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

 

Go Between | Taking Part

Go Between was a Taking Part community show inspired by Isango Ensemble’s A Man of Good Hope. The beautiful collaboration between director Anna Girvan, writer Archie Maddocks and participants who are currently homeless or have experienced homelessness in the past explored what home means to all of us.

The show was inspired by the 30 members of the “creative, passionate, witty and optimistic” company and their own experiences, drawn together through workshops and sessions over 4 months, since September 2016.

Go Between also featured a photography exhibition by Jordan Lee, a photographer who spent 3 months with the company documenting the process from devising and rehearsals to the full production. The stunning exhibition was open to all at Platform Southwark and was visited by audiences and participants alike.

Anna said, “We hope that this production will give an insight to how we are all just people, people who want to love, live, experience life, shout, stomp, sit in silence, be challenged and listened to, respected and deserve that basic human right; a home.”

Intro to Theatre | Young Vic Taking Part

Our Taking Part team welcomed over 200 new young people over October half-term with a series of Intro to Theatre workshops led by some great friends of the Young Vic.

Talks and workshops with Simon Stephens, Kayode Ewumi and Tyrell Williams, Thalissa Teixeira, Ashley Walters, Jemima Robinson, Toby Clarke, Shanika Warren-Markland, Arnold Oceng and Gbolahan Obisesan, gave a mix of 14-25 year olds a first look at careers in playwriting, acting, design, helped with audition techniques and held talks.

We also held a panel discussion with the heads of acting from RADA, LAMDA, Mountview, LIPA, East 15, Rose Bruford, Central, Drama Centre and the RCS on the process and future of applying to drama schools attended by 60 young people from Lambeth and Southwark.

To find out more about the Young Vic’s opportunities for young people head to youngvic.org and follow Taking Part on twitter.

‘People need to know the stories of those who to everyone here are invisible’

Michael, YV TP LGBT Refugee Workshop Portrait

Michael, a participant in the Now We Are Here workshops.

I like the theatre. It’s something I know communicates something to everyone. I got involved in the Young Vic through another group. I went to a session, and they asked lots of questions. They asked me to write a letter as if I was writing to my best friend about my life. I haven’t seen my best friend in such a long time, the experience of writing that moved me. Then they asked me who my favourite person was. I said my grandmother. They asked me how I would describe her in one word, I said “flower”. They asked me how she would describe me in one word, I said “clown”. And then they asked me who she is to me, I said “shield”.

Then we started talking about our stories. The some people who gave their stories wanted to talk about their home country. Like Jamaica. Everyone here thinks Jamaica is a happy place, lots of reggae, lots of sunshine. They don’t know the reality of what it’s like to live there if you aren’t like everyone else. One person wanted to talk about his cancer. His cancer, and the vulnerability it gave him made him safer in the eyes of the social services. The cancer that was harming him was his protection, his proof that he was a victim and his guarantee that he could stay. He doesn’t want his cancer to go, because that means that he himself might have to go too.

But I wanted to talk about what life is like here. I don’t want to tell the story of how I got here. People always ask me about my journey but they don’t realise that my journey is still going on living here. People need to know the stories of those who to everyone here are invisible. What I want to do is to communicate that pain is not limited to being a refugee or an asylum seeker. Pain is universal, pain doesn’t discriminate. Pain is something that we all feel. Sometimes it’s like people don’t understand the every-day reality of what it’s like feeling lost.

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The cast of Now We Are Here. Photo by Helen Murray.

They treated us so well at the Young Vic. They gave us a lot of purpose, food to eat and friendship. I am still in touch with the people who we did the production with. I made sure that the money that was raised went to the charities that have helped us, like Room to Heal. An outcome that I am very proud of is the creation of the Cotton Tree Trust. An audience member with an amount of money they had saved for thirty years was so moved by the play that he has started to think of creating a trust to practically help refugees and asylum seekers like me. Theatre can keep creating this compassion, and I am grateful to have been apart of this project.

This blog post was originally featured by Room To Heal, a charity which supports refugees and Asylum Seekers in the UK. Their blog can be found here. This post was written by Michael, a participant in the workshops that led to the production of Now We Are Here which ran at the Young Vic in July 2016.

Now We Are Here – Reviews

Golda Rosheuvel in Now We Are Here at the Young Vic. Photo by HelenMurray (2).

