Behind See Me Now – Interview with Imogen Brodie and Kirsten Adam

A version of See Me Now was originally performed as part of The Brolly Project in August 2015, a Young Vic Taking Part project. The team worked closely with outreach projects across London to find a company of participants who have, or do work in the sex industry. The aim was to make an original performance created by the company, formed by whatever they chose to share.  The project has been developed over the last 2 years, and is now playing as See Me Now in the YV Maria.

Imogen Brodie , Director of Taking Part, and Kirsten Adam, Two Boroughs & Directors Program Project Manager, talk about the process behind the project below.

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Governess Elizabeth in See Me Now –  Photography by Matt Humphrey

How did the concept for See Me Now come about?

Imogen Brodie (IB): The first thing was that we had been thinking about how to do a project alongside Measure for Measure which was in the Main House a couple of years ago. We did a project with Look Left Look Right at the Maudsley (Hospital), and it came about from conversations we’d had about wanting to make a show with sex workers. And the fact that the representation of sex workers in Measure for Measure, well it’s Shakespearean, so it’s really old and abusive, and quite comical.

Kirsten Adam (KA): And sex workers don’t have a voice in it at all. They’re an integral part of the story but they don’t have a voice, so it was an interesting way to flip that and give them a voice.

See Me Now and Now We Are Here have both been TP community/parallel shows that have been opened up to the public, Why do you think it’s important to share these stories?

IB: I think with both of those plays they’re very marginalised groups of people, that everybody feels they have knowledge of. Particularly with sex workers, and more recently with refugees, people think they know what the story is, but really the stories are much more broad, and rich, and individual.

KA: Sex workers are depicted a lot in fiction, in films and TV and things, but very seldom are those stories developed from real experience, or they’re developed from one experience. One thing we were really keen with for See Me Now in the first place was to go there is not one story, there is not one ‘this is what the life of a sex worker is’, but to look at the range of experiences and opinions.

IB: And also remembering people who are part of a group are just people. They happen to be a refugee or a sex worker but they’re just people with all of the same concerns as people who don’t fall into those categories. We wanted to show that as well, that is was about the humanity of people who happen to work in the sex industry. That we have all of the same life issues like paying bills and sorting out their tax.

KA: A lot of See Me Now is about work that’s actually not specific to sex work. It’s about what it’s like to earn a wage, and a lot of it’s about life. As we went through the process a lot of the stuff that was interesting and that we found most revealing, wasn’t about sex work, it was about people as human beings.

IB: I think we also found out that the group felt there were kind of two stories, it was either Happy Hooker or Trafficked Victim. And that the majority of them didn’t fall into either of those categories and wanted to say that there’s more to it than that. That actually it’s a profession that will be around forever and ever but that you can’t say you’re a sex worker as a valid life choice. That you still have to keep it hidden and a secret, we wanted to expose that.  Also the group are very keen to decriminalise, that’s the only unifying thought amongst them. Like any group they have lots of different opinions, but that one thing about safety and decriminalisation is really important to communicate as well.

How did you go about finding the participants for this kind of project?

KA: We worked with a lot of partner organisations such as SWISH and the Terrance Higgins Trust, Ugly Mugs, Praed Street Project, and we worked with a woman called Emily Elgar who had been an outreach worker at SWISH. So we did lots of work going to sexual health clinics, or support services. Meeting people in those places, so that we were coming to them rather than expecting them to come to us straight away. There was quite a lot of interviewing people in those places, especially the more vulnerable or street based sex workers, who are not living lives where they can come in and do a workshop every Saturday. Imogen went to an outreach service.

IB: It’s this really brilliant service called Open Doors and they particularly look after street sex workers. From 10 o’clock in the evening till 3 o’clock in the morning they drive the streets of Hackney, and they know everyone, so they stop at everyone who’s working and give out condoms, Kit Kats and tea – just things that will keep everyone going. That service has now been cut, the funding has been cut for it, and so has another amazing service called Praed  Street Project, their funding has been cut and also some of SWISH.  It’s one of the hidden things that have happened over the last couple of years, since the Tories have got their claws in, those services are disappearing really fast.

