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Lindsey Alvis

Lindsey Alvis takes over from Mungo Beaumont

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Lindsey Alvis

Lindsey Alvis

Middle Child executive director and joint chief executive, Mungo Beaumont, will today save his last spreadsheet and wave goodbye to his calculator for the final time, as he leaves the company that he helped found in 2011.

Artistic director Paul Smith now becomes the sole chief executive of Middle Child and Lindsey Alvis, formerly of Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and Headlong, has been appointed interim executive director. Lindsey starts on Monday 13 August.

After two years at the helm alongside Paul and with the company now established as a national portfolio organisation, Mungo is leaving to catch up on sleep and pursue new opportunities.

Mungo, a University of Hull drama graduate, is one of the founding members of Middle Child and originally joined as an actor. He then moved into producing and became executive director in 2017 as the company prepared for national portfolio status.

Mungo says: “It has been the greatest of honours playing a part in the founding and growth of Middle Child. I am so proud of what we have achieved over the last seven years. My thanks go to everyone who has played a part along the way, and in particular Paul, who has made this experience truly a joy.

“With him at the helm, alongside Lindsey, Jamie, Emily, the company members and our newly established board, I know that Middle Child will continue to flourish. I very much look forward to enjoying the next show from the crowd.”

Paul says: “Working with Mungo to establish Middle Child as a sustainable theatre company has been a huge privilege. He’s an incredible person with endless determination and is certain to be a success in whatever he chooses to do next.

“There’s no way we would be where we are today without Mungo’s dedication, focus and ingenuity. He has been a key part of everything we’ve done since our formation in 2011 and I’m delighted he will continue to contribute as a company member.”

A warm welcome to Lindsey Alvis

Lindsey joins Middle Child following two years with Hull UK City of Culture 2017 as a producer. Before that Lindsey produced at Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse theatres and touring company Headlong.

Lindsey said: “Having worked closely with Middle Child during Hull’s city of culture year, I am delighted to join the team as interim executive director. A leading voice within the city and nationally, Middle Child are creating vibrant, loud work at the forefront of popular culture, energising a new generation of audiences and artists to great industry acclaim and audiences’ enjoyment.

“I’m taking over from the brilliant Mungo Beaumont, who together with Paul has grown the company over the past seven years, most notably securing NPO status in 2018. I look forward to contributing to the next stage in the company’s development and can’t wait to get started.”

Paul added: “I’m very excited to begin working with Lindsey, who brings her vast experience and creative flair into the company. The future of this company is very bright and I can’t wait to work with Lindsey to make our huge ambitions a reality for the future.”

Emily Cox, centre. Photo: National Youth Theatre.

Hull actor Emily Cox awarded Career Kickstarter Fund

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Emily Cox, centre. Photo: National Youth Theatre.

Emily Cox, centre. Photo: National Youth Theatre.

Hull actor Emily Cox is the first person to be supported by the Middle Child Career Kickstarter Fund, designed to help new, working class actors get a foot on the acting career ladder.

The fund will pay for Emily’s Spotlight membership for a year and her first set of professional headshots. She will also benefit from one-to-one audition workshops with Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith.

Emily first started acting during her GCSE and A Level drama courses, before spending time with the National Youth Theatre and taking part in a summer Acting to Camera course at the Central School of Speech and Drama. After a year of unsuccessful auditions she began studying as a nurse, before quitting her degree to focus again on acting.

She currently travels to London each week from Hull to participate in a Diploma in Acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama, which ends in August.

Emily said: “I’m really excited to be part of Middle Child’s Career Kickstarter Fund and it’s amazing that this support comes from a theatre company that is based in my home city. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in and seeing where this amazing opportunity takes me.”

She Productions awarded Middle Child Match Fund

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StorytEllas by She Productions

She Productions is the first Hull-based theatre company to receive match funding through Middle Child’s artist development programme, Reverb.

The company will receive £1,000 and support in-kind to fund their core running costs over three months as they develop their outreach work for communities in Hull and East Yorkshire.

Since forming in 2015, each of the company’s productions has been accompanied by a thematic, drama-based workshop programme.

These have included It’s Different For Girls consent and relationship workshops with vulnerable youth groups and ‘Man Up’ workshops, which focus on deconstructing the expectations of masculinity with a group of Pupil Premium male students.

She Productions’ outreach work comes at a time when nine out of 10 schools have cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject, according to a 2018 BBC survey.

This has seen teaching staff both locally and nationally teaching creative subjects that they are not trained in, including drama.

Ellie Claughton, She Productions producer, said: “She have been developing and producing workshops alongside each of our productions for the past four years.

“Outreach has always been at the core of our practice, so we are really excited to be supported by Middle Child in formalising this strand of our work.

“This funding will not only enable us to develop workshop programmes and build relationships with partner organisations, but to focus on identifying and reaching participants from across the area.”

Paul Smith, Middle Child artistic director, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be able to support She Productions with both their organisational development and workshop programme, which will hugely benefit many young people in the city.

“We’re aware of how difficult it is to become sustainable in the first few years as a theatre company and hope our small cash injection can make a difference in what’s to come from She Productions in future.”

​The Reverb artist development programme is Middle Child’s commitment to ensuring that artists in Hull are given top-class development opportunities across disciplines without needing to leave the city.

Goodbye Europe

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Maureen Lennon, Paul Smith and Matthew May, on their way to Warsaw in April. Not pictured, Magda Moses.

