|“A large, black room opens before us. Staring down from the rafters, the lights lightly swinging, it seems huge, expansive.
‘What would you do with this space?’, Joelle asks the kids.
‘I would stand in the corner’, replies one of them. ‘It’s too scary’.
Refugees and children in care often have not always had the privilege of taking up space. Space is for loud voices, space is for comfort, space is for freedom and movement and belongings. It has not always been theirs to take.
In collaboration the Marlowe theatre, we are creating a space that will tell stories of courage, determination and courage. A space that will celebrate the strength and resilience of young people in care.
Working with Lead Poet Joelle Taylor and Shadow Poets, Patrick Connolly and Alex Vellis, the young people will write poems that will then inspire the work of a digital projectionist (Pete Wallace), a visual artist (Greg Stobbs) and a musician (Richard Nevarro). These artists working together with Beth Cuenco, director of Workers of Art, and Lemn Sissay as Artistic Director of Warrior Poets, will develop an installation that brings these art-forms together in equal collaboration.
We had some truly touching and inspiring moments throughout the day, and plenty of laughter too. For example, the disadvantage of being in a theatre practice room is that sometimes it turns out that putting on an orange fuzzy-wuzzy costume is more fun in the immediate than writing a poem.
On the first day of the project, we met at the Marlowe rehearsal rooms in order to introduce ourselves and to explore different feelings about the idea of home, with an emphasis on writing and poetry. Joelle, permanently smiling and fizzing with ideas, coached the young people on different paths to expression and encouraged them to express their different experiences of being in care by using metaphor. With the majority of the practitioners having experience of the care system themselves, the experience was a shared one: as a group, we thought about what animal we would be when we first came into care, what type of domestic object we would be, and what sort of flower we might think of ourselves.
‘I’m like a backpack’, one of the kids announced defiantly. ‘I can hold anything’.
One of the young people enjoyed playing piano, and although she didn’t feel compelled to write in that moment, she accompanied a practitioner who had written a poem. Some of the refugees who were not as familiar with English as the others bravely stood up and read out their poems.
The installation will take place in the Marlowe studio as part of the Marlowe’s gala weekend, celebrating the theatres 5th birthday. Audiences will be invited to wander freely in the space, invited to witness the experiences of these young people and to join us and them in exploring and celebrating the resilience that grows out of hardship. Through this project we hope that the young people, like Lemn will be able to say ‘I am not defined by my past but my ability to heal’.