To mark International End Violence Against Women Day 2019 we asked Clean Break Member Amanda to talk us through her experience in our Advanced Theatre Group, as they tackle the theme of violence against women with Stef O'Driscoll.
We started out this season discussing what we needed from each other in order to feel safe - we spent a lot of time doing that and some of the words that came up were grace, respect, and confidentiality. Some of us have come from backgrounds where we personally experienced violence and we respect each other's stories and honour the pain that we have individually and collectively experienced as women.
We had one day this season where we devised these deep stories about childhoood trauma, sexual violence, and many of the stories were based on real experiences, however, our director Stef O'Driscoll chose not to use this work for our final sharing. That seems to be the norm when devising though, we create a lot and select the parts that are relevant to what we wanted to show. Instead, we created a piece that is a bit more upbeat - a women's TV channel.
Although some of the pieces are meant to be comical, it's not a joke that we really wanted to empower women and make them feel strong, intelligent and uplifted. It's interesting to be conscious of the fact that so much media out there still does the opposite, whether it's social media, music or television, there is such negative messaging towards women about not accepting and loving oneself and we wanted to create something that did just the opposite. There's ways to do that with heavy stuff and there's ways to do that with light-hearted stuff and we chose the light-hearted way, so there's a lot of music, dancing, and jokes in our show.
Our TV show show is called Herstory - an alternative to History that has stories and content mostly about men. We realised in conversation that it was important to us to bring to light the fact that women have been left out of past narratives such as books, stories, and culture. It might seem like jumping on the bandwagon but it's what Clean Break has been doing for 40 years so it's something deeply rooted in our company culture, you could say we were ahead of the trend. We talk about meditation, sexuality, veganism, the elderly, the environment, menstruation, dating, aging, and poverty as well as stuff that is just for laughs like fake adverts. I think providing a safe place where we can laugh and make others laugh is a way to take a stand against violence in itself.
Amanda, Clean Break Member
Find out more about the Clean Break Members programme here.
This week’s blog comes from Holloway United Therapies who have shared their thoughts on [BLANK] and explain the parallels between the play and the work they carry out with women with experience of the criminal justice system.
Clean Break’s powerful production of [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse perfectly illustrates the need for services such as ours. We’re Holloway United Therapies (HUT), a charity established by members of the former psychotherapy team at HMP Holloway, we provide specialist psychotherapy outside prison walls to women affected by the criminal justice system.
[BLANK] is a series of vignettes encapsulating some of the predicaments that women in the criminal justice system face or have experienced, and that we at HUT encounter in our sessions with our clients. To us, the title of the play suggests the idea of women as nameless statistics within a system, endlessly asked to fill in the blanks on official forms.
The hallmark of Alice Birch’s writing is that she does not shy away from the horror of human interaction, and the reality of cruelty and trauma. When watching [BLANK] for us four scenes stood out for thematic reasons;
When we meet Kate in the opening scene, Arms, she is desperate to communicate her excitement about her new partner, ‘Richard’, whose very name seems more than she can believe or conceivably deserve. She wants to be held in his long arms. She asks her daughter in a later scene, Scar, to confirm that Richard ‘gives good hugs’ but the child is wary. She is used to having to summon up her own defensive weaponry, as her needs have always been subjugated to those of her mother. When someone first comes to therapy, they want to be held symbolically and wonder whether they can trust the support – an authentic containing presence - the therapist is aiming to provide.
In Magnolia, a foster mother sits outside, as she always does, on the last night of a child’s stay, and in sharing a peaceful moment with her foster daughter, she evokes a parallel between her relationship to her charges and that of a gardener to a magnolia tree.
"That’s a magnolia tree ….. It only flowers for one week…. Isn’t that incredible? … You tend to it for a whole year and then it only blooms for a week. … But it’s so so so so beautiful for that week."
Together they are relishing the beauty of the present; but again Birch allows the ugliness to emerge, as the foster mother gives vent to her frustration about the fact that she has tended over time to this child, but that it might be her biological mother, who eventually sees her bloom.
In Carrier Bags two young girls are meeting for the first time in their foster home bedroom. Both girls have brought their own ‘stuff,’ in more than one sense. But they do not wish to be affected by the other’s stuff – not even their name. Children whose boundaries have been violated, constantly test them or seek them out in other less positive ways. This is why the boundaries of therapy, known as the therapeutic frame, are so key.
Salt, the final scene is about a woman trying to make amends for her long absence during her daughter’s childhood. Dissociating from the feelings her guilt and pain bring up for her, the mother tries to share in happy memories. But her adult daughter disabuses her of the reality of the idealized seaside outings. Both characters say ‘OK’ to break silences. But for both, OK is a fill-in for loss – loss of what they can find to say, and loss of all that could have been. It’s as if ‘OK’ is short for ‘out of kilter’ as the two women are so misattuned in their recollection and interpretation of their relationship.
Therapy is about working alongside the client to break down defences that hamper development. Some defences seem inappropriate; yet they may be adaptive and essential to survival in a difficult world. We see our clients for up to a year at HUT and once that time is over, we are left, sharing the feelings of the foster mother in Magnolia, with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the growth we have witnessed in our clients will continue to bloom.
You can find out more about HUT's work here.
[BLANK] runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 30 November click here to book your ticket.
Image Helen Maybanks
“It’s a ripple effect isn’t it? We’ve been sentenced but our children have been sentenced with us. It is a struggle.” The preceding words from one woman imprisoned in one of the 12 women’s prisons in England are repeated to us, at Women in Prison, by so many. The experience of motherhood from within prison is often pained with guilt, anxiety and isolation for both the mother and the child left behind on the outside. Nine out of 10 children will be forced to leave their home as a result of their mother’s imprisonment to live with relatives or to go into care. This can have devastating consequences for those children, as well as family bonds which can take a lifetime to repair.
[BLANK] so powerfully showcases this ripple of harm that radiates from the experience of imprisonment, cutting through relationships and severing opportunities to move forward with your life. The play also tells of the complex social circumstances and harmful histories, often rooted within complex family relationships, which chart a course for women to come into contact with the criminal justice system. Childhood abuse and neglect, poverty, domestic violence, mental ill-health, harmful substance use, poverty, inequality are all tightly weaved together to lead you down an inevitable path.
In the UK, we have a chronic overuse of the prison system. Through the decimation of community support, housing, mental health services and refuges, we are now in a position where we, as a society, turn to the police to step in to plug these gaps in services; it is the police who are called in response to someone in mental health crisis or someone who is sleeping on the streets. [BLANK] very clearly demonstrates how all-too-often women feel they have nowhere to turn to – no more room at the domestic violence refuge, too little understanding of post-partum depression, or a family member not equipped to support a daughter’s addiction. Women in Prison has engaged with thousands of women in our prison system who went out and shoplifted just so they could get a roof over their head in prison or so they could escape from a violent partner. Women seek refuge in prison because they have few choices and this comes at great personal risk as imprisonment causes harm to your mental and physical health. Additionally, after prison it will be a greater struggle to find a home or job, your social circumstances and opportunities will have been reduced further.
Women in Prison campaigns to radically reduce the women’s prison population and end the harm caused by prison to women, their families and our communities. Our #OPENUP Manifesto offers 10 solutions to achieve this with investment in community support services and opening up pathways away from criminal justice interventions at its heart.
