Queen's English

20th November 1998 at 00:00
Andy Reeves,Andy Reeves, artistic director of the Speakeasy Theatre Company, talks to Alan Combes about how the company's latest production, 'Citizen Kim', promotes citizenship in schools

HOW DID THE PRODUCTION COME INTO BEING?

It was conceived through working with the police in Leicester. They approached me for ideas for a Neighbourhood Watch awards day, and the performance we staged worked out well. As a result we were asked to create something for pupils that would involve all facets of citizenship. The police put in money. We all found it encouraging that they recognised the power of drama in putting it across.

IS IT ALREADY BEING SHOWN IN SCHOOLS?

Not yet, but it will be on the road next term throughout the Midlands. The group is taking bookings for the two terms after Christmas. The production was piloted in six city summer schools in Leicester and was a success with the 200 or so young people who saw it.

WHAT DOES A SCHOOL GET WHEN THEY BOOK YOU?

'Citizen Kim' centres on a young girl who is the new kid on the block and something of a loner. Two other actors play all the other roles, some of whom are Kim's new friends. During one scene, an older resident is intimidated by the noise the children make, and when an outbreak of grafitti and vandalism occurs, blame falls on the wrong group.

After the performance, we break straight into the workshop, with the performers staying in role for some small group work. This is initially nothing to do with the play, but focuses on building structures and co-operation. Then, for 15 minutes the pupils work on scenes with help from the actors. After this, there is some discussion before the main characters are re-introduced and updated.

We see a change in Kim and a fresh perception that amenities were hers to use all along.

HOW DOES THE PRODUCTION CHALLENGE YOUNG ATTITUDES?

Kim is attracted to spraypainting as a means of self-expression. The group becomes involved in a scheme to plant a garden locally, which Kim is at first reluctant to join. But her energy soon becomes vital to the project and she discovers she is a part of something.

The youngsters in the play have been channelled into a project and realise they are contributing to the community, without having seen it that way at first. In turn, the older residents' perception of the young people's characters changes.

WHAT ELEMENTS OF CITIZENSHiPDO YOU THINK THE PRODUCTION HIGHLIGHTS?

Responsibility and communication are the main areas - being responsible for your own behaviour and to the community you live in.

We also encourage young people to look at events from someone else's point of view - how will an older person see what we are doing?

Empathy, sympathy and co-operation are also looked at. In one very effective scene, one of the actors in role as an old person appeals to the audience for a chair. I find it really moving that the audience never fails to respond.

HOW DO YOU AVOID BEINGOVER-DIDACTIC?

By addressing people on a level they understand. We listen to the audience just as they listen to us.

The production is not a teaching scenario. Act out and discover is more the way we work. We use humour and strong visuals to keep the piece constantly entertaining and, we hope, surprising.

WHAT KIND OF FEEDBACK HAVE YOU RECEIVED FROM TEACHERS?

Universally good. We've had no negative comments but some schools have been better tuned to our aims than others. We're aware that many people are perhaps in part searching for a definition of what "citizenship" means. With the piloting over, we can provide teacher notes, which help to get the project into a teachable format.

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