Today is polling day. Thousands of registered UK voters will be marking boxes to show their political allegiance in the name of democratic process. This year’s General Election promises to be closely fought, and will probably end with a result that creates more confusion than clarity – but that’s politics.
Now seems like a good time to revisit an old project I produced.
Back in May 2010, I was invited to produce First Time Voters – an event hosted by the Bush Theatre and presented in partnership with nabokov and Drywrite. The event featured new pieces specially commissioned and developed to mark the 2010 General Election, focusing on the eponymous First Time Voters and their potential engagement with the political process. This event took place on Wed 5th May 2010 – the day before the polls opened.
The names involved in the project speak to the quality of the work created; writers included James Graham, E V Crowe and Joel Horwood, and Joe Murphy, Hamish Pirie, Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge were amongst the directors. You only need look at the British theatre landscape to see just how brilliant those people are, so to have them all working on one project is insane in hindsight.
But, with all due respect to them, they weren’t the most important people involved. That honour belongs to the young people and first time voters we engaged with to help develop the pieces. The Bush’s then-Project Assistant Sade Banks worked alongside Kirsty Patrick Ward and then-Artistic Director Josie Rourke to create a piece about how she was denied a voice by not being old enough to vote, despite being more passionate and politically engaged than a lot of eligible people (you can even watch this here on YouTube). E V Crowe and Hamish Pirie worked with a group young people from the local Somali community to explore their desire to be represented and have a true voice in the political process. Young artists from the Bush’s Young Activist programme and the likes of the National Youth Theatre were invited to participate, actively developing pieces and performing them on stage.
Seeing this work develop was incredibly powerful. Seeing Sade get so frustrated at not being able to vote when wanting to spoke to me of a system failing its people because of arbitrary restrictions; sitting in with the Somali group and hearing them find their voice, watching them enjoy the feeling of being engaged and to speak of what mattered to them, was moving. Sitting in an audience made up of largely young, politically engaged people showed that, despite any suggestions to the contrary, young people really are engaged in politics.
However, what happened following the 2010 General Election distresses me. Those very people we engaged with – the young, the outsiders, the refugees – have suffered due to ideological policies which completely disregard their interests. We’ve seen a Coalition Government which has increased the burden on young and working-age people whilst protecting the wealthy and the pension pots of the older generation. We’ve seen the rise of a so-called ‘legitimate’ right wing party who want to close our borders to those in need, and who not only house members with extreme views but give them a platform to spread their message. We’ve had to sit back and watch as any attempts to engage with a younger demographic are considered “a joke”, whilst getting business leaders to sign letters in support of your policies is fine – even if they’re not all business leaders, and didn’t all actually sign your letter.
My political leanings are perfectly clear for you all to see here, but that’s not what this post is about. This is about encouraging young people and first time voters to have their say. We did something back in 2010 which, although relatively small scale, did something to engage these people and encourage them to find their voices. This year, amongst other election-related events we’ve seen Theatre Uncut develop Apathy with Chris Goode, and offer that to people rights-free to develop performances from; China Plate and the Unity Theatre, Liverpool are presenting U-Decide, a series of works with political messages; and Theatre Delicatessen are presenting a night of alternative election entertainment and debate, along with live streaming of the Election Night results.
Oh, and a couple of people called James Graham and Josie Rourke have developed a play called The Vote for the Donmar Warehouse, which is also aired on More4 on the evening of Thu 7th May 2015. They did something similar for the last General Election…
Please. Make sure you use your vote, be you young, old or somewhere in-between. Every vote matters.