KA: There’s a lot of amalgamating those services with services for those who were trafficked or with alcohol and drug dependencies. And there is a lot of cross over but being a sex worker doesn’t mean you are a drug addict or trafficked. You can be a sex worker and still need the support that those services offered. But it’s just a way to balance the budget really rather than to do what’s best by the people.

IB: Emily was brilliant because she’d done that job herself of supporting people. She already had a level of trust in those services. So it meant that our way into that was based on good faith.

KA: We had quite a gentle beginning. The first thing we did was have a tea party for the people that might be interested, that was back in April 2015, that was a chance for them to meet us, Mimi and Molly and find out what it might be like. Because for anyone, this is not specific to sex workers, anyone who hasn’t worked in theatre before ‘come and do a workshop’ doesn’t mean anything.  What’s a workshop? So we did that and had nice baked goods and then we started the series of workshops.

IB: I don’t think we talked about sex work for about 3 months. Everyone knew that’s why we were together but the stuff we did was much more about getting to know each other, working out what people were interested in in terms of writing, performing or what things they wanted to share with the group. The first version of this show, when it was Brolly Project, had much less about sex work in it than See Me Now does because I think that was the last thing that came out. So all of those relationships were made before the sex work questions happened.

KA: I think a lot of the sex work stuff when it did come up was a lot of us just talking. We did an exercise about ‘What were health and safety instructions for your workplace?’. So that was about the sex industry being their workplace, but it wasn’t about going ‘So tell me about…’. We met someone early on who said the first thing people always asked her was how much she charged. And she said ‘Would you ever ask someone how much they earn the first time you meet them?’. It’s just so rude.  So I think we wanted to get know people and actually see what the show could be coming out of that. It could have been that the first version had nothing about sex work in it. If that’s what they’d wanted to say, that’s what we would have played.

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Peter and company in See Me Now –  Photography by Matt Humphrey

You’d talked about trust and relationships, how did you build those?

IB: It’s about being interested in other people. Making sure that when they come here, the experience they have is comfortable and friendly. That you’ve got all the things that make you feel welcome: food and drink, and an atmosphere that feels like we’re all in one thing together. The breaking down of the hierarchy in that room was really important. Because one group of people in there have a certain experience and another group of people in there have a completely different one. Sharing experiences that we do have in common was really important; being children, being parents, being partners, being all of the things that are unifying. It was a very open space. We did a lot of work particularly with this group about anonymity and about us not sharing it outside the room. I think that made a big difference. I think we just got on very well, it was about it being fun and not asking people to relive trauma. Sometimes that happens, because that’s what people want to talk about but that wasn’t our driving force.

KA:  We did a lot of other stuff around the workshops. Going to see shows here, going to see shows other places, and just keeping people involved in what we were doing. Especially after the Brolly Project had been on, that was on in August 2015 so there’s quite a big gap between then and now. So we’ve all worked really hard to keep in touch.  That might be just having a cup of tea with people or chatting on the phone or walking the dog in Battersea Park.

IB: It’s about being aware if you want people to carry on working with you that you have a responsibility to them. We don’t feel like we’re giving anything to them, we’re in a dialogue and it’s a two way relationship. We’ve done loads of fun things together and I think that really builds a foundation. We went to Latitude together, to do a really early version of Brolly and we went to HighTide last year. It’s about the consistent friendship, which obviously has some boundaries but is very generous on both sides. I think because they’re naturally such a generous group of people it was really easy for us to do that. But certainly needed to be consistent; doing little gatherings, making sure that when they came to the theatre they were always invited together so that it was easy to keep in touch with each other.

KA: And we’ll continue you do that after the show as well. You have such a downer after a show finishes anyway, and I imagine a lot of them will just go back to whatever they were doing before, so you want to feel like it has a legacy rather than just going ‘Thanks guys, see you later’.

IB: Also we started the development for See Me Now really early on. We’ve been working workshops and development sessions since July last year, and since then we’ve met most Saturdays.

And is that a different process to other TP projects?

KA: Not really. Just over a longer period of time, because we’ve had the two incarnations.

IB: But the form and the structure’s the same. I think we really hit a rich vein of storytelling with this group of people. Because of the work they have done, they’re very open minded and good at socialising. They have to be good at making other people feel comfortable, that’s part of the job that they either have done or still do.

KA: And they’ve all been very naturally good performers, which is not that surprising really. When you think about working to make someone else feel comfortable, that’s kind of what they’re doing with an audience.

IB: So it has almost been an easier process.

Is there anything else you want to say about the project?

KA: It’s been really jokes.

IB: Really hilarious, full scale hilarious, the whole way through. So resilient and so fun. Super smart. Anyone who’s had to navigate the sort of experiences they have has to be proper savvy.  They’re all really interesting on a really deep level as people, so it’s just been fascinating and I feel really privileged to have worked on it. It’s been such an incredible experience and we’ve learnt so much about sex and sexuality.

KA: And the span of people’s sexuality. It does make you reassess your own prejudices  – about the clients I would say more than the workers. Even a lot of people who are very open minded about sex workers, still go ‘Oooh clients = bad’.  But actually, they’re so generous about their clients and honest – there are awful people but also people that they are building a relationship with.

IB: It’s shifted all that understanding and that’s what I hope it does for people who watch it. Shifts the understanding of sex, sexuality, relationships and people.

See Me Now  runs 11 Feb – 4 Mar in the Young Vic’s Maria. Tickets for this production are all sold out but you are welcome to join our returns queues from an hour before each performance. Find more information on See Me Now here

 

Now We Are Here | Michael

Now We Are Here, part or our Horizons season of work, features four true refugees stories which are drawn together into a heartbreaking tale of the pursuit of freedom. Taking Part at the Young Vic presents this extraordinarily beautiful new play.
We spoke to the people who were originally involved in our first workshops about where they are from and why they decided to get involved in this important project.

Michael, YV TP LGBT Refugee Workshop Portrait

Michael, a participant in the original workshop, originally from Burundi.

Q. How old are you?
A. Well, that’s a very tough question because in Africa we never ask about age…being a person who has never celebrated their birthday or anything like that, makes it very tricky. But as far as I can remember, maybe 1972 – so I’m getting to 43/44.

Q. Where are you from?
A. Burundi. But it’s all about East Africa for me because my mother’s origins are in Uganda and her grandmother is from Tanzania, so I’m all East African.

Q. How are you finding it in the UK?
A. Well, I would say safety is the only thing I can mention. It’s safe. It’s so challenging – I’ve been here 13 years. I fled my country because of the political and tribal tensions in Burundi – 2000 /2001. Having been imprisoned, free, then to Tanzania. Having to leave without the freedom…having been believed by the home office…having to be destitute…with no permission to work and having no representation. I mean, it’s all denial. It makes me doubt where there is freedom or where there is justice. Sometimes you find that you are not regarded as a human being. I have to avoid all the papers that talk about me so I feel dehumanised. I feel like, all the time, I have to prove who I am, where I am from – it’s a very dehumanising process.

Q. How have you found doing this workshop / what do you take away from it?
A. Workshops like this are a gamble. I was referred and I just came in for a chat because I’m not allowed to work…I’m not allowed to go to school. I just came in and I met Imogen and Ian and it was very interactive. In my opinion it was more like counselling – I started talking about my like and I never thought it would be something that people would be interested in; my kind of ordinary life which I think is very horrible, very un-entertaining. For a day like to where were have merged with different people, different feeling to come up with something that friends…people…can come and relate to makes me a human being like anybody else.

Now We Are Here will run 20-30 July in The Clare at the Young Vic. Tickets are free and all donations will go to Micro Rainbow International and Room to Heal.

Off Book – a podcast by the Young Vic

Our new podcast series, Off Book, is now available to stream and download from Soundcloud and iTunes.

Each episode will feature an interview with one of the exciting artists who have visited us recently. Our first episode is with legendary director Peter Brook, which was recorded in Feb 2016 whilst Battlefield was on in the Main House.

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Our conversations bring to light people’s first experiences with the arts and theatre, how their background has informed the work they produce today and how it has developed throughout their career. Make sure to subscribe on either Soundcloud or iTunes to hear our latest episodes as they’re released.

Youth Council meets Hamlet cast and creatives

Adam Hipkin, a member of the Young Vic Youth Council and Director of Teafilms Ltd., met with some Hamlet actors and creative team members recently to interview them to produce some content for DVDs that we especially make for schools. Here are some of his thoughts…

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Hamlet is arguably one of the most recognised of Shakespeare’s plays. It sits amongst Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello and King Lear, as the most popular plays of his canon (the latter of which was performed at the Young Vic in 2009 by the now late Pete Postlethwaite.).