It is little known that the UK is globally unique in having a network of specialist Women’s Centres that provide support for women affected by the criminal justice system. These Centres provide a community for women to come together to support each other, eat lunch, take part in a crafting workshop, or gardening, meditation, knitting as well as find counselling for childhood trauma, support with addiction, mental ill-health, advocacy to find housing or support with parenting, debt advice, CV writing workshop. These Centres are packed with activities and support in an environment that does not judge and does not punish. They enable women to address the root causes that lead to offending and prevent them from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place. But they are also used by the Police to divert women out of the criminal justice system into community support and give Magistrates an alternative to sending individuals to prison. Women’s Centres are proven to reduce offending and enable women to move forward with their lives far more effectively than a prison sentence ever could.
There are around 35 Women’s Centres across the UK, there are many areas of the country that do not have access to this support and the ones that exist need urgent investment to be sustained. Through investment and Government policy that acts on the evidence we have, the very real possibility to achieve something that we can be really proud of and set an international standard in how to reduce the human and financial cost of imprisonment and create healthier, safer communities for all of us. Our vision is for our #OPENUP vision to be delivered so that the [BLANK] of the future is packed with stories of support, opportunities and hope for women and their children.
Claire Cain, Campaigns & Public Affairs Manager at Women in Prison – a national charity that provides support for women affected by the criminal justice system in prison and via women’s centres and campaigns to reduce the women’s prison population.
[BLANK] runs until 30 November at Donmar Warehouse, click here to book your ticket.
Image Helen Maybanks
This year we were very proud to pilot our first Young Artists Development Programme. Over nine-months four extremely talented young women embarked on a programme of workshops, co-wrote an original production which was performed at both the Arcola and Hammersmith Lyric Theatres, and have each developed their own shows, covering topics such as mental health and police harassment. With this year’s programme now at an end, we spoke to these amazing and inspiring young women to find out what they have learned after the year and what the future has in store.
When I needed help, I wasn’t sure if Clean Break was for me. I didn’t think I qualified, deserved it, had enough experience, had too little experience. I didn’t really believe that there was a place that would be able to help because I felt so alone.
The first time I came into the building I cried and Carole gave me tissues. The second time was the same. The third I was so nervous I couldn’t eat, and everyone was so kind to me. Which almost made me cry again. That was two and a bit years ago. It was also in another universe.
This year I have co-written and performed in a play, developed a new solo show, been mentored by an inspiring writer and met and had the support of the most incredible group of people I know.
But it goes so much deeper than those practical, visible from the outside things. It actually goes so deep that it’s in the territory of not being able to be expressed in words at all. How do you sum up a year of such growth?
It’s in the laughter. The moments of clarity. The shared struggles. The times you don’t think you can, but you do it anyway. Having your space when you need it. Shared food. Cups of tea. Being able to say your name and look someone in the eye while you say it. Speaking your truth and knowing that people get it.
This year has been the start of me finding my voice. The one I’d squashed, ignored, clipped short. It’s going to be a continued and sometimes difficult journey towards feeling self-expression, not being angry, depressed or self-hating. But now it’s a journey that I’m looking forward to, not scared of. I’ve already taken the first step along the way.
I guess the most important thing that I've learnt on the young artist development programme is trusting in each other and believing that if you create an environment of true care and respect, people are going to do their best, and their best is more than enough. I learnt new ways of working and relating to each other in the world of theatre, where this environment is really rare to find. Of course, I had to very quickly learn how to write for theatre, what different roles in the production of a piece are and what you call stage left or right. But an even more precious discovery that I made is quite simple actually. Kindness is not a given thing or an innate personal quality, but it’s a practice. Similarly, love is not just a feeling but an action and solidarity or collaboration cannot come about unless there is true respect cutting deep, deep... and why wouldn't we respect each other? The gift of working with the people I did on this show, was a real privilege and I cannot express my gratitude for the commitment that each and every one of us had towards the play, but above all, towards each other.
My aspirations have developed into a more concrete realisation that I have found my path and direction in life and that from this moment on I am only ever going to be known and defined by my work in theatre and that my past doesn’t matter and all that came before this.
I am now sure as what I am going to do with my life and where I am going. I have gained complete confidence in my skills as a writer but also as a creative. I have something to say and my voice is important and needs to be heard. I am sure that I can create my own work as well as perform in other people’s works.
I want to speak my truth and show people how that can be a very powerful tool. I want to build femme solidarity and abolish the prisons. For that we need to open up new understandings of what a post-police, post-prison world might look like – what does transformative justice look like? How do we need to change the ways in which we hold ourselves and others accountable? I think theatre is a powerful too in imagining new futures. This programme enabled me to start to do that.
We would like to extend our thanks to the Co-Op Foundation for their support of the Young Artists Development Programme.
When a prison van drives past us, on our way to work, or on our way back from buying groceries at the supermarket, we think little about the stories of those held within; the people inside become nothing more than hidden cargo, transported to an unknown destination. It’s an experience of invisibility that many of our Members are all too familiar with, their trauma obscured by a series of walls. Yet with Chloë Moss’s Sweatbox these walls are broken down, bringing the hidden stories of arrival, anticipation, fear and resignation to light, forcing audiences to confront the cruelty of our prison system, even before perceived offenders are placed in cells.
In anticipation of the Sweatbox tour hitting Manchester we caught up with Anna Herrmann Joint Artistic Director of Clean Break and Director of Sweatbox and Dezh Zhelyazkova Producer of the play, to find out how the response to Sweatbox in 2019 has differed from it’s first outing in 2015.
Anna Herrmann: Prison vans are part of our environment, but only for those who either work in the system or who are caught up in it personally, are they any more than a backdrop to which we live our lives. Sweatbox The Play changes that – providing a unique chance to step inside a decommissioned van and experience what it is like.
In December 2018 new guidelines were put in place which included: the provision of seatbelts in cellular vans, men and women being transported in separate vans and pregnant women being given alternative transport. It has been positive to recognise these small but important steps to improve conditions for prisoners, especially at a time when our prison system is in crisis. However, it is devastating to witness the story of Rachel, one of the characters in the play who has been given a short sentence of six months for a first offence. The Government has acknowledged that short sentences are ineffective, and yet sadly Rachel’s story is still one that is very real and happening on a daily basis. It needs to stop. Women’s centres offer a viable and evidenced alternative to custody for women but are struggling to survive. We need to invest in these options and change the use of prisons in society for the future to benefit everyone.
We have been thrilled to see audiences come out of the show very moved and provoked to discuss the issues of women affected by the criminal justice system. The feedback from the first half of the tour has included praise for the writing and acting, which engage the audiences with the subject matter, on a deep personal level.
It has been interesting to hear from audiences that the reality of the storylines of the three characters is entirely new to them, and they have previously been unaware of how these experiences affect the women who have them.
Unconventional settings normally add novelty to productions but in the case of Sweatbox the prison van has been described as the 4th character in the play, as it provides for an extremely visceral experience which has resonated with our audiences and left them with food for thought about the destiny of the characters and the bigger picture of the systematic issues within the criminal justice system.
Through the stories of an expectant mother, a first offence, and a woman living with addiction, Sweatbox powerfully explores the varying contexts which contribute to female offending. Emotionally charged at its core, the play prompts us to question how services could have supported each woman and highlights the importance of preventative support for women struggling and at risk of offending.
If you’d like to find out more about Sweatbox click here.
