended the sessions
We met with a group of women every Friday for a month in the prison chapel in HMP Low Newton, Durham, UK. They created Julie. During one session the women said they wanted to stop, and look closer at the issue of childhood sexual abuse. A small group of women then pulled on their own experiences and named it. These women demonstrated courage, strength and resilience when sharing stories of childhood sexual abuse and rape. I was determined to honour this with Act 2: Normal is a Moving Target.
‘Resilient people don’t walk between raindrops; they have the scars to show their experiences. They struggle but keep functioning anyway – resilience isn’t the ability to escape unharmed, it’s not about magic….’
Julie was a hard story was hard to write but at the same time a privilege. It’s dedicated to all survivors.
Women on Probation
We met with a group of women based at the West End Women & Girls Centre, Newcastle, UK every Wednesday for five sessions, with each session lasting one hour. The sessions were the shortest of all three groups but the script has a powerful punch.
They created Annie, then called her ‘Poor Annie’. There were challenges with this group when trying to create a safe space; the group changed week by week, and sometimes moment by moment. This isn’t unusual, but during one session we had only one member from any previous sessions, therefore this group, on this day, were meeting a character they didn’t know, and were being asked to trust women that some had never met before.
However what the women did have in common was a criminal record and its impact on self, their families, ability to work and housing. They shared experiences of poverty, inequality, discrimination and domestic violence. However, those who had experience of mental health problems said that losing your independence, kids and sense of self was far worse than anything else.
‘Social determinants of health including mental health, are the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. The conditions are influenced by the distribution of money, power and resources operating at global, national and local levels’. (World Health Organisation 2015)
With Act 3: The Sun is Grey I don’t see ‘Poor’ Annie, I see a fighter, with strength and resilience. I see her as a survivor.
These three groups have common themes running throughout; childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, along with a lack of provision to support women with complex needs. These stories are three and at the same time one. Sugar exposes the routes into prison, life behind bars and the revolving door that catapults women back.
This project for us has been a life changing experience. This work matters, we learn so much from working together with people who are at the margins of society, those who are at their most vulnerable and in need of support, care and empathy.
We have a responsible to ensure their voices are heard, and that change is agitated for. We said to the women they deserve a medal, as they survive experiences that no one should every have to and many wouldn’t be able to. They are strong, courageous, and intelligent, and they deserve in the words of one woman ‘to have memories that are positive for a change’. They are the change makers, they invest their time, take risks and stand tall. We meet these women as equals, standing in solidarity and together we make change happen.
Sugar is a play in three acts.
is our current project. This week we’re working with a woman who had been an actor/theatre maker with Key Change when we were in HMP Low Newton. We won a seed commission via Black Theatre Live and Queens Hall Arts to work for one week to create a script/performance that holds the story of what happens to a woman, and then her daughter when she is sent to prison. I’m going to call the mother Dolce and the daughter Lottie. I’d interviewed Dolce earlier this year to ask her about life after prison, what had happened, what was that story. Then I interviewed Lottie last week to get the story from her point of view, the daughter.
Yesterday was day one. Neither woman had read their own interview and the other hadn’t heard what the other had said. They were invited to spend time with their own words before its read out loud, both said they were fine to hear as it went. I gave them the heads up that one included detailed domestic violence and the other comments on how the mother has changed for example become needed. They again said it was fine, they are so close that anything that is said is ok. They also trust the team in front of them. Director Laura Lindow and actor/facilitator Jessica Johnson and I have been working with Dolce since 2014. They trusted us, and the scripts/transcribes were read, and the day was spent laughing and sometimes trying hard not to cry, swallowing tears, and this was all of us.
Today is day two…