Blog: Tess Farley

How can theatre help young homeless people?

Hero image

Last week, theatre company Cardboard Citizens launched the first of a series of creative residencies in Manchester. It has been working with young people and staff at St Vincents’ Manchester and Blackburn Foyers – which accommodate those in housing need – to develop a performance addressing their concerns. This will be shown at Manchester Z-Arts on 8 April. I am artistic director for Out From Under, one of the Manchester-based theatre-makers that have been learning from and supporting Cardboard Citizens on the project.

The performance will use forum theatre, a technique in which a scene is stopped and the audience offers its views on the story and character. The performance is then resumed, the actors having absorbed what audience members have said.

Forum theatre recognises the importance of the voice of the individual and encourages the audience to debate and discuss the action they see in the play. Crucially they are also empowered to change the outcome and make the lives better for the characters they have watched.

I distinctly remember my first experience watching a Cardboard Citizens’ performance at a hostel in London. Audience members were dubious at first. Five minutes later the room was engrossed in the action – the issues were familiar, the audience recognised the story. The room erupted with passion, discussion and a chorus of people eager to try out their ideas. What we saw was a group of people rehearsing strategies to overcome common barriers they face – a rehearsal for life.

The issues that have come up in this week’s workshops have varied from Brexit to the council banning tents in Manchester city centre. In the two plays the young people will present, you can expect everything from unfair welfare sanctioning and the unprovoked violence street homeless people experience in Manchester to the challenges of trying to lead a “normal” life when living in the atmosphere of a hostel.

How do these young people eat? Where do they get money?

One of the more hidden and deeply concerning areas of homelessness we’re exploring is street homelessness among under-16s. We’re learning about young people who may run away from home and choose to remain invisible to avoid being picked up by social services. How do these young people eat? Where do they get money? How do they remain hidden and why do they choose to do so in the first place? This is an area of homelessness that remains unknown to many people, but that all too many young people have experienced.
Participants – this group of talented, passionate young people – have realised that their voices are important and deserve to be heard, and that they have the power to create art that can support themselves in this rehearsal for life.

Cardboard Citizens’ residencies across the UK are launching at an urgent and challenging time for many people and I am keen to use what I’m learning. I’ve encountered many theatre makers based in the north making work about the increasingly visible and deeply concerning housing crisis. What I’m not seeing is many of those companies working directly with people experiencing homelessness.

I’d like to see forum theatre used more in the north, not just in theatres but in communities. This project is not only empowering vulnerable communities, but artists and social sector staff. When art, politics and people come together it can be a very powerful vehicle for action.

If you’re interested in joining the sharing at Z-Arts on 8 April please contact Tess Farley will also appear, along with charities working with homelessness, in a panel discussion examining the homelessness crisis as part of Manchester Histories Festival

Interact: Responses to Blog: Tess Farley

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.