Theatre project helps "channel" teenage anger

By Chloe Hadjimatheou
BBC News

image captionEach production is devised around the lives of the participants

Theatre director Jeremy Weller has been waiting for his cast to show up for rehearsal for close to two hours.

Not one of them has made an appearance yet, but perhaps that is to be expected since they are considered to be badly-behaved teenagers.

The cast of a new play being developed by The Grassmarket Project are students in a pupil referral unit in London.

PRUs, as they are known, cater for children who have been excluded from mainstream education for a variety of reasons.

All the pupils involved in the play attend a PRU because their behaviour was deemed too disruptive or violent for their teachers to handle.

In order to protect the identity of the students the BBC is not naming the unit.

One of the students, Nadine, was expelled after her aggressive behaviour intimidated her teachers.

"When my older sister died I didn't know how to deal with it and I felt no one really cared, so it made me a very angry person," she told the BBC World Service.

Now at 16, life has not got any easier. Nadine is staying at a cousin's house after her mother threw her out.

She says she has found an outlet for her anger through acting.

"While I'm doing drama I can release my anger in a positive way, I've learnt how to channel it."


As artistic director and founder of the Grassmarket Project, Jeremy Weller, has a unique approach which involves taking young people with no previous acting experience and helping them develop a narrative about their lives.

image captionJeremy Weller's Grassmarket Project has won several international awards

Professional actors are only employed in supporting roles.

Mr Weller says the ultimate aim is to achieve complete authenticity on the stage.

"The stories we create come out of ordinary people's lives, and so they are shocking, exciting, fresh and completely truthful.

"I want the audience to believe what is taking place before them."

But it is no easy task he has set himself, something he freely admits as we sit in the empty rehearsal room waiting for the cast to show up.

"As you can see I don't have much hair left - you pull all your hair out doing this job," he says.

"But it's worth it."


What makes the young people so talented, says Mr Weller, is that they have to put on an act in their everyday lives.

In order to survive on the streets, where they spend most of their time, they have to pretend to be a lot tougher than they are, he believes.

After many phone calls and much persuasion, some of the young people do finally turn up to rehearsal.

As Mr Weller predicted, their performances are very impressive.

In one scene Nadine rages against an unjust teacher. She shouts and puts her face right up against the teacher's face.

She goes from being a chatty, bubbly teenager to an intimidating, furious woman in a matter of a few minutes.

"We're angry, yeah, because we've come from broken homes. But we still want to be able to say we've made something of ourselves, and you're not allowing us to do that!"

Difficult homes

It is the kind of aggression that PRU teacher Giles Henry-Stogdon is all too familiar with.

image captionThe Grassmarket Project works with young people from a range of different backgrounds

He has suffered verbal and even physical abuse from the young people he teaches.

"If you confronted any of the students here in the same way as the teacher did in the play, you would get a very similar reaction and that's why these kids are here. They can't seem to stay within the social norms for anger."

He says most of the teenagers come from difficult homes. Their parents are sometimes involved in criminal activities and are usually badly-off.

"The mainstream education system spends most of its time putting these young people down but they are often very intelligent and boisterous," he says.

The play is due to be staged at the unit later in the year for an invited audience.

Mr Henry-Stogdon hopes that ministers from the Department for Education will attend.

For the young actors, like Stephanie (who wants to take to the stage professionally some day), it is a chance to show that they have something real to offer society.

"We do have talents, we just need someone to give us the opportunity to make something of ourselves."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.