Blog: Please Release Me, Citz National Residency sharing in Kent

Posted on: 06 November 2017

Written by: Vicky Ream

Lucy Freeman, an actor based in Folkestone, Kent talks about her experiences of the two week Citz National Residency in Kent. The culmination of the project was shown at The Quarterhouse on Friday 27 October.

I first heard of Cardboard Citizens, when they came to Folkestone, with their play Cathy. I had been invited to the show, as a theatre practitioner and to be honest, I had no idea what I was in for! Forum Theatre was alien to me - stopping a play? Discussing what the protagonist could do differently to change their outcome? An AUDIENCE MEMBER to be invited on stage, and “step into the shoes” of (typically) the main role…? What? I left the theatre that night overwhelmed. I didn’t know theatre could do that. I didn’t know that theatre could be used in such an educational way like that. A platform where suddenly some 120 people in a room, from a variety of backgrounds and career paths, put their heads together to problem solve, collectively.

The project was working with residents from the Porchlight Charity, I was surprised and disappointed in myself that I had made a judgement on who these people would be - due to stigma, due to stereotypes, due to society. I realised I had a lot to learn myself. The people I had the good fortune to meet and had the amazing privilege of getting to know amazed me with their openness, their support and encouragement of one another, their grace and commitment to the project.

The first week was spent growing as a group. Games were played to help strengthen trust, to encourage freedom of play, and to cement the fact that this was a safe environment, in which to share experience and learn new skills.  

We decided to focus on stigma and mental health which were the two topics the group felt they had most experience of. In the sharing and the non-judgemental listening of these stories, once again I was amazed and humbled that these individuals felt able to share their experiences.

In week two the play was formed and the group had to become more disciplined and aware of what was expected. Although there were a few wobbly moments, prior commitments for some that took them away, the worry of “how on earth will we create a play?” they did it!

During this process a remarkable thing happened. One of the participants explained that he suffered terribly from anxiety, and struggled in group settings. It was suggested that he observed, and where he felt he could join in discussions, he would and did. As the first week evolved, he relaxed enough to be able to be able to participate more and more. By the second week, through the act of passionately telling stories and sharing experiences, he was on his feet acting in scenes, and suddenly on the Tuesday, he was voted in as the lead role, and he blossomed. The group really nurtured and encouraged him and through that support he received, he felt he could. It was a truly beautiful evolution of this man.

On the day of the showing, I was concerned that being in a new space (different to the rehearsal room) which was the theatre in Folkestone, it may unnerve them but it didn’t, they grew further. There was only one lady who felt that she couldn’t perform due to her anxiety, but she still came and participated as much as she felt able and stood with her team. The showing itself, simply floored me. I kept thinking back over the process and how far this group of people had come.

I found myself thinking two very distinct thoughts, firstly how proud I was to watch their performance but secondly, during the Forum, just how few choices there are for an individual in society, when things go wrong, that the system isn’t there for you -or it is but it’s a huge minefield and you have to know the right questions and be in the right place at the right time, how hard the benefit system is, social housing…and it goes on. However, the POWER of Forum Theatre highlights these areas of concern in society by the people who have had direct experience of these issues.

To find out more about becoming involved with our Citz National Residencies programme email michael@cardboardcitizens.org.uk

 

With thanks to

Arts Council England Lottery funded