Arts journalist Holly Williams talks to Alice Birch on all things [BLANK], our new co-production with Donmar Warehouse and her experience of creating work with women with experience of the criminal justice system.
When I tell Alice Birch I’ve read her new play, she’s shocked: “You didn’t read the whole thing? Wowsers.” This is hardly the usual reaction at basic interview prep – but then, the 32-year-old’s latest script is hardly a usual play.
[BLANK] comes in at 214 pages, with 100 separate, self-contained scenes: 50 to be performed by adults, 50 written for children – although fear not, no production should ever stage the whole thing. Instead, Alice’s script begins “This play is a challenge and an invitation to you and your company to make your own play”.
The play looks at the experience of women in prison as well as the impact incarceration has on their families. All the characters are unnamed – simply designated A, B, and so on – but Alice does thread tantalising character arcs and thematic connections through this exhilaratingly experimental piece. It would be possible to stitch together some dramatic narratives about women’s paths in and out of prison – but equally possible to make something abstract and multi-voiced. Crucially, no two productions will ever be the same.
“It’s a strange thing,” Alice acknowledges. “You want to offer something that could be very character-driven, the stakes could be high…but you also want each scene to work on its own, in case a director wants to do something much more kaleidoscopic.”
Her work has always been driven by formal experimentation, from Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. – a feminist text blowing up the conventions of gendered language, which won her the George Devine award – to the Susan Smith Blackburn prize-winning Anatomy of a Suicide, where the words of three generations of women are scored like a piece of music so that they overlap.
In the case of [BLANK], the structure grew out of a very specific set of restrictions. Clean Break actually gave Alice her first ever commission, following the success of her first play, Many Moons, at Theatre 503 in 2011. But Alice “couldn’t find the right thing for ages.” Then, the National Theatre’s Connections Festival, which commissions plays for young people, approached her about writing something too.
Most people would probably not leap to the idea of combining a play for a large youth cast and a play for adult women. But it was this “impossibility” that finally fired Alice’s imagination.
“I couldn’t see a world in which those two things existed – and then that became the point,” she explains. For the young people, the play is about the absence of their mother; for the adult women, it’s about being separated from their children.
[BLANK] has already been performed by NT Connections groups, using mostly the children’s scenes, and watching proved surprising: “You go ‘oh I didn’t see that in it, that’s really thrilling. And terrifying.”
The production, for the first time drawing on all 100 scenes available, will be performed by a cast of adult women, including two Clean Break members, as well as a few children or teenagers. How involved is Alice in shaping this production with Maria Aberg, in choosing which scenes make it in?
“I genuinely don’t know the answer to that,” she says. “I can’t say what should be in the production, otherwise I would have written that play.” And that’s why it’s titled [BLANK] – the invitation is genuinely open. But she adds that there is “something about the kaleidoscopic version that keeps it big, which I think is useful.” That broader approach may reveal how structural inequities within society and within the criminal justice system can funnel women into a cycle of crime and reoffending. Those structural problems are what have fuelled Alice through the writing of this play.
[BLANK] goes to some bleak places, but Alice felt she had to reflect the reality of a failing, overloaded system. “There’s a scene about someone having to make 45 meaningful observations [of female prison inmates] in an hour, and each of those people is at risk of self-harm or suicide. That was a figure I’d taken from a real-life inquest,” she says. “It is horrific: these women are dying. How society treats its most vulnerable says everything – and I think we treat prisoners appallingly.”
Alice had been an admirer of Clean Break since she first started writing. “As a young female playwright, lots of the texts I was picking up were commissioned by Clean Break. And often the plays felt quite quiet; it wasn’t about women walking into places and shooting everybody, it wasn’t highly glamorised. I really felt drawn to the quiet craft, the kindness.”
It’s an important point. Alice’s plays often have a ferocity and anger that’s certainly not evident when you meet her in person – she is a gentle presence, thoughtful and considered. And to see her work as just a howl of rage would be wrong: “I think kindness is really what I’m writing about all the time.”
Holly Williams is an arts journalist and editor. She reviews theatre for Time Out and the Mail on Sunday.
This piece originally featured in the Donmar Magazine.
In the lead up to Clean Break Writer’s: Here. There. Then. Now. we’ve been having many conversations on what it means to be a woman in the creative arts. After a year of stories of me too, gender pay gaps, the lack of opportunity for BAME and working-class artists and arguments concerning job shares in the West End, now seems more pertinent than ever to regroup and share our experiences.
On 7 September we’re heading to the Royal Court to hold an afternoon of discussions with Clean Break writers past and present to begin to tackle some of these problems and discuss what the future holds for women playwrights and why complicated, multifaceted representations of women on our stages are more essential than ever. In the lead up to this we caught up with some of our panellists to ask them two important questions.
The best advice I have ever received is to get rid of my smartphone - Lucy Kirkwood
The one piece of advice that helped when I began is the tried and true old chestnut - write what you know. That certainly kept me going for some time. - Jacqueline Holborough
Call yourself a writer. When people ask you what you do say "I write". Ingrain it into your identity and then write every day, no matter what. Then you are a writer. This helped me to stay focused and determined to follow my dream of seeing my work performed on stage, no matter what obstacles came into my path. – Sonya Hale
Realistically: I would like to see a much greater culture shift in terms of the consideration we give to childcare, so that neither women or men have to choose between being an artist or being a primary care giver.
Unrealistically: I would like every pre-conception we have about what is “good”, “bad” or “important” to be erased, because so much of this consensus is rooted in subconscious deference to the male canon and things that smell like it. – Lucy Kirkwood
The change I'd like to see to help women thrive has to be equal pay. Perhaps not such a problem in the theatre where we sometimes work only for love - but definitely in the television and film industries. It took me some time to realise that male writers on the same level were being paid 20 - 30% more. Maybe it's not so bad these days but fee transparency would be a start. - Jacqueline Holborough
I would like to see more groups, run by theatres helping women from minority backgrounds - different race and class - helping women to hone their skills as a writer. Then I would like to see theatres taking more of a risk to put new writer's work up on stage. It's still really hard for working class women to get their work performed because they simply don’t have the time or the money to spend learning how to write plays. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a play, how are you going to do that if you have to work long hours and bring up kids and stuff?
I think as cultural institutions, in order to encourage culturally diverse plays we have a responsibility to give certain groups a foot up into the industry. My gosh, if we don’t, we are all going to keep on watching the same middle class, vanilla culturally bland plays forever more. Plays that just reflect one set of people's take on life and that's not art. I think we are in real danger of that. - Sonya Hale
Clean Break Writer’s: Here. There. Then. Now. takes place on 7 September at the Royal Court, click here to book your ticket.
To mark Clean Break’s 40th Anniversary, we are delighted to be working with the Bishopsgate Insitute to create an archive of Clean Break’s work, to document the history of our organisation and make it publicly accessible for the first time.
For us the Clean Break archive presents a unique opportunity to study the history of women in criminal justice, feminist activism and alternative theatre in the UK in the 20th Century. Our mission is to bring the hidden stories of imprisoned women to a wider audience, and we hope that the stories in the archive will continue our work to inspire playwrights, captivate audiences and fuel research on the complex theme of women and crime.
