Monday, 14 April 2014

Debris - Southwark Playhouse

ENCOURAGING young people who have never stepped foot in a theatre to do so is no mean feat but one director may have the answer thanks to an outreach programme linked to her latest venture.
Abigail Graham is directing Debris, written by Dennis Kelly, and which is being revived in London for the first time since it was premièred 10 years ago.
The play, about orphaned teenagers Michael and Michelle, is being staged at the Southwark Playhouse for four weeks from April 23.
"I don't want to give too much away as I don't want to ruin the plot but it's about two young people who are orphaned and who are trying to make sense of their dysfunctional lives," she explains.
"They are trying to survive and desperate to find a kind of hope in a slightly hopeless world. They want to piece together their story and find out where they came from.
"It's a fantastic and very challenging piece and about giving young people a voice," she adds. "There is a lot of humour but it's also about love, loss, pain, imagination and a sense of belonging.
"It certainly packs a punch."
As part of the production, the companies involved in putting the show on are running an extensive education and outreach programme with youngsters from charity Kids Company and students from LeSoCo.
"Southwark Playhouse is exactly the right place for this to be staged," says Abigail. "It is a theatre which takes risks and encourages the staging of bold and challenging plays and its audience likes to be challenged.
"We also wanted to stage the play somewhere where it would be possible to engage with the local community.
"Again, it was the perfect fit because of the connection the theatre has with the community around it.
"It's right in the heart of Southwark, in the middle of the Elephant and Castle where there are lots of young people and community groups."
The education and outreach programme has included giving 150 tickets for the show to local schools and giving work placements to some of those involved with Kids Company and LeSoCo.
It has allowed them to become part of the creative team and have access to the designers, lighting crew and production teams.
"They have all been mentored by members of the creative team," says Abigail. "They get to go to production meetings, have input, sit in on rehearsals and find out how staging a play in a theatre works.
"They've been absolutely amazing - asking loads of questions and not holding back when they think something doesn't work. They are also totally unpretentious in their ideas, enthusiasm and approach which is very exciting.
"It's been hugely beneficial for them as it gives them an insight into how it is all put together but it works both ways and we have really enjoyed working with them," she says.
As well as the work placements, Abigail and her team are employing some young people as marketing consultants to set up pop up box offices in various rather unlikely places around the borough.
"It's about bringing a new audience to the theatre," she explains. "There was a report out last year that said 28 per cent of people go to the theatre because of word of mouth. But if that 28 per cent doesn't include your peers or community that's 28 per cent a theatre company can't communicate with."
So to reach out to those who have never been to a theatre before, the box offices will be in places where young people hang out.
"They will be chicken shops, at bus stops, colleges and clubs," says Abigail. "The tickets will be £3 so hopefully they will see it as an attractive idea and if they come along we hope they are inspired to come again."
What she won't say though is where the pop up box offices will be. "We want people to find them!" she says.
The project won't stop at the end of the run either, as Abigail says they will be working with the youngsters and students for a year afterwards.
And she hopes the success of this project will lead to more collaborative ventures.
"It's been a fantastic experience for all of us and I really want to do more work like this in the future.
"If we get young people, or anyone who has never been inside their local theatre before to come in, have a good time and get something incredible out of it that will inspire them to come back and try something else, then that can only be a good thing."

Debris is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway between April 23 and May 17. Tickets £16, £14 concessions. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234  

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