Whilst Key Change is flying around the country, Open Clasp are back in rehearsals with two shows, Rattle Snake and Rattle & Roll.
Both shows will be performing at two different conferences this week, one in Manchester (the N8 PRP Policing Innovation Forum) and the other here in Newcastle (North East Sex Workers Forum – Regional Learning Day). I’ll take one at a time… first:
In 2015 Open Clasp were commissioned (Durham University and Durham Constabulary – funded by the Durham PCC and Arts and Humanities Research Council) to create a piece of theatre and an interactive drama workshop with the intention of training frontline officers in coercive and controlling behaviours in domestic abuse relationships.
This project took place after Edinburgh and before New York (October to early December 2015 – and before the Archers storyline peaked). I met and interviewed women and a script was created Rattle Snake and was accessed to just under 400 officers, with two additional performances to invited audiences in Durham and at Live Theatre, Newcastle.
‘’This was, by a country mile, the most engaging, impactive and thought provoking training session I have had in my fourteen year career in the police’ PC Tony Miley, Durham Constabulary)
We’ve now been asked to perform the piece at the N8 PRP Policing Innovation Forum in Manchester tomorrow (8th November 2016). There will be 200 delegates made up of Police and Crime Comissioners, academics and the police (both commissioners and frontline). Rehearsals took place last week we were fortunate enough to be able to show the piece to women attending a Safe4Life course at West End Women & Girls Centre
‘The performance was emotional but something I can relate to. A lot of what went on was true. If I had seen this before, I would have left my ex way before but I assumed it was normal’
‘……I think this play should be shown to young boys and girls in schools to help prevent and recognise domestic violence’
‘Useful…different classes are affected. I feel it is harder to be believed because I live in a ‘good’ area and my husband is a ‘good’ local community person. Showed the isolation, that its not always physical. Coercion can be worse and slower to accept you are a victim’
On Friday we invited one of the women who had inspired the story to come along, and she bought two friends – women who knew the story, had witnessed the isolation, manipulation and its impact on the real life woman . After the performance they talked together about how the perpetrator had manipulated the whole community, divided friendships and ensured isolation. One friend told how (after hearing many rumours) she said to the real life woman ‘tell me everything, and I will stand by you’ and the real life woman did just that. The friend stood by and with her as she faced real life threats of loss of life, and that of her children. She fought with her to get her voice heard with solicitors and judges, as well as with others in the community who had took him in, felt sorry for him, believed him.
As we watched the women talk to each other and us, it was like listening to a film script, it was epic and gob smacking; his tactics to gain power and control; how it includes many people and on multiple layers. This real life woman can’t be identified as the threat to her life and that of her children is still ever present. But in sharing her story with Open Clasp (along with the other women involved in the project) this woman is visible, and her voice is strong and its making change happen (which was said by the police involved in the training and then with the women on the Safe4Life course).
Tonight we travelled down to Manchester and tomorrow we showcase the performance and talk about the training delivered to the police back in 2015. The police had told the researchers they wanted training that had impact – Rattle Snake is powerful; Kathryn Beaumont and Eilidh Talman’s performances are breath taking and Charlotte Bennett’s direction skillful and truthful to the women we worked with. The theatre created needed to be the best it could be to have an impact on an audience of police and the evidence gathered at the end of each session indicated that this project did just that.
Our hopes for tomorrow would be that the police/commissioners support this training to be rolled out across the country, I hope that is the case.
Rattle & Roll
Our second Rattle – We’ve been asked to perform an extract from Rattle & Roll at a conference hosted by the North East Sex Workers Forum – the Regional Learning Day (an annual event) later this week. The conference is an opportunity for practitioners in the region to learn from one another about best practice in supporting those who are or have been involved in sex work.
Rattle & Roll was created back in 2009/10 after we collaborated with women involved in sex work for survival, young women who were homeless and living in a hostel and women who had lost their children to adoption. The play was created and toured throughout the region in early 2010.
This play tells the story of the first 24hours after release from prison
Marie needs to stay clean so she can see her son the following day. After buying her son a teddy bear, she meets frustration at the job centre and her past in the shape drug dealers, punters, her addiction and of Diane (current sex worker and heroin and crack cocaine addict)
After meeting Marie in the street earlier that day, Diane continues her quest to find a punter and score drugs. In addition she has a court appearance later that afternoon. However her addiction, the head games played by her drug dealer, along with the distress caused by sex work, result in time slipping through her fingers, and her need to attend the court becomes distant memory.
We are facilitating two workshops, one will focus on the characters from Rattle & Roll (women involved in survival and opportunistic sex work), and the second workshop will attempt to ensure the diversity of those involved in sex work are present in the room – so voices of migrants, students and escorts. It’s a huge task, and will involve all those attending to work creatively up on their feet, pulling on their expertise and knowledge and stepping into the shoes of the characters created.
The afternoon will concluded with the delegates agreeing on a strategy for change in provision and support.
Ruth Johnson is our director with this piece, and Vik Kay and Natalie Jamison will be playing Marie and Diane. They are upstairs as I type, unpicking and then gluing the characters back together – breathing life back into the characters and putting up the scaffolding that will support the story to be told.
We have two Rattle’s that are Rolling this week and one Key Change unlocking doors across country. The voices of the women we collaborate with are being heard by Parliamentarians, decision makers, services providers, survivors, young people and the general public.
Theatre at its best – making change happen