We have been working with Clean Break Members and community volunteers to explore the contents of our archive on-site, and will be collecting oral histories from our founders, staff and members past and present. Bringing together these women, we are working as a team to explore the archive with each woman bringing a unique experience and hope for what they want to achieve from the process. Each day the Archive Team have been inspired by what we have uncovered, some highlights so far have included; postcards created on International Women’s Day 2007 which included drawing, poetry and personal opinions from clean Break Members, original posters from productions as early as Sin Eaters and folders of lesson plans from our old education programme.
As part of the project the team visited the Bishopsgate Institute, and were treated to a tour of their archives by Special Collections and Archives Manager, Stefan Dickers. One member stated;
“What insight into how varied and interesting archiving can be – it whetted my appetite to discover more about Clean Break’s history. I also noted the “Harass Your MP” T-Shirts by the Stop the War coalition – which was so relevant to our Clean Break Mass Lobby of Parliament with Women in Prison to reduce the number of women in prison”
We asked the Archive Team what their hopes for the future are from looking at the past, their answers highlighted the importance of undertaking a project which looks in such detail at the past in order to influence the future, these included;
“That more organisations can look to Clean Break as a model of how to change lives.”
“I Have been accepted to do qualification in Archiving at UCL and hope this will help put theory into practice.”
“I hope I can refresh my mind. If ever in doubt that it’s okay to feel the way I am feeling, and it will pass. And with the tools I have picked up along the way anything / everything is possible”.
As well as setting up an archive at Bishopsgate, we will be creating a touring installation inspired by the archive that will tour alongside Sweatbox from September 2019, working with designer Miriam Nabarro, supported by Clean Break Member Liz Whitbread to transform the prison van into a space where you can explore some of Clean Break’s history.
Claire Stone, Heritage Project Manager commented, “In 1979 Clean Break was established by two brilliant women who refused to let prison silence them. We are delighted to be working with our Members, volunteers, artists and the Bishopsgate Institute to share the story and legacy of Clean Break’s work, and how it continues to tell inspirational and challenging stories about women and justice today.”
Ella an Unlocked Graduate joined Clean Break on a work placement, to celebrate Volunteers Week she wrote a blog for us about her experience.
It is not often you walk into a work space and feel immediately welcomed, but the moment I began volunteering with Clean Break I was introduced into the environment with an incomparable warmth and openness. As both a work environment and a centre for creative expression Clean Break presents a safe space that supports and drives both its members and staff. The organisation runs as a well-oiled machine yet allows space for emotion, humanness and humour to be shared. The unwavering commitment that Clean Break has towards it members was inspiring and a world away from the treatment I am witness to every day in my work place.
I have spent the last 20 months completing a graduate placement working frontline in a women’s prison. It was only until I came to volunteer at Clean Break, and saw a functioning example of rehabilitation, that I realized just how dismal and damaging the current prison system’s approach is for women. The services available for women in prison are inaccessible and uninspiring, yet it is charities such as Clean Break that provide a glimmer of hope in a repressive and failing system. During my placement here I was able to observe just how transformative providing women with creative expression and a holistic safe environment can be, I have witnessed the devastating effects that the criminal justice system can have on women’s lives but during my time at Clean Break I was able to see women, who have experienced this system, heal from some of those effects and have space to tell their stories.
The women who I work with everyday have been robbed of their voices, if prisons are to provide sufficient care we need to begin to acknowledge and give centre stage to these women’s narratives. Working with Clean Break allowed me to re-configure my outlook towards my everyday work which had become defeatist and pessimistic, I was reminded of the power of the creative and the strength that a collective group of women determined to create change can exude. I have gone back to work with renewed energy, striving to emanate the hopeful and determined drive of the Clean Break Members I worked with, taking back with me both a restored faith in the potential to change a failing system and the fight to provide women in prison with creative and restorative spaces. The connection between Clean Break and the female establishment is key to this fight and I will strive to raise awareness among the women in prison about the possibilities available to them.
It was refreshing to be part of a workforce who care for each other and strive for a joint ethos and vision, the unity among staff is testament to the care provided by management. The effective management at Clean Break made me acutely aware of the lacking welfare support and management I, and most other prison staff alike, have experienced. This is a topic which is close to my heart and one I am currently writing policy to try and change. The Members team at Clean Break made it clear that their Members are continuously the priority but had a crucial understanding that the only way Members can be prioritised is with a workforce who themselves are cared for and confident.
I knew prior to volunteering just how professional and visionary Clean Break is as a theatre company, you simply have to look at past productions to know this, however it was the everyday running of the workshops that demonstrated to me just how adept this charity is at running a trauma informed safe space for women to meet fellow creatives and explore their own narratives.
The highlight of my work placement with Clean Break was witnessing their celebration of International Women’s Day 2019 which was a chance for both staff and Members to come together, share food, stories, music and inspiration. This moment allowed me insight into the gratitude people felt towards the organisation and the strength that flourishes through creation.
Would you like to volunteer at Clean Break? Find out more about our volunteering opportunities here.
We took some time to catch up with Lucy Edkins cast member and co-deviser of Inside Bitch which is currently playing at The Royal Court Theatre. She shared some thoughts on the process of devising, being on stage and of course, the representation of women in prison in the media.
Fact is, I’ve spent a long time trying to be someone else. What I mean by that is, in order to avoid difficult questions, which lead to a position of no employment and uncomfortable situations which lead to … distance, one keeps one’s past at arm’s length. So, yes, I was interested in this process but, not without some trepidation.
Society is not cool about accepting people’s past mistakes or understanding the reasons behind the life choices they take. I guess where I’m coming from is, yes, I’ve made some bad choices; I’ve done some stupid things, but the history behind it usually adds up. Is this me talking, a version of me or an aversion to me? I dunno, you decide.
With Inside Bitch I knew what I was getting involved with from the start. Yeah, I knew some of it would be about me. I didn’t know for sure if I’d end up in it, I thought it was only going to be a couple of us, so the fact that nobody got weeded out from the initial four was a plus, ‘cause we’re all quite different, so it would have felt strange to lose one of our stories.
Well, I've got to admit I screen out quite a lot of mainstream TV. Probably ‘cause I couldn’t stand watching the crude depictions of criminals. Women and men and let’s face it, a lot of what gets shown is sensationalist (dare I say it?) rubbish.
However, having an interest in foreign drama (I do enjoy a well put together crime thriller, a lot of the foreign imports, maybe because they’ve already been through a bit of weeding) I quickly lapped up the first series of Locked Up, the lurid Spanish equivalent to the US ‘comedy’ Orange is the New Black. Both have in common the protagonist being the annoying stereotype of a slim well-to-do blonde who trips up in a moment of mischief and finds herself embroiled in a world of shock! horror! poor and depraved characters. A world she would not normally enter into; one of ethnic diversity and grotesque power struggles, one which is apparently a ‘way in’ for middle class audiences who want to take a peek behind bars. Needless to say, I have yet to get round to series two.
Spin off to …
Been a while since you were there but the essential bizarre cruelty still remains the same - one set of people are given the right to contain another set of people. The clichéd image expresses what we all fear: the door is shut on us and we are not allowed out. A state-imposed deprivation of liberty. A sinking feeling as we realise our lives are going down the pan; we are apparently so bad, so irredeemably evil that the only recourse our society has is to remove us from its midst and hold us hostage for an agreed period of time.
We were lucky enough to speak to two of the tyoung cast members performing in Belong as they prepared to open at The Arcola Theatre last week - they are performing again at The Lyric Hammersmith on 7&8 March. Tickets are available here.
CB: I’m here with a two of the cast members of Belong which is Clean Break’s young women’s company who will be opening at the Arcola this weekend. Could you introduce yourselves and tell me what your involvement with the production is?
S : I’m Sandrine, I’m an actor I play Esther
Ch: I’m Chelsea, I’m an actor, I play Lucy and the Head Teacher …. And a Security Guard … and Damian!
CB: Sandrine, how did you get involved with this?
S: I remember when we came up with the core of my character, we were just sitting down about two years ago and we said about my hair…. How short it was and stuff like that and somehow, about two years later became this character beautifully written by River and Carys. Its incredible, its been an incredible two years, I’ve been here from scratch all the way to this.
CB: And what about you Chelsea? How did you become involved?
Ch: I came here a couple of years ago to do a course, because I had an interest in acting, but now that I have such a big interest in it they emailed me and called me and asked if I would like to come down for an audition? But I missed the audition! And they still contacted me, so I came down and then that was it! The script just got put in front of me.
CB: Nice to be in demand! The play is touching on youth loneliness, that’s what you have been exploring as a company. Obviously you are yourselves young women in London - do you feel that this is an issue that affects you? That you have experienced yourselves?
S: Yes, for me in so many ways! I remember being 15 and not speaking any word of English and having to go to a school that had so many mixes of people that I’ve never seen. Different people from different ethnicities I have never even thought of, I literally had to sprint to learn English! I don’t know how I got through it!
CB: That must have been really something!
S: Oh it was a fight, I had to fight, I was frustrated because I couldn’t express anything. I spoke a different language from my family as well. I had been to several countries so I had spoken different languages, so it was just really confusing. When you ask a question in my language then I had to go back to translate it in my head. It was quite difficult. So it just came out as anger, just rage, because I couldn’t express how lonely I was.
CB: That must have been so frustrating.
S: Yes it was, but I had books, books definitely shaped me into who I am and turned that rage and I realised that it was more than just rage it was loneliness. So books really became my friends.
CB: And what about you Chelsea? Do you feel like that’s something that’s affected you too?
Ch: I feel like most of the characters, I can touch base with them really. Mix and blend, just a little bit of each, it’s real life. These things happen. The more we dig into the story ourselves as actors the more we are like “Oh my gosh!”.
CB: Do you feel you are learning about yourselves as you go?
CB: It must be quite an experience to go through together.
Ch: It is and it’s so challenging for me as well because I am playing characters that I’m like, just, “Oh my days”, that’s not me as a person. But me trying to be a different person as a character, I’m just like “Oh my gosh”. So I’ve literally thrown myself into the deep end here.
CB: Yes, but what an amazing challenge and potential to absolutely smash the game, its fantastic. And how do you guys feel about performing at two well respected London theatres?
Ch: Not thinking about it! Not thinking about it! I was calm, I was feeling alright until you mentioned that, now I’ve got butterflies.
CB: I’m so sorry!
S: I remember when they said it’s the Arcola, we just went “Ah yeah! It’s the Arcola” Because we were like – there’s no way, it’s the Arcola, it’s world renowned – people see incredible work there. Even to this day it’s not real.
Ch: Yeah when I heard the Arcola, I said “What?”
CB: Then you’re getting a transfer …
Ch: To the Lyric in Hammersmith!
CB: Which is another prestigious London stage, which is amazing! You’re being taken seriously as artists.
Ch: It’s nice, the nerves are real, but the nerves are good.
CB: It will give you energy.
S: That’s why everywhere, every environment I go to I keep saying “Come to Clean Break, come to Clean Break.” That’s why I come to Clean Break, because I get this kind of opportunity with this amazing script.
CB: Thank you both very much for speaking with me.
We sat down with Alyson Cummins, celebrated theatrical designer, to pick her brains about her work on Clean Break/Theatr Clwyd's currently touring production Thick As Thieves. Book your tickets to see the show at Theatr Clwyd, Salisbury Playhouse or Hull Truck now!
What attracted you to working on Thick As Thieves?
Well there were loads of reasons really! I’ve wanted to work with Clean Break for ages, I’m such a big fan of what they do so I was completely delighted when Róisín spoke to me about Thick as Thieves. Also I love working with Róisín, we’ve worked together quite a bit over the past few years and she’s a brilliant director as well as being great fun to hang out with. And on top of all that Róisín I worked on another play together that Kath wrote called Before it Rains which I absolutely loved. Kath is an incredible writer so I jumped at the chance to work with her again too.
What is it like to work with Clean Break and how is it different from working with other theatre companies?
Clean Break is such an important company, and one I’ve admired for a long time knowing their history and their commitment to creating work of such a high standard. It’s not only that that's so impressive but it's also their education and training schemes that are so integral to the production process. Its also really wonderful to work with a brilliant all female team, not only on the production itself but within the wider Clean Break company. I am lucky enough to have worked with lots of brilliant women over the years but I think creating a company committed to promoting and developing women in an industry that was traditionally male dominated is so important. The main difference with other companies is having the opportunity to tour the show to prisons which is a really exciting challenge. From a practical point of view they are not necessarily theatre spaces or ready made performance areas so there are certain considerations that that brings. However its so brilliant knowing you're working on something that will tour to an audience that isn’t necessarily able to get to see theatre or live performance.
What are you hoping audiences take from your design and how will that augment their experience of the show?
Whenever I’m designing a show the main thing I hope I can do is support the story that the writer has written. Its really important that my work helps to tell the story and underlines what the writer has presented. Kath has written a story with amazing characters who have been on really interesting and divergent journeys. What I hope we’ll be able to do is create a space that represents their experience and relationship with the world around them and hopefully through that also show part of their interior worlds.
CB: What was it like to write for Clean Break; how is it different from being commissioned by other companies?
KC:I have loved working with the company for lots of reasons. It is a different experience from working with any other company because of the process. I spent a lot of time initially at Clean Break with the women who were attending classes there and then spent time at Holloway prison with a different group of women who were there.
I tried to go into my time at both places without any thoughts about what I wanted to write about and really just came out with a lot of ideas. There was always, in both groups, continuous reference to kids and family and although we didn’t talk directly about anyone’s stories - because we were there for workshops about theatre – the kids was a big thing and were always being mentioned in chat.
It made me think a lot about motherhood and separation and the immediate judgements we make about each other based on generalised, ingrained ways of thinking and just the way we judge each other about our mothering whoever, whatever we are, so I was interested to challenge that a bit.
The commission was for two companies, Clean Break and Theatr Clwyd so that was also a consideration when I was thinking about the play because the two companies have different identities so the play had to fit with both. I just felt that I wanted to write a really big, small play!
I would say that when I had the seeds of an idea I wrote a first draft very quickly and then have spent a long time redrafting. Normally my plays are between three and six drafts and this play is currently on draft ten. It’s a play with a cast of two so I felt the script had to be really tight, it’s like a game of tennis with dialogue and every word counts so it’s taken time to get it right.
I also seem to start a play with a first draft that has murders and overly dramatic things happening and then through the drafting process the true story emerges which in this case was a reconnection of two sisters that were estranged.
CB: What are you hoping audiences will go home thinking about after seeing Thick As Thieves?
KC: I hope they go away having been entertained for an hour or so. Then if they think a bit about mothers and how we regard each other, that would be good. Themes that runs through are also about our starting points in life, paths we take, helping each other, judgement, class and family. I hope it might provoke thoughts about any of those things but I’m happy if they just like it!
CB: What have you taken away from your experience of writing Thick As Thieves and will it impact any of your future work?
KC: I feel very satisfied with the play now and when I hear it I can see the influences of my time with Clean Break and the women. It was an experience that I really value and I won’t forget it and the women and I think it’s been a really interesting way of working. For me all my plays are different and I think the process of your current one is likely to impact the way you write the next one, in one way or another. The play I wrote after Thick as Thieves was a completely fictional, comedic monologue that I went into with a solid structure and was written in two drafts, it couldn’t have been more different! I enjoy the differences. The next project I’m working on is similar in the process to Thick as Thieves.
CB: Tell us what you’re working on next!
KC: I’m working with BBC and Children in Need to develop an idea for a one off drama influenced by a project that is supported by Children in Need. I’m very excited about it, I think it’s a brilliant thing and very similar to the process with Clean Break.
Women from South Wales who are incarcerated are currently taken to HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire. This is a massive 4 hours from Swansea by public transport. Women in north Wales are taken to HMP Styal in Cheshire which is around 3 hours from Mold on public transport.
This distance from home is a disaster for Welsh women. These distances are considerably higher than those faced by women in England. Only half of the women who had lived with, or were in contact with, their children prior to imprisonment had received a visit since going to prison (Women In Prison, 2018). “Imprisonment in Wales – A Factfile” from Cardiff University (2018) states that the average distance from home for a Welsh female was 101miles, compared to 53 miles for Welsh adult males (Jones, 2018).
The distance is drastic compared to men and English women, what impact does this have? Three-quarters of women prisoners are mothers, and two-thirds of them have children under eighteen (Maruna and Liebling, 2005). So a lot of women in prison have families that have to face this long distance. These long distances can be both inconvenient, and expensive to travel.
A Home Office study showed that for 85% of mothers, prison was the first time they had been separated from their children for any significant length of time (Women in Prison, 2018). It was reported that for mothers, separation from their children is the most painful aspect of incarceration (Maruna and Liebling, 2005). This separation of women from children is often the issue most likely to affect the mental health or well-being of female prisoners. Women in prison told Baroness Corston (2007) that separation from children was emotional “torture” (Jones, 2018). The experience of being separated from your children can be excruciating, and so this distance from home is evidently an extremely important issue for women in prisons.
Children separated from their parents can react with feelings of rejection, loss of identity, anger and guilt. Separation was found to make the child highly vulnerable to both emotional and cognitive difficulties (Johnston and Gabel, 1995). The lack of a women’s prison in Wales has a massive impact on the children of incarcerated women, both at the time of imprisonment and in the future.
Not only does separation cause pain and anguish for the families and women, but there is also evidence to suggest that separation from children and families has effects on reoffending rates. Family relationships for prisoners have a significant influence on relapse prevention (Waul, 2003). It has been found that programs that include family members in prisoners’ treatment during incarceration can produce positive results for prisoners, families, institutions and communities (Jeffries, Menghraj, and Hairston 2001; Wright and Wright 1992). These types of programs are impossible to maintain when the distances involved are prohibitively expensive and time consuming to traverse.
Emotional strain and poor mental health for women, loss of communication, difficulties for children as well as higher reoffending; how can separation due to long distances be answered for? A more successful justice system must be found for Welsh women and families.
Johnston, G. a., 1995. Children of Incarcerated Parents. s.l.:Lexington Books.
Jones, R., 2018. The University of Cardiff. [Online]
Available at: https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/1195577/Imprisonment-in-Wales-A-Factfile.pdf
[Accessed September 2018].
Maruna, L., 2005. The Effects of Imprisonment. s.l.:Routledge.
Prison, W. i., 2018. Women In Prison. [Online]
Available at: http://www.womeninprison.org.uk
[Accessed September 2018].
Waul, T. a., 2003. Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families and Communities. Washington: The Urban Institue Press.
Jeffries, Menghraj, and Hairston 2001; Wright and Wright 1992 found in Waul, T. a., 2003. Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families and Communities. Washington: The Urban Institue Press.
What has been different about working with us, how has the experience here differed to working with other theatre companies?
Clean Break is a company I have wanted to work with for years so I was so excited to have the opportunity to be a writer in residence here and forge a relationship with the women and the work. I suppose the most over riding difference at Clean Break is that the company reaches in many directions, and as a writer you find yourself working in lots of very different environments. There is the work inside prisons, work at Clean Break itself and work in theatres and outside spaces, and the work passes from one environment to another. For example, one of the most interesting projects I have been part of began with a group of women taking part in a writing group in HMP Send, and their words and ideas turned into Hear, a performance piece that was rehearsed by actors at Clean Break and then shown at The House of Lords and the National Theatre. The journey that the work embarks upon enhances and deepens it, making it feel properly connected to the ethos of Clean Break as a company.
What has been your personal highlight from your time spent working with us?
I have loved every part of the work I have done at Clean Break and learnt a lot. I suppose my personal highlight is perhaps the playwriting courses I have been part of; I have met the most incredible female writers and felt inspired by every single person that has taken part in these courses. In teaching playwriting I have learnt so much about what writing is, and what an invaluable safety valve it can provide. I have been struck by what a generous and supportive environment those writer’s groups have created – sharing your writing is a very vulnerable thing to do, and the community that these groups have provided women who write, has been moving and inspiring to me in a big way.
How have you found working in all female environment?
The non competitive, supportive, and genuinely non-judgemental atmosphere at Clean Break has felt liberating. I love it. I love being in the building and although I’m not putting all of this down to the absence of men, (I went to an all girl’s school that was nothing like this at all!) I think the all female environment contributes to a more direct, straightforward authenticity about the communication in the organisation. It is also refreshing to work in an environment that feels diverse in other ways – culturally, ethnically, across class divides – and to feel that pressing forward, positively and creatively is the unified aim.
What advice would you pass on to our members about making it in the Industry?
Keep your integrity, write or create work from a place you are properly connected to. Don’t think of ‘the industry’ as a thing over there that you will be lucky to break into, think of your contribution as something that the industry would be lucky to have. The industry is just a collection of people doing their thing, there’s room for more good ideas and hard working individuals to join in. See as much theatre as you can, read plays, make relationships and connections with companies that are making work you respect. If you write, get a group of like-minded people together to read each other’s work out loud. You don’t need permission to write, push yourself towards things that inspire you, eavesdrop, keep your eyes open to the small details, try and stay open.
As a company we would like to extend our thanks to Deborah for the amazing work she has produced and the dedication that she has shown towards our members and that is why we are delighted to announce that our relationship does not end here! In fact Deborah will be working on a full length commission for us, so watch this space.
When asked about Deborah’s contribution to Clean break Lucy Perman commented:
“Deborah has been a superb resident playwright. She’s immersed herself in every aspect of the company’s work – in prisons and in our playwriting workshops at our studios. She has been an encouraging and nurturing teacher and mentor for our Member writers as well writing several short plays for us already. We’re really looking forward to her full-length commission for Clean Break.”
When we launched our Fringe Support Competition, we were overwhelmed by the incredible calibre of the entries! You can read all about our winners, Power Play, here but we just HAD to tell you about a few of the others who made the shortlist...
