The Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) are known for their innovative performances. Their commitment to the development of contemporary performance along with taking risks and giving opportunities to those who justly need it have earned them a reputation. This week however they stepped up their antics a little further by hosting a week long festival for young people, by young people, called ‘If I Rule The World… A Festival For Young People’.
It is daring, challenging and above all – it is needed.
The BAC’s work with young people has always been strong, evident in their thriving Young Peoples Theatre (YPT), yet by handing the reigns over to young people to dominate every inch and spare corner possible to young people is outstanding. The BAC has been turned into the place to be, a hotspot for young people to express themselves and be heard.
This festival is even more needed as it is linked directly to the up and coming election, giving young people a creative approach to what would happen if they had the chance to rule the world. There are huge scrolls of paper hanging from the ceiling within the foyer of the BAC. A scroll of thoughts and comments from the participants on the question of “If I Ruled The World I Would…” are splattered across every inch of it and offer an insight into the participants. From ‘Stop the troops in Afghanistan’ to ‘Lower the voting age’ – this scroll is clearly a form of expression, of an often unheard voice.
One of the rooms at the BAC has been turned into the prime ministers office and we are invited to enter, and write a letter to our ‘future Prime Minister’ about what we want, what we need, what we want to see from this man. By the end of the night, I had frantically written a letter declaring a need for less lies, less hiding of the truth, but above all an effort to be more transparent, and to try hard so that I might start to believe the hope that they have given us in their campaigns.
I left my letter proudly on the PM’s desk, and expect him to read it on his return. (Lucky for me, he might actually! All of the letters are to be taken to downing street and given to the new PM. Let’s hope they listen!)
My travels at the festival took me to watching two of the YPT groups perform the pieces that they have been working on with professional theatre makers. The first I bore witness to was the youngest of groups, aged 11-14 perform their piece Je’taime Performance. A look into what makes up a performer and how there are such a vast array of different performance areas that someone can take. The highlights for me had to be a performance artist whose love of eggs goes a little too far and ends cracking it over herself in joy.
The thing I loved most from this age group was a sense of imagination, an openness to the sublime and sheer ridiculous side to performing. From start to finish I had a grin on my face like the Cheshire Cat.
The latter part of my experiences were with the oldest of the YPT groups, ages 16-25. Their Scratch Performances took part in several different locations around the BAC which required walking in the dark depths of corridors and rooms beyond the normal public eye. I watched a mimed performance reministant of black and white films sitting in the foyer. Next taken into a claustrophobic room to watch a sinister and slightly over powering girl direct her fellow performers in a repeated sequence of love, and despair. Ordered to leave the room, I left feeling a slight shudder down my spine… and into another room to watch a game show of cards and distorted characters.
The final experience came in one of the corriders hidden around the back somewhere in the BAC. We were ushered into a completely dark holding bay with doors in front of us, we were instructed that the game would start, and we would watch. A long staircase behind the door with a girl running down and screaming. She throws herself at the door and bangs attempting to get through. We next watch as a figure slowly makes its way down the stairs. We are ushered next to line up against the wall of the stairwell to watch a truly remarkable continuation of the torment of a group of women by their captures.
The work of the YPT groups showed just how valuable they are to the BAC – their imagination and engagement in allowing an audience to step into childs play really put me on edge. Whilst I had full trust in the performers, there is something scary about a dark corridor in a theatre at nearly 10 at night being asked to close your eyes. – What a truly remarkable experience, and all made by young people.
The night becomes a celebration of being young and creative. It is empowering. It is exactly what we should be looking for in theatre. Their attitudes are free, open, expressive and joyful. We often think that young people are naive to the world, they just follow trends and enjoy being young and carefree. What If I Ruled The World… showed that actually young people have a voice, they have formed opinions, an understanding of the world, and a need not only in their political views, but also a need for a platform in theatre and the arts.
Watching Je’taime Performance and seeing the youngest of the Young Peoples Theatre group perform – it became suddenly clear. Their message was clearly shouted to us, repeated and we need to listen: “Who has the power? WE have the power!”
For more information on the festival, see the BAC website here.