The Director Ian Rickson, who is taking on his first Shakespeare production, is in charge of an exciting cast headed up by Michael Sheen. We went into their rehearsal rooms just up the road from The Young Vic, with a couple of cameras to chat to some of the cast and crew.

The first person we spoke to was Maxine Doyle. Maxine is the Associate Director of Punchdrunk and is the Choreographer on this production. “Hamlet is a super complex play. My process with the work to date has been essentially kind of delving into the psychological investigation of the text”.  Maxine also mentioned to us a part of the play that is being kept top secret by the production team, but I think it’s fair to say that it draws on her work with Punchdrunk.

Next we spoke to Claire Louise Baldwin and Elle While, (Assistant Stage Manager and Assistant Director) about what a modern audience will get from this production. Claire was adamant that “with regards to the actual show and the way it is set, I don’t think it has been done this way before.” Elle on the other hand focused more on the main character: “It’s [about] someone who has lost someone very important in their life. We could all probably think of someone in our own lives going through that right now.”

After a short break while we waited for the actors to come back from lunch we spoke to James Clyde who is playing Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. We asked him why he thought Hamlet was such a popular play, one which is always being produced somewhere in the world. “It just has this extraordinary verse. If you look at some of Hamlet’s soliloquies every other line has become part of every day speech. It’s the title of a movie or the title of an album. It’s probably the most borrowed from piece of literature in the English language.”

We then caught up with actor Eileen Walsh who is playing the part of Rosencrantz. This character and his friend Guildenstern are both close friends of Hamlet’s, the other key fact being that these roles have always been played by men. Although the casting of Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions) as Guildenstern sticks to this set up, the casting of Eileen as Rosencrantz sees the first women to play the part. “It feels like a piece of new writing. A women hasn’t played it before so it’s just a new take on the whole thing and certain lines that a man says, once they are said by a women, just have a completely different angle.”

The last actor we managed to have a chat with before the afternoon rehearsals started was Pip Donaghy who is playing three different characters: Barnardo, The Player King and the Gravedigger, the latter of which sparks one of the most famous scenes in the play with Hamlet holding the skull of his old Court Jester, Yorick. “In our production they [Barnardo, Player King and Gavedigger]  are going to have the same soul, they are going to be kind of the same character manifesting themselves in different guises.”

As we finished chatting to Pip the rehearsals picked up again and so we had to make room and pack down the kit.

Getting down and dirty with the Disco Pigs

Disco Pigs

Disco Pigs

Enda Walsh’s modern classic, Disco Pigs, comes to the Young Vic from 2 – 24 September and tells the story of two teenagers, Pig and Runt, hell-bent on partying. But it’s this appetite for hedonism and their inseparable friendship that could be their downfall.

We caught up with the cast – or rather the characters on this occasion – to get an insight into the crazed world of the Disco Pigs.

Name: Runt

Favourite word?
Fannytastic

Proudest moment?
Getting into the Palace Disco at 17.

If you could have a room full of any one thing, what would it be?
Scampi fries

If 28 hour days existed, what would you do with the extra four hours?
At Midnight Pork would stand still a bark from me and King Pig, we’d ruin riot on the silent streets robbin n’ steeling every ting in side.

Favourite holiday?
Crossheaven far far amay drum da sounds a grey Pork.  I let the sway a da Big Blue take me and the stars sparked in the Big Black above.

Weirdest quirk?
Don No

If you had one super power, what would it be?
Telepathy

Do you have any regrets?
Growing up slowly.

Favourite midnight snack?
A pak a Scamp

What were you doing at 17?
Waking up to Cork.

Runt will be played by Charlie Murphy.

Third and final…

The third and final video of our series with Julian Barratt, Doon Mackichan and Kyle Soller! We still have 12 handful of tickets for the next two Wednesday matinees of Government Inspector, otherwise we’re returns only (call us 020 7922 2922). Buy your tickets here!

Hope you’ve enjoyed our chats with Julian, Doon and Kyle. We had a great time.

Part 2:

Part 1: