Theatr Iolo, The Welfare Ystradgynlais and 12 teenagers present twenty16, live art about growing up in the year that gave us Brexit, Trump, Harambe memes and earth-shattering changes to the shape of Toblerone. Playwright and dramaturg Tracy Harris takes us on a journey through the creation of the show.
The idea of twenty16 came about while I was working on a different project in Bridgend in 2015. I kept talking to local teenagers in that area and realized they were really outspoken and nobody was taking any notice of what they were saying. They kept being let down by the system and seemed to be in a kind of void where they weren’t really taken seriously. That night I mentioned it to Paul (my partner) that there was something about teenagers that excited and scared me. He agreed.
Theatr Iolo’s Platfform programme came up and I thought it was a great opportunity to develop this idea further and to try something new-making work with and for young audiences. I hadn’t seen a lot of theatre for teenagers/ made by teenagers and thought this may be a good opportunity to explore exactly how teenagers saw the world.
In September 2015 We got Platfform! Hooray! We were so happy to be resident at the Welfare in Ystradgynlais. I grew up in Swansea and was really keen to go back to my roots and work with teenagers from a small town, who I knew would have something important to say.
The first few months were a bit of a blur. When we started I was 7 months pregnant and baby Hartley made a surprise arrival 8 weeks earlier than expected so suddenly our world was thrown in to chaos.
We started doing workshops in a local school in an attempt to recruit a team of teenagers that would help us devise and make this project happen. I remember our first workshop was pretty hard- we had been given a class of 33 eager 15 year old performing arts students from a local school, who never really had experienced devised/ live art theatre before. We started asking them questions and straight away all the feelings, insecurities and emotions of being a teenager came flooding back. Of course they weren’t going to open up to us about personal things in front of their classmates. They were desperately trying to find themselves, self conscious about what they said, trying to impress the boys/ girls in their class. That workshop was both a success and a failure. In the car on the way home, we realised we were on to something. Being transported back to our teenage years, we realized that what these teenagers were going through right now was important and we needed to tap in to it.
We decided to move rehearsals to the Welfare. We set up our first rehearsal and I mentioned it to all the teenagers from the school that I had been working with. When we turned up on that Sunday, one teenager- Corey was standing waiting at the door. We did the workshop with just Corey. We realised this was going to be harder than we first thought, but Corey was great and we knew we needed more people like him.
We went on a recruitment drive. We targeted the local schools and cast the net wider to teenagers in Swansea. I even got back in touch with kids I use to teach when I lived in Swansea 10 years previous!…They were aged 6 then, 16 now! Suddenly- the next rehearsal we had 12 teenagers excited by the prospect of what this could be!
We did our first sharing of the work in June 2016. It was great fun but we still didn’t really know what we were trying to say. We had formed great relationships with the kids and we were all still getting to know each other. They had just started opening up to us and letting us in to their lives. We had a scene where there was a great big pillow fight and the feathers went everywhere! And everything collided in to chaos. It was crazy, mad and exciting!
There was something in it, but what were we trying to say? What was this piece actually about?
We kept meeting regularly for the next 6 months. It was now 2016. We started asking them questions in an attempt to get to know them more. We recorded their answers. We did lots of improvisations. Aleksandra (choreographer) started working on movement routines with them. The group was really coming together and friendships were forming. We had scenes from the first sharing we wanted to keep and then we kept generating more material. We sent them away and made them make their own mini performances to share with the group. We chatted to them on the breaks and they opened up to us more and more…
It was 2016. We were still struggling with what this show was. From the start we had this idea of 20 questions, 20 answers, 16 teenagers, but suddenly we were down to 11 and we weren’t sure which questions we should include/ exclude. We still didn’t know what this was about. Was it about the transition from childhood to adulthood? Was it about stereotypical teenagers? Was it enough to be about how they saw the world?
We did a second sharing in December 2016. It was rougher than the first sharing, but we tried lots of new scenes out. A lot of the teenager’s parents were in the audience. All I remember from that sharing is one of the Mums saying it was really evident how much they had come together as a group; how brave they had been and honest….
But what was this show about?
We were driving home one night when Paul said there’s something about 2016, that we are missing, 20 questions, a group of 16 year olds but what about the year 2016. …That’s when teenagers didn’t get a voice, didn’t get a vote, didn’t get a say and
Lightbulb moment….we were on to something….
We started talking about 2016. We interviewed them again. We asked them about their political views, personal relationships and about anything and everything that had happened to them that year. They had things to say. They were fed up with politics and not having a voice. They let us see what it was like to be a teenager again, the ups and downs, highs and lows. We knew the script had to reflect this
We listened back to their interviews. We started mapping the show. We knew they each had to have a journey so we started sticking words and images and scenes together to see what we had.
We kept listening to them. We asked them what they wanted to talk about. What mattered to them and what was hard for them to say. We had too much material. They kept generating more. Each week someone would hand me a new monologue or suggest a new scene. We had to go back to the questions….
We worked with them on the script together. We started asking them questions and getting them to answer as honestly and instinctively as they could. We created a safe space where the weeks of chatting and getting to know each other had really paid off and suddenly we were going through a lot of ups and downs together. They opened up to us about really important experiences they had gone through like love, death, and their relationships with their parents. They supported each other and worked with us generating the script and working out to their journeys through the show.
It’s the week before the show opens in Ystradgynlais. Today we stumbled through a run…We’ve come a long way! This weekend we do our first tech run with out our amazing technical team. We have an epic projection screen, lights, sounds and 11 talented performers who have come a long long way in the last 1 and a half years….we can’t wait to share it with an audience….
Dates and tines of performances:
Sunday 30th April 4.30pm, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Tickets: £8, £6 Concessions £5 under 25s