Golda Rosheuvel in Now We Are Here | Photo by Helen Murray

We’re sad about the fact it’s over, but definitely not sad about the reception it received. The reviews are in for our new Taking Part play Now We Are Here – a brave collaboration of true stories written by four refugees and the award-winning poet and spoken word artist Deanna Rodger.  Take a look below to see what critics made of the show.

★★★★
“This is seductive theatre, persuasive protest – the stories will haunt you”
The Times – read the full review here.

★★★★
“Simple but starkly affecting – anyone still in any doubt about theatre’s ability to tackle the pressing stories of the day should acquaint themselves sharpish with the Young Vic’s wholly admirable Horizons season”
The Evening Standard – read the full review here.

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The Cast of Now We Are Here | Photo by Helen Murray

★★★★
“Ian Rickson directs this sensitive, compelling production which strips away everything but the bare minimum needed for these voices to be heard”
The Independent – read the full review here.

★★★★
“It is absolutely paramount that more of these stories are told so that we are not desensitised by dehumanising statistics and relentless news reports. […] These beautifully told stories with humour and wit are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Theatre News – read the full review here.

“One takes away from “Now We Are Here” great pride in the courage of the individuals presented alongside an abiding wish that an often unforgiving world can — or will — just let them be.”
The New York Times – read the review here.

Now We Are Here | Desmond

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.

Now We Are here - Desmond

Q. How did you find sharing your story through a performance?
A. There’s so much today but then you just have to take things in small portions. I guess it had its affect. I guess it leaves people more aware – wanting more. With a smile on their face; interesting, sad…all the emotions. It hit the mark.

Q. How long have you been living in the UK?
A. This year makes it 21 years.

Q. And how are you finding it?
A. For me it’s a sort of a culture I’ve always had in me in the sense that – well y’know the Caribbean can be busy. The culture can be busy, up and down. Overexcited sometimes but for me, I’m calmer which allows me to relax, to think, to feel, to share because it makes no sense being a busy-bee going nowhere without any emotion, without any caring, without any feeling.

Q. How have you found taking part in a workshop like this? Have there been any particular challenges?
A. I look on it this way, and for me it’s a simple way. Based on my experience, based on what I’ve been through – it’s not only for me. It’s for people who are probably not as strong, who probably can’t deal with…because it’s a lot of things out there that if they know the half of it, you realise how strong and resilient people can be because some people…they keep it in but they’re constantly fighting and sometimes they just need a simple kind word or somebody else’s experience to lift their spirit and for them to realise that ‘I’m not alone’. Life is never normally for you alone. Life is for everybody to learn from it even from one single sentence.

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.

Now We are Here | Mir

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.

Portrait of NWAH participant, Mir

Mir at the Young Vic. Photo by Leon Puplett.

Q. How have you found doing the workshop?
A. Imogen has been wonderful. I’ve worked with the Young Vic 2/3 times in the past. I never knew Ian in the beginning and then when I researched his work I was mesmerised. I was like ‘oh my god’. As an actor, as a struggling actor, for me it was like massive big break and again, working with the Young Vic as well… Imogen has been very supportive from the beginning and Ian brilliant. I mean it was a wonderful experience.

Q. And in terms of your challenging story, what have you taken away from this and sharing your story in such a public way?
A. I never thought about telling my story in this way. Nobody wants to have a sorry feeling y’know. It’s just I wanted to get it out of my system, it’s therapeutic. It was very much helpful just to take all of that negativity out of me. I like dark stuff normally, even in my performances as well so for me this was something dark that I could show to the audience…the brutal reality of life. So it kind of makes me feel lighter now.

Q. You’re based in London now. How are you finding it?
A. Um, it’s nice. It’s a lonely city I must say. It’s the most loneliest city but people are friendly and I’m doing a lot of stuff which I always wanted to do. So this country has given me all those opportunities which I wanted to do…what I wanted to become. So I find it like, wow. I’m doing it, this is what I wanted to do.

Q. Anything to add about your experience and the importance of things like this?
A. Meeting different people from different cultures. When you can associate with them… As Golda said, ‘broken hearts are universal and when all the broken hearts come together, it fixes them back in way’.

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.
You can read our other interviews with our Now We Are Here collaborators in these blog posts.