DANGEROUS GIANT ANIMALS
Written and performed by Christina Murdock, directed byJessica Lazar and Adriana Moore
A kick. A scream. A tantrum. When it comes to disability, what’s allowed? What’s forbidden? This is a middle-child story of the extraordinary range of experience that comes from growing up too soon alongside a sister who will never grow up. A provocative new solo show, DANGEROUS GIANT ANIMALS, is a darkly comedic game of hide-and-seek with our true nature.
Christina really impressed us with her ambitious solo project based on her experience of growing up alongside her disabled sister. She's tackling big, difficult and under-represented issues with a light-touch, and we think she's terrific.
written by Madeline Gould, directed by Madelaine Moore
A chambermaid, a hotel room and a dead woman.
Ladykiller is a blood-soaked morality tale about social responsibility, zero-hours contracts and tearing up the gender rule book on psychopathy; a jet-black comedy for the age of the gig economy.
Ladykiller presents us with a genuinely complex and compelling female character, tapping into the feminist zeitgeist in a most unexpected way.
This one is quite a departure for us - it's not a show that we could have produced ourselves! However, The Thelmas pitched themselves to us as a "female-led, intersectional company creating work that disrupts trad female stereotypes without problematising being female. We push boundaries with our characters... [and] explore the gender gap between how female perpetrators and victims are viewed and treated" and we simply had to include them on our shortlist! Follow them @TheThelmas
Kitchen Sink Theatre Ltd
written and directed by Kat Woods
Inspired by real events, KILLYMUCK is a housing estate built on a paupers graveyard in 1970's Ireland. Niamh navigates life through the parameters of growing up, with the trials and tribulations of being a kid from the benefit class system. Lack of opportunity, educational barriers, impoverishment, addiction and depression are the norms as the struggle to escape the underclass stereotype becomes a priority. From school trips organised as cross-community excursions to unite a fractured post troubles town, to finding the humour within an estate crippled with misfortune.
We really admire Kat's tenacity and ambition - she's been taking shows to the Fringe for years, self-funded, and is 'waitressing a million hours' to pursue her creative ambitions. She says on her GoFundMe page that it's really important for writers from her background to have work produced to address the class imbalance so prevalent in the theatre, and we couldn't agree more. Quite aside from that, she's a talented writer with stuff to say! Go Kat, go! She reached her GoFundMe target, but here's her video so you can find out more about her. Follow her @katwoods79
Sounds Like Thunder Theatre
When did you last speak to your Mum? Last week? Last year? We’ve been asking everyone from grandparents to schoolkids. The stories they’ve told us unfold the parent/child relationship in all its beauty and bathos, silliness and sadness. From ironing a nine-year-old’s crumpled geography project to coming out to your mum. Childhood homes for sale. Getting older and parenting your parents. Voicemails and dial tones and things left unsaid until now. Through verbatim stories, we’ll take you to those tender, irrepressible places inside us all where we’ve never really grown up.
Sound Like Thunder were founded last year with a mission to "privileges the voices of the many, not the few, and to snap at the heels of the established theatrical discourse" so of course, we were on board pretty much immediately! They also mentioned that with this piece they hoped to provoke "generations of women to talk to each other". We think their verbatim based production sounds marvellous and were delighted to shortlist them. They still need a good chunk of their funding, so please donate to them here and follow them @slt_theatre.
NEVER VERA BLUE
Futures Theatre Company
written by Alexandra Wood
She’s five foot ten. She’s almost certain. But if she was the size she thinks she is she couldn’t be here and if she doesn’t even know her own dimensions, what hope is there at all?
Written in response to conversations with survivors of domestic abuse, Never Vera Blue is a disorientating story of one woman’s journey to recover who she is. From the city to the Kent coast, from a war-torn land to the pit of the stomach, Alexandra Wood’s new play explores just what it means to be made to doubt yourself and how to regain a sense of identity.
This play provoked a deep response in us at Clean Break HQ, and in addition to discussing the difficult subject of domestic abuse the company will be campaigning to raise awareness alongside the show. Even without our competition, we would have wanted to get behind NEVER VERA BLUE. They've already reached their funding target, but you can find out more about the show below, and follow them @Futures_Theatre
Good luck to them all at The Fringe - we'll be keeping an eye on their progress and we think you should too!
When we launched our Fringe Support Competition over Twitter, we were hoping to find theatre companies that align with Clean Break's values - we never dreamed we discover anyone as wonderful as the team behind Power Play!
Power Play is an activist theatre campaign that analyses and exposes gender inequality in grassroots and fringe theatre, using data-activism, immersive theatre and bold stunts. As well as taking four brand new plays written by women and featuring all-female casts to this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they are launching the first ever statistical study of the Fringe’s gender breakdown.
We were beyond impressed by this young company, and are delighted to be offering them free rehearsal space, marketing advice and a social media bump during their Fringe run - congratulations Power Play! Find out more about this ambitious and impressive company here.
written by and starring Emma Dennis-Edwards
4-25 August, 14:30
Originally commissioned as a short play for the Royal Court’s Tottenham Festival and now expanded to an hour-long piece, Funeral Flower makes its Fringe debut!
Angelique loves flowers, her mum and her boyfriend... in that order, but at the moment it seems like floristry classes are the only thing working out for her. Part-play, part-interactive floristry masterclass, FUNERAL FLOWERS takes you right inside Angelique’s world as she copes with the chaos of her Mum’s incarceration.
written by Jess Moore, directed by Polly Creed
3-25 August, 16:00
£12 ( £10)
Offie-nominated writer, Jess Moore, follows her ‘stylish debut play on mental health issues’ (The Stage), Gin for Breakfast, with a site-specific play addressing the topic of domestic violence.
On average, victims of domestic violence experience 35 assaults before calling the police. Why does it take abuse survivors so long to leave? NEXT TIME examines this question through its excruciating, yet compelling exploration of one woman’s story. Set within the claustrophobic confines of a real house, the play follows a woman in her twenties, as she plans to leave her abusive relationship. Minute-by-minute, it explores the practical and emotional barriers that victims face.
written by Matilda Curtis, directed by Bethany Pitts
3-25 August, 13:00
What makes a woman? This is the question at the heart of Matilda Curtis’ new play, SOMEBODY. The site-specific play follows Girl, a twenty-seven-year-old finally on the cusp of womanhood. Facing motherhood and marriage, we are taken back in time through the events that shaped her identities and values, moving from Girl’s childhood to her present. Consumed with questions of identity and womanhood, this is certainly a play for 2018.
THE EMPTY CHAIR
written by Polly Creed, directed by Seren John-Wood
3 - 25 August, 17:30
Straight from its award-winning London performances at the Duchess Theatre and Pleasance Theatre (winner of Best New Writing and Best Performance at the London Student Drama Festival), THE EMPTY CHAIR - a play about celebrity culture, the #MeToo Movement, and the arts industry - hits Edinburgh! This site-specific, immersive play takes you behind the walled communities of Beverly Hills into the cloistered setting of a Hollywood after-party in the early hours of the morning, examining the human experiences behind the #MeToo movement.
Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster is a celebrated choreographer, and one of 100 artists working on the Processions project. She’s teaming up with Clean Break, the London College of Fashion and theatrical designer Miriam Nabarro to create a banner and performance as part of a celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage in June.
We interviewed her about her work on the project.
Why did you want to take part in Processions?
I wanted to take part in Processions as it gave me an opportunity to be a part of a large, cross-country scale project that has creativity and togetherness at its heart. A chance to express myself creatively and work with a new group of individuals to who are able to come together, to celebrate the centenary of the female vote, and suffragette movement, as well as having a conversation about justice, equality and gender roles as we face them today. Discovering how all this can be expressed artistically is what really interested me about this project.
What is it like to work with Clean Break specifically?
This is the first time I have worked with Clean Break and after my first session, I have been inspired by the group's boldness, artistic vision and enthusiasm that there has been for my movement sessions. I look forward to the next few sessions and creating something vibrant and exciting to see on the day.
What do you hope to elicit as a response to your work?
I would like to present something captivating, touching and thought-provoking. I hope that the movement that we make, along with the beautiful banners and flags, costumes and make-up we present, will all be so visually striking and get our message across clearly and effectively, that the presentation will stay with the audience throughout the day, and longer still, and really get them talking.
Are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
YES! I have just started working on the movement for "The Court Must Have a Queen" by Ade Solanke, which is a new play set in the Tudor period that is to be performed throughout the summer at Hampton Court Palace. The show previews from 25th June and runs through to 2nd September 2018, and is worth a watch!
Miriam Nabarro is a celebrated photographer and theatrical designer, and one of 100 artists working on the Processions project. She’s teaming up with Clean Break, the London College of Fashion and choreographer Annie-Lunnette Deakin- Foster to create a banner and performance as part of a celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage in June.
We interviewed her about her work on the project.
Why did you want to take part in Processions?
Processions 2018 is such an exciting opportunity to create a unique piece of art together with the members of Clean Break and to be part of the much larger mass participation event that will take place on June 10 in London, Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh. As a community artist I am passionate about collaborative art making as well as about suffrage and having the right to vote.
Processions is both the chance to celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the Peoples Act, and to protest at the ongoing exclusions which mean that the most vulnerable in society remain silenced- prisoners, those with mental health issues, refugees and new arrivals, 16-18 year olds, the homeless and survivors of domestic violence.
Together we will be referencing the craftivist movement to make a beautiful banner while drawing on the unique lived experience of the members to give voice to those still without the vote. I’m greatly looking forward to working with the London College of Fashion and with Annie who will choreograph.
What is it like to work with Clean Break specifically?
Vibrant, inspiring, direct, honest, humbling. The Clean Break members are profoundly articulate and creative in expressing urgent political realities of our time and I’m honoured to be working with them. There will be stiff competition as the other 99 artists and organisations in Processions are amazing but I’m excited to see what we manage to create!
What do you hope to elicit as a response to your work?
Awareness of the lack of suffrage for prisoners, those affected by mental illness and survivors of domestic violence: the strength, creativity and courage of Clean Break as members and an organisation, and hopefully some wit and humour too!
Are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
I’m an associate artist with 20 Stories High in Liverpool, and we are touring our showBLACK around ´cultural cold spots’ in the North West, as well as touring our BBC Live film I Told My Mum I was going on an RE TRIP to film festivals in the UK and beyond. I am working with Art Refuge UK in Calais on a new project, and will exhibit a solo show of cyanotypes Exposed by the sun, washed out by the sea in Paris in Autumn.
We can’t wait to see the finished piece! - watch this space for an upcoming interview with Annie-Lunette Deakin-Foster.
April 2018 marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Clean Break is utilising its voice to become an agent of change.
The theme of this year’s activity is “Embrace Your Voice”, a subject that places importance on words having power in bringing about constructive change in ending sexual assault. We want to use our voice to shine a light on women involved in the criminal justice system and their experiences with sexual assault, remembering that many of these women have experienced a traumatic and abusive past.
How are women in Prison affected by sexual assault?
“How can everybody expect me to be humane when I am treated inhumanely?”
It is evident that the worsening conditions of female prisons and the continued cutbacks have contributed to the decline in the emotional stability of women in prison. It is most important to say that many of these women involved in the criminal justice system were victims of domestic violence and 53% stated they had experienced childhood abuse. These factors are not considered in a system designed for men. Standard procedures such as supervised bathroom trips can often trigger re-traumatisation.
How does Clean Break explore these issues on stage?
The issue of sexual abuse is so common amongst women who have been involved with the criminal justice system, that it has been inevitably featured in many Clean Break plays over the years. Dream Pill by Rebecca Prichard is one such play. Commissioned as part of Clean Breaks Charged season, the piece explored the lives of two Nigerian girls, trafficked to the UK and forced into prostitution. The girls face horrendous abuse, finding escape through their interactions with the audience and their dream pills.
“TUNDE enters. Her dress is ripped and her face is smudged and bruised”.
The play provides an insight into the sorts of violence that many women involved in the criminal justice system have faced, this violence is both physical and emotional. In many cases it leads to their involvement in criminal activity, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. The entrance of substances as a coping mechanism is a key theme explored through Dream Pill, “Did he bring your pill?”.
Many of these women's actions are a direct result of the violence they have faced in their lives. We must take the necessary action, share our own stories and use our voices for others who are not heard, to ensure that these women become survivors and not forever labelled victims.
If you need help or advice about any of the issues addressed in the blog, please contact Rape Crisis to find information and resources.
hashtags : #EmbraceYourVoice, #SAAM
Selin Sun is currently undertaking a volunteer placement with us as part of her Arts Marketing Module at London Metropolitan University. We asked her to share her experience of volunteering in an arts organisation as part of Student Volunteering Week.
Volunteering as a student really allows you to understand what the world of work is like from how to communicate with your colleagues, to giving you an insight into what you want to do when you leave education. I am at a stage in my degree where I am fortunate to be given many opportunities that are helping me to discover where I want to focus my career.
During my second semester we were offered a choice between two modules, Marketing in the Arts and Directing. I chose marketing as it was something that appealed to me because I wanted to learn how to use social media to present a company to a large scale audience. When choosing marketing we were given the opportunity to apply to volunteer at Clean Break. I decided to go for it, because after reading about what Clean Break do as a company I felt it really fed into my ideas that everyone in society should be treated equally regardless of your gender, sexuality or past circumstances. The experience they provide to the members here becomes a life changing one and the outcomes Clean Break achieves are really empowering. I have felt that this is especially important now, during a year which has seen national movements such as #MeToo and the 100 year anniversary of suffrage, we are seeing women come closer together and standing as one, raising their voices to achieve equality in all shapes and forms.
Volunteering with the Clean Break marketing team has really opened my eyes to the efforts and strategies that are involved when working with technology. I am thankful that I have had the chance to work here as a volunteer because it has taught me skills I never thought I would learn such as scheduling social media posts and finding relevant content that not only supports the messages I want to put out but inspires the thoughts and opinions of others. During my time here I’ve learned things that I can take away with me to assist me for the rest of my module and in my career if I want to continue into marketing in the arts.
From an outside perspective I assumed social media was easy to manage but seeing how hard these women work and the amount of effort they put into every detail of this company has really opened my eyes. Because of everything I have done and everyone I have spoken to during my placement it has positively impacted me in a sense that I am more understanding of how theatre companies run and how dedicated everyone is to making the wheels of this machine turn.
“Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and skills for your future career, so we always welcome students who want to gain experience within an arts organisation. As well as the brilliant career benefits volunteering also has many other advantages like; making new friends, feeling valued and being part of a community.” - Samantha McNeil Clean Break Volunteer Coordinator
For more information on volunteering opportunities at Clean Break check our About Us page or email Samantha.email@example.com.