OH MAN

Contact Young Company with Hetain Patel

Directed by Hetain Patel

A leisurely walk through Salford gazing at a skyline of half-built new skyscrapers and giant cranes. The audience is heading to a secret location for the latest production by ContactYoung Company . It feels like I’m entering a very male environment where a performer might suddenly walk off a building sight to wolf whistle, or stroll into the bushes to pee or do something else suitably blokish. Instead we enter a yard full of tyres and cars….there is sweat, grease and testosterone in the air….or is there?

Notes pinned to the fencing are verbatim quotes from men interviewed for this project. They reveal men who don’t always think how stereotypical images suggest. Men who are wary and also feel vulnerable post #MeToo. Men who are uncertain or feel restricted as to how to express their emotions in our society.

Cars are parked up with radios on and doors open. Like art installations they give additional snapshots of masculinity – young studs cruising on a Saturday night fuelled on fast food and hopes of fast women, father’s with cars full of toys and sippy cups, lease cars for business, sober and impressive.

In a garage space, CYC are clad in blue boilersuits squaring up eye to eye with the audience. This is very up close and personal. Full on and unapologetic they posture; knuckle grazing, hair smoothing and checking themselves out. This is a Haka that demonstrates strength and prowess, and also functions as a welcome. Oil drums are used to ear splitting effect. Photos are being taken. Poses shift from happy, carefree snaps for social media to tableau images that menace and disconcert. As with She Bangs The Drums earlier this year CYC deliver something that is punchy, provocative and challenging.

This work has been developed from extensive interviews with men in the community from groups such as M13 Boys and Salford Young Fathers Project. Director Hetain Patel and Producer Keisha Thompson are clearly passionate about this project and this production is bursting with ideas and energy from the whole company. It is as messy, vibrant and challenging as my teenage son’s bedroom.

There are meaty chunks of group scenes in the sweaty gym where men feast on another’s potential sexual conquest sucking on the bones as though it were theirs. Yet the bloke’s awkwardness shines through despite his posturing and bravado. It is akin to watching a Ricky Gervais character in the gym instead of the office. Like layers of an onion this scene can repulse, unnerve and evoke pity.

Using males and females from CYC cleverly allows for the predictable sexual stereotypes of men as predators and women as deserving whores or vulnerable victims to be frequently subverted and challenged. Women can be the aggressors and predators too. A playful gameshow highlights the confusion and risk of generalized assumptions as does an amusing scene on public transport.

There are frequent shifts of mood and energy in the performance as emphasis shifts to look at rape and assault statistics or male suicide risk factors. Tender moments when monologues describe poignant moments such as when a traumatised 13 year old learned we place the blame on the victim not the culprit. A young man describes his ambitions as a dancer and his Libyan/Italian heritage and flips perceptions as he speaks of his father’s pride and encouragement. The M.O.T scene gleefully skits through our expectations of men and chillingly fails many of them placing them on a scrapheap they may struggle to escape from.

OH MAN opens up dialogue around our perceptions and expectations of men and questions just what it means to be masculine. There are no neat answers in this piece but there is palpable excitement as CYC challenge themselves and their audience.

Thurs 30th Aug – Sun 2nd Sept. 2pm& 7pm

SWITCH + TIPPING POINT

The cast of Switch in rehearsal

Tipping Point. Photo by Mark Dawson

Upper Campfield Market

Switch directed by Charlotte Mooney, Ockham’s Razor with Grania Pickard

Tipping Point directed by Charlotte Mooney and Tina Koch

For the latest performance in Contact’s In The City programme, the setting is the stunning Old Campfield Market. Switch is a brand new circus inspired work developed by young people from North Manchester with support from Ockham’s Razor who also perform their award-winning show Tipping Point.

It is a major creative challenge to work with non-circus trained young people to develop work that has its basis in the challenging and innovative style of Ockham’s Razor. Artistic Director Charlotte Mooney ensures there is a neat developmental flow between the two pieces.

Switch has nine individuals in constant poetic flux as they work with poles. Seemingly herding people like refugees, they connect and disconnect, teasing, tantalising and threatening. The identifiable conflicts reflecting intensely human experiences are always evoked with a playful quality and the light touch so characteristic of Ockham’s Razor. With a soundtrack by Bellatrix this new work has charm and style in abundance.

Tipping Point combines mayhem and mastery to create something breathtaking that evokes palpable terror and jaw-dropping awe. Huge poles swing and swirl at speed around this magical chalked circle as the aerial performers play Russian Roulette with their lives dodging and shape shifting on the ground and in the air. Playful and mercurial these highly skilled performers are incredible to observe. Like an ever moving sculpture of sleek poles and sinuous bodies this is a stunning spectacle of just how good modern, cutting edge circus theatre can be.

At Upper Campfield Market 15-19 August

She Bangs The Drums

Museum of Science and Industry

Contact Young Company

Directed by Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit (Sh!t Theatre)

Contact Young Company working with the brilliant women of Sh!t Theatre and the Peoples History Museum was always going to be an intriguing project. She Bangs The Drums explores and celebrates the history of the Suffragettes and Manchester’s rich heritage of radical politics. 100 years since The Representation of the Peoples Act gave women partial voting rights this explosion of passion and energy would have been applauded by the Pankhursts.

Staged in part of the Museum of Science and Industry, the setting feels almost church-like with industrial beams and brick archways which are used to great effect with clever projections and bicycles adorned with twinkling lights flitting past the audience.

A band called Powerful Women are tucked in an archway and are central to much of the performance providing great music and vocals. There is drama, poetry, spoken word, dance, comedy and so much more. This is a show packed with all the elements that showcase the wide range of skills at CYC and could have resulted in a muddled mess. With a sound creative team including Cheryl Martin and Keisha Thompson and inspired direction the result is cohesive and beautifully balanced.

Packed full of historical facts such as the brutal force-feeding of prisoners and current references to #MeToo and #BringBackOurGirls, this is a trip from the lethal hatpin in a Suffragettes hat to the rape alarm in my daughter’s schoolbag. Cheeky, charming and incredibly poignant, this is a celebration of women everywhere, past and present.

March 8th – March 11th 2018

MAN ON THE MOON 


CONTACT 

Written & Performed by Keisha Thompson

Directed by Benji Reid

Man on the Moon explores the mysteries of how we connect to others in the World. Is it gravitational force or a random fluke that makes we feel at ease with a total stranger in a supermarket on the 192 bus or fear them as a potential threat to our well being? How can some of us snuggle up securely on the sofa with a parent while others feel adrift and disconnected from their father with no clear map to bring possible reunion? In this one woman show Keisha Thompson uses storytelling, poetry, looped sounds and song to explore father/daughter relationships and the impact of potential barriers such as family ruptures, culture, religion and mental health.

This is impressive work with lots of subtle layers and a real depth of intelligence, determination and vulnerability. The spoken word is beautiful and evocative and is well supported by a soundscape that is never overwhelms the piece. Likewise the lighting by Andrew Crofts and Benji Reid complements the emotional and physical journey the story takes from preparing to board the 85 bus in Whalley Range to eventually reaching Rusholme via the 192 in Winter.

The staging is dominated by piles of books, numerology charts and a shabby cream vinyl sofa. Nothing is wasted – the charts open up conversation with the audience about numerology, which introduces the complexities of a father whose identity shifts with every new name. The many books serve as a communication device for her father to connect with his child, but also tell the story of a father who wants his daughter to “go much further than I did.” The range, complexity and occasional inappropriate elements of their content also create a growing sense of a fractured mind and it’s impact – good and bad- on the recipient. When these book are ordered and reordered on stage or thrown up in the air to fall where gravity chooses there is a growing sense of how they also represent our thought processes. They are an attempt to make sense of ourselves and how we fit in this world, to explore in their pages or in our own thoughts – what is reality  or fantasy – sane or insane. 

The bus journey is inspired as it allows for exploration of cultural perceptions in a diverse community. The journey also evokes a sense of Aboriginal Songlines as it looks at both indigenous memory code and the real fear of inherited mental health problems. 

The placing of the visit near Christmas also connects us all with familial obligations and the trepidation/anticipation of duty visits to sometimes difficult relatives. The theme of the gifting of books as a connector also reminds us of we interpret the meaning behind any gift. Out of the books scattered around or piled up, perhaps the most hopeful and poignant was Thomas  A Harris  I’m Ok – You’re Ok.

There is a genuinely positive sense of this piece using creativity as a means to mental health well being and as a form of social action in a society where the current limitations of social workers, hospitals and police create huge gaps in the support of vulnerable people.

The final scenes are visually arresting as we literally see an unhinged mind open up in front of us. However this is no nightmare but a delightful child’s dreamscape evoking playfulness, magical thinking and possible redemption. This is a truly stellar show about how some emotional relationships can seem as unreachable as the Moon.

21 – 25 Nov CONTACT

Tour details

The new space at CONTACT Interview with Matt Fenton. 

I recently met with Matt Fenton Artistic Director and Chief Executive of CONTACT. He was brimming with enthusiasm over news that the global charitable foundation Wellcome was funding £600k towards a special new venue  within the £6.5 million redevelopment of the building. This additional funding is intended to create a space for health and wellbeing projects and will also fund an new production post for the next three years.

For the last 10 years CONTACT has been producing work around health challenges and inequality, particularly young peoples issues where their voice is quiet but the issue really affects them. Shows like Crystal Kisses about child sexual exploitation really gave a voice to the experience of one of the young people. Rites was co-produced with National Theatre of Scotland. About F.G.M (Female Genital Mutilation) it tried to look at the issue without demonising or alienating communities where it is practised but still viewing it as a young peoples Human Rights issue putting their voices at the foreground of the conversation about F.G.M. Our Young Company have made numerous works supported by Wellcome -e.g. one about sexuality with Stacy Makishi Under The Covers, another about the experience of young people around cancer  care- There is a Light.



Ah that was with Brian Lobel. I did some stuff with him for The Sick of The Fringe.

Yes. We also made a piece about honour abuse called Not In My Honour by Aisha Zia which was developed with Levenshulme High School. There are numerous shows about Arts and Mental Health – currently one with Demi Landro charting mental health isssues affecting 3 generations of women in her family. Wellcome have supported quite a few of those and we were in conversation with Wellcome saying how we see them as a really strong partner- they have connected us to researchers who have often been in the room when we are developing shows. They’ve brought ethicists to the process, medical specialists and other health professionals so they’ve been this connector for us not just a Funder. In talking to them about our ambitions with our projects and about the new building, it was Wellcome who suggested we scale up our plans and come back to them with a really ambitious proposal- a new arts and health space.

So where will that be in the building?

Its going to use the space we are sat in now. This whole café space will be workshop space making the best use of our location. We are right next to the N.H.S hospitals, the Universities and the local communities so we are perfectly placed to bring all those people together to talk about health inequalities, health challenges……workshops, with Artists, R&D, scratch events etc. All these different ideas populating the space with a new specific Arts and Health Producer on the team.

The old 1969 building is coming down with the new building having a larger floor plan. The pillar in the café will go, as will all the offices over there and the space will be dividable off from the main space with the new café and bar in the centre.

So CONTACT will have a bar space that is no longer hidden!

We get that so often!! Lunchtime today the café was packed but from the front door the place looked empty with nothing happening! There is that thing of threshold anxiety especially in Arts organisations and CONTACT does so much to counter that. It has young people up front at the doors to make sure you get a welcoming smile. The use  of glazing in the new space will ensure you can see “there’s people in there, we can go in”.

Where do you find the young people to bring in and engage with?

CONTACT has a huge throughput of young people and it happens in lots of different ways. We run weekly free workshops – some delivered core and in-house :- in technical theatre and in drama drop-in, in musical production, media production. Social workers, pupil referral units, teachers, charities, young carers, homelessness charities and a whole host of organisations in the city signpost young people to our activities. A lot of young people come with support workers if they need extra help to come. We also work in partnership with organisations like Young Identity who are based here and we host their activities. Their young writers and poets do workshops in schools and in Assemblies which also signpost back here.

We also run creative leadership projects like Future Fires which is for Community Arts practitioners who want to skill up and deliver an Arts project in their local community. The Agency is a social entrepreneur project which we run in North  Manchester. A lot of these projects are roughly 50% recruited from within the free week in/week out activities and the other 50% audition or apply – the same with Contact Young Company. This means the groups are highly diverse and often include a large number of young people who are not in educational training but have come through other referrals or recommendations. The groups are absolutely diverse in terms of social economics but they all thrive and excel equally within the building. If you look at Reece Williams and Afreena Islam who are now on our Board they have been with CONTACT for years as young people – Reece since he was 13. Keisha Thompson who runs CYC, first performed with us when she was about 14. These are long progression experiences which become taking on leadership roles.

It sounds almost like a big extended family.

Yeah I guess for some people it feels like that, but its also constantly refreshed with new people auditioning. I think we do the really difficult bit which is getting young people involved and engaged early on, when their teenage peers are not doing music, acting, poetry or spoken word. Its not a new thing though- we have always done it. Look at  Lemn Sissay and Louise Wallwein and Yusra Warsama. This model works brilliantly because it does exactly what it says on the tin. We put faith in young people as decision-makers. My role is to facilitate that, not to tell them what to do.

They are developing a wide range of skill sets. Its not just an opportunity to go somewhere, to do something, to be heard….. It is also real opportunities that can lead to other things.

I think that’s it. Totally. If you look at the Future Fires or The Agency cohorts have gone on to do over the years. Loads stay in the Arts, but lots don’t, but they still take that agency, those skills they’ve developed, that confidence, those networks for young people……they take all of that and engage politically as social workers, teachers, politicians, you name it. CONTACT classically does not make it all about making more theatre. If something is going to become a radio project about homelessness or a baking project for families who access food banks or a basketball project then that’s what gets creatively developed. We never go “Lets make a play about that.”

Is a lot of the work delivered outside the building?

The Agency is primarily in Moston and Harpurhey. With Future Fires the training and development happens here but the actual projects happen where those young people live. The premise being that they know best what is or is not available in that community so they are the best people to deliver and fill that gap. For example Lucy wanted to run a female only poetry slam so she created LipSync’d. Reform Radio are two women who met on Future Fires and wanted to tackle homelessness- 4 years later they have a fully funded operation. Amazing.Its interesting to think about what is our audience at CONTACT. It is the people listening to that radio station or at that poetry slam – we can’t report those numbers because they’re not bums on seats but actually that is part of our reach as we are integral to supporting those projects in their early stages. For us that’s as important as producing new shows, though we like to do that as well!!

Are there ever tensions in communities delivering projects that certain local people might not want?

In Future Fires we ask them to get 100 signatures from their local community which is a brilliant methodology. It forces them to go to their local shop, or pub or neighbours on their street.

So its about connection and validation?

Yes. They have to explain their idea so by the 100th time the idea is clearer and you have heard 100 people say that’s a good idea. The Agency projects are warmly received as young people are seen doing something creative and positive and its real world – they each get £2000 to develop their project, a business plan to attract further funding so the projects quickly become real, and in some cases very impressive. That’s a very positive thing within that community. I think there can be tension with some of the shows we present. Mawaan Rizwan who made the BBC show How Gay Is Pakistan? is very out and vocal as a British Asian comedian. Demi Nandhra explores taboos around mental health and medication when some people feel she should stay quiet. R.E Trip was a piece about unplanned pregnancies. I just watched the rushes of the television version and that’s going to be broadcast very soon. To see those young women saying those verbatim words about those experiences. We haven’t seen that before in a mainstream media context and we’re aware that will stir up debate and criticism.

Is there safeguarding in place if tensions arise and individuals need support?

Yes, we have very clearly defined safe guarding measures in place so we can protect young people in all our projects. We’re not healthcare professionals or social workers but we seek out the appropriate help when needed. Suzie Henderson who is our Head of Creative Development heads up all our staff working in direct engagement with young people, and is very experienced around safeguarding.

Will the new space be geared to meet a wide range of special needs?

Throughout the design stage we have consulted with the Manchester Disabled Peoples Group and with Graeae Theatre in London to ensure that the new part of the building will be up to purpose and also to ensure we incorporate any adaptations we can make to the part that’s not being touched. This is actually a very confusing building that is visually overloading and has barriers everywhere. We are using capital to address this to make the new building much more open, clear and accessible. Our young peoples group working on the capital project is called Construct and we have young disabled people in that group advising us. We went to Lodon to see the Graeae building which was brilliant – an Arts building designed by disabled artists, so we came back with loads of ideas.

So what will happen while the building is closed next year….. to programming and to the weekly projects you deliver?

They will continue to run. Our brief for the location of our new base is not a performance space but somewhere to house all of our young peoples activities and it will be in walking distance of CONTACT. The much bigger impact is to our What’s On programme – the ticket buying bit. That will be much smaller than normal so we will do about 10 events where we might normally do 100 in a year, but they will be much bigger, higher profile events in some unexpected places.

So you won’t consider something site specific on the building site with the audience in hard hats?

No. We won’t be doing that! However we are doing two really exciting site specific pieces in Spring and we’re nearly ready to announce that….

A few weeks after this interview I met Matt again at Central Reference Library for the big reveal for the closure plans and the FebMay 2018 programme. The old building closes at Christmas for the renovation work which will run throughout 2018. The staff and all projects they run and host will relocate to the Millennium Powerhouse in Moss Side.

IN THE CITY Part One is packed full of great events. The 10 year anniversary of Queer Contact festival includes large scale productions at The Palace Theatre with Dancing Bear by Jamie Fletcher & Company and a House of Suarez Vogue Ball at Manchester Academy. Contact Young Company are working with the brilliant Sh!t Theatre to bring a largescale immersive performance to The Museum of Science and Industry. She Bangs the Drums will celebrate the 100 year anniversary of women and working men getting the right to vote. The second site specific production will happen in an actual working sari shop on Curry Mile in Rusholme. Handlooms by RASA sounded wonderful when Rani Moorthy was describing it. Award winning show BRANDED by Sophie Willan will have a oneoff gala performance hosted by The Lowry.

In writing up this interview, I’m recalling the absolute passion and commitment of Matt Fenton to every aspect of CONTACT’s programming and youth projects, and thinking about the exciting plans for CONTACT in 2018 and beyond. In the context of Austerity measures and the savage funding cuts to the Arts, Mental Health Services and provision for Young Peoples Services, it is a real testament to the range and quality of services delivered by CONTACT that this redevelopment project has been funded. There is still a remaining portion to be fundraised throughout 2018 so dig deep Manchester is really lucky to have CONTACT.