The kids are alright
Steve Cramer talks to Visible Fictions director Paul Gorman about a newand often surprising youth project at Tramway
Theatre in the UK is largely built around a middle class audience, so its capacity to represent the experience of people from outwith this demographic can seem limited. Theatre audiences are also largely composed of older people, so the idea of theatre that represents the experience of marginalised youth inevitably presents a challenge.
Even given the renowned capacity of middle class folk to hold and articulate views on young people, few among the average theatre audience will have much direct dealing with youngsters in this situation. Even the most liberal of views will tend to see teenagers affected by issues associated with poverty as more of an amorphous group beset by the great political narratives of our age. What can seldom be elucidated is the individual stories that each of these young folks might have to tell.
What promises to mark out Framed, a youth project by Visible Fictions, which involves a good deal of professional input, is the fact that the stories told are not necessarily those you’d expect. Project leader Paul Gorman has assembled a diverse group of young people, largely under the age of 18, in situations that might seem familiar to people reading the broadsheets. Teenage parents, asylum seekers, kids affected by violence or gang culture – you can find some familiar boxes to tick among these youths, but their stories might well surprise audiences.
‘We asked one 17-year-old mother what she would wish for on her 18th birthday, and she told us that she’d like to go to a Harley Street Specialist for plastic surgery,’ Gorman says. ‘She couldn’t understand why we’d want to tell her story. One of the things we’ve been working to overcome is that these kids themselves have certain expectations about what goes on in a theatre, and even what they should look like, so there are expectations built up on both sides, from both the audience and these young people.’
The piece will be performed against the backdrop of a simple design by Rachel O’Neill, employing lights and a white taped set (Gorman acknowledges the bare-boned techniques used in the film Dogville as an influence) to bring out a series of stories from three different groups. ‘We wanted to get away from the usual stories, like a teenager stealing a car, and so on,’ he explains.
Gorman emphasises that surprising his audience is an important part of the entertainment. ‘It’s all about that ownership and empowerment we want these young people to feel: that their voices are worthy of this space and this time. And we want to listen to that. We don’t want our audience to leave simply saying, “That’s great, that’s amazing that these young people can stand up and do that. We want them instead to be saying, “I didn’t anticipate that when we read about this project.”’
He adds: ‘There’s a lot that challenges and pushes because there’s a lot of complex issues in these young people’s lives. They say more than an audience would expect. It’s also about crediting an audience with intelligence, and leaving certain things up to the imagination.’
Framed, Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 11–Sat 13 Dec.