ODD ARTS: Knife Crime Prevention Theatre Project – Curtis’ Blog

By Odd Arts | December 21 2020

ODD ARTS: Knife Crime Prevention Theatre Project – Curtis’ Blog

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    Curtis, Project Worker at Odd Arts describes the processes used to research and develop our Knife Crime Theatre Workshop:

    Odd Arts successfully obtained funding to create a Knife Crime theatre workshop, aiming to increase awareness and prevent young people getting involved in knife crime, whilst also looking at the role of the by-stander in this situation. Odd Arts did 3 week’s of research and development for the project with young people from in and around Salford. Coming into it, we knew that knife crime was a hot topic that the young people would be able to get their teeth into, and they certainly did. What was more difficult was separating the truth from the bravado; the embellished from the true events. We never thought it was appropriate to ask direct questions during our research such as; Have you ever been involved in Knife Crime? So, we personalised some playwriting techniques to try to allow for some truthful conversations.

    Odd Arts first had a general discussion with the young people about what Knife Crime is. Who are the victims (not only the person who was stabbed, but also parents, teachers, wider society) and who are the perpetrators? What became clear, and we found most interesting, was the difference between perception and reality. Lots of things came up that you would expect: How race plays a part, how it’s a very London problem, how it’s linked with gang and rap culture. However, digging deeper, these were all perceptions that have been influenced by other forces in some way (media, film, TV). What became apparent is that the truth of Knife Crime as these young people saw it was very different. They talked about knife crime happening over quite menial arguments, often starting on social media and often being a problem “about a girl”. They accepted that there was a gang element to it, but felt it was overstated, and the truth was that these gangs were not organised criminals. More likely to be young lads who have nothing better to do than to fight with local rivals, just because they have a different postcode. Of course, we know this is part of a bigger societal problem around deprivation, lack of opportunity and systemic inequalities, but the young people themselves never really touched on this, although it was brought up by the adults in the room.

    Odd Arts and the young people moved on to creating our characters, with real emphasis on truth. We were constantly asking the question; Is this real? Do we believe it? We created two characters. All we knew at the start was that they were male, about the same age as the young people (15-17), one would end up being the victim of knife crime, and the other would be the perpetrator. We talked about how writers plot a story and tried to send our characters on a journey that loosely reflected the three-act structure. We did this with two different groups and, although each character’s story was slightly different, there were a lot of common themes and issues that our characters faced and they both ended up with similar fates. The challenge now was to amalgamate the two characters’ journeys into one singular, plausible narrative.

    Odd Arts then took all the bits of paper with our characters’ journeys on and our quotes from the young people and spent the next couple of weeks putting it together and making it into a play. We used all of the material given to us by the young people and tried to use as many verbatim quotes from our discussions as we could. We obviously used our own knowledge to turn into something engaging and truthful, but made sure to not put our own feelings towards the issue. Odd Arts made sure that the story remained from the perspective of the young people we worked with, and what emerged was the play that is now touring through high schools and community settings across Manchester. Odd Arts were thrilled with the response from the young people involved in creating the piece and happy that they recognised their own work on the project.

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