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Guest Blog: Amy Hart Talks OUR VOICE At the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster

Amy Hart shares news of a theatre venture that empowers young people from Traveller communities

Guest Blog: Amy Hart Talks OUR VOICE At the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster
Young people from 'Our Voice'

The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster in northwest England has embarked once more upon a female-led digital learning initiative that was in place last autumn and is again this year. Its goal is to work with the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities across Lancaster and Morecambe, a venture upon which Amy Hart expands most eloquently below:

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There are three main Traveller groups in the UK: Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers and Roma people.

I'm very proud of my heritage: my maternal grandad was born in a wagon to a Romany father and Irish mother, but was raised in an orphanage after his mother died and subsequently married a "gorja" (non-traveller). I have been lucky enough to see the community from inside, but also to understand it from the outside too.

When I was approached to be part of a pioneering digital engagement project called Our Voice run by The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster, I couldn't say yes quickly enough and I'm so glad I did. The project aims to ensure that young people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities across Lancashire are empowered to tell their stories through the medium of autobiographical theatre.

People can be so quick to judge each other, especially anyone who lives by different rules and customs to us. The GRT communities are no strangers to this. I recently read a book Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two by the activist Maggie Smith-Bendell about the life of the travelling community back in the 50's/60's and the persecution that they faced.

Nothing has really changed.

Guest Blog: Amy Hart Talks OUR VOICE At the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster
Amy Hart

Worryingly, in a recent report, two-thirds of Irish Travellers said they had been bullied by teachers, with one in five saying this made them leave school - and many young GRT people hide their heritage for fear of racism. That is interesting, in turn, because I think you can feel a bit like an outsider when you are not accurately represented or portrayed in the industry.

This is one of the reasons I leapt at the chance to get involved with this project and was so pleased that these bright young women were being given the chance to do something different; I believe that GRT communities should be better and more fairly represented in TV, film and theatre.

We kicked off the project with an in-person socially-distanced workshop in Lancaster with performance artist Bryony Kimmings and myself zooming in for a Q&A, I prepared my answers to questions that I'm asked day in day out, but was shocked to find that they weren't interested in who I was still friends with from the villa or what it was actually like on the tv show Love Island (although these questions have crept in throughout the workshops!) They wanted to know why I love theatre and why I think it's important to be authentic.

Similarly, working with Bryony to develop the group's writing-for-performance skills and experiences and to celebrate their diverse histories has been so inspiring. These lively Zoom workshops themselves have been such a joy and have encompassed everything from scavenger hunts in our respective rooms to baby siblings joining in the fun from their kitchens.

Throughout the weekly workshops, a new individual regularly emerged as my favourite because of something that they had said or done that week. Ultimately, though, they're all my favourites. Bryony had prepared four short videos to be shared with the group. They were based on the themes of "Who am I?", "What questions do I have about the world?", "How to tell a good story" and "Adding sparkle." These tied in with the aim of each session and resulted in a celebration of the heritage and culture of Gypsy and Traveller life.

Within weeks, the group began to work on individual performance pieces for the final Zoom showcase: one put together a piece of animation with music whilst another planned to eat pizza for the duration of her performance.

Performance day came and I was blown away by how funny, clever and mature the creative work was. With the workshops moving online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and a supportive virtual audience, this Zoom performance really opened up the opportunity to shine a light on the individuals' heritage, customs and culture of the GRT communities. It was a celebration of their traditions as well as the stories that these young people wanted to tell.

This targeted outreach work encourages better awareness of the GRT communities to a wider audience and what they have to offer and has confirmed that these young women have so much to share, celebrate and give to the world.

Photo credit: Ellie Devereux


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