One benefit of having national portfolio status with Arts Council England is the ability to plan productions far in advance. This includes starting work on a major new show that we’re creating for Hull in March 2019, on the subject of Brexit no less.

Hull voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union in the referendum of June 2016, with 67.6% supporting the eventual result. The opportunity to perform a new piece of work, as we leave the EU, that asks questions of this decision fits perfectly with our aim of bringing people together for a good night out with big ideas in it. And they don’t get much bigger.

Hull is a port city with strong connections to the continent, including a large Polish community, who’ve been all but absent from mainstream conversations on the subject in the city. Hull has also undergone a transformation since the 2016 referendum, as the latest UK City of Culture. What might happen then if we take advantage of an increased appetite for arts and culture to hear different perspectives on Hull’s relationship to Brexit?

Our ambition is to bring together the people of Hull, including its Polish community, to enjoy a night of gig theatre in March 2019 that also challenges our understanding of such a divisive issue. The British Council shares that ambition and has kindly supported us in making two trips to Poland for research and development on the project, with a particular focus on understanding the status of theatre with Polish audiences. We’ve also been invited into the National Theatre’s studio for four days in August, to develop the first draft, which is incredibly exciting.

This week artistic director Paul Smith, associate artist and writer Maureen Lennon, associate artist James Frewer and dramaturg Matthew May are in Poznan, with board member Meg Miszczuk as our guide. We also travelled to Warsaw in mid-April, when Paul, Maureen and Matthew were joined by Magda Moses, who moved to Hull from Poland in 2008 and now works on community engagement in the arts in the city. Below are some of Magda, Maureen and Matthew’s thoughts on that earlier trip.

Magda Moses, adviser

“This trip was essential for Middle Child to produce an authentic and true show. To understand a foreign nation, the cultures and traditions that shape their national personality and identity, you have to become a part of their community and plunge yourselves into their reality.

“Theatre for Poles means a lot: tradition, sophistication, classicism, splendour, elegancy, but also normality, laughter, politics, childhood and family. I think watching three different performances in Warsaw theatres that were so different gave us a little taste of Polish theatre and their audiences.

Cezary Goes to War, an autobiographical piece directed by Cezary Tomaszewski, directly and cheerfully attacks and deconstructs the military rhetoric and nationalistic ethos in Poland. We also saw Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Biesy, directed by Natalia Korczakowska, which used the theme of a rebellion against the tyrant to link it with the present political situation in Poland. We then rushed in the rain to watch a cabaret, Spiritual Show by Fire in Brothel, directed by Michal Walczak, a typically Polish show – lots of names from the history of Poland, specific Polish jokes, especially about the right and left wing, Catholic Church and modern political situation. Two other things that Paul and Matthew learnt were: 1) do not clap during the intervals and 2) do not try to order beer, as it’s prohibited in a theatre building and not posh enough.

“The Polish community in Hull is also very diverse and that makes their interests very different. Those who attended theatre back in Poland continue to do this here, however some have only started to go to the theatre recently as they have overcome the language barrier. What I can definitely say is, children are most important for Polish parents, so any child-friendly artistic event will draw their attention and build your audience.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Biesy, directed by Natalia Korczakowska

Maureen Lennon, writer

“We wanted the opportunity to dig a little deeper into what it’s like to come from one city to another, and whether we could glean anything about national character, culture and history, which might be able to play into our story. Also we heard Polish beer was really nice and we thought a few pints would probably help us get extra creative.

“We took part in a brilliant tour about communism in Warsaw, led by an incredibly friendly and knowledgeable guide, Artur (The Communist Warsaw Tour in a Retro Nysa Van; look it up if you go to Warsaw). This took us round buildings, past statues, into a locked-down museum with an exact replica of the inside of a flat and included a great game of Find the Vodka.

“It raised loads of interesting questions about the people who might be in our play, and the experiences and circumstances which formed them, about this country’s relationship with capitalism now, and how this compares to our own national identity. But mainly what has stayed with me is the driving. At one point we parked in the middle of a dual carriageway, but then as Magda said: “There are rules, it’s just we like to break them.”

“We also learned about how embarrassed English people are abroad. This time particularly about how little Polish we could speak and how many languages other people could speak. Magda converses fluently about everything in English and Polish. Artur could speak English, Russian, Polish and a made up language called Esperanto. At one point a driver demonstrated four different languages in one taxi ride. This isn’t something specific to Warsaw; I’m just pointing out – it’s embarrassing, isn’t it.

“Also I don’t mean to imply that we were just embarrassed by language; it spanned pretty much everything. I apologised to a man who knocked my suitcases over and Paul got into a particularly weird exchange about coffee outside a museum. We passed this off as an English thing, but maybe it’s just us? Who knows, either way whatever’s going on we’re embarrassed. Sorry.”

Matthew May, dramaturg

“If you get a chance to go to Warsaw, do so. It’s a great city, full of contrasts, culture and some excellent craft beer. I was speaking to my youth theatre group about my trip one Monday night and the thing that I wanted to impress on them is that theatre there matters. It is not necessarily better or bolder, though we did see some incredible and some incredibly confusing work, but it feels more tied up in the fabric of the city. The act of making work feels far more political.

“Paul and I attended an Emergency Briefing on Polish Theatre, where Polish directors, festival curators, actors and artists discussed the increasingly difficult political landscape in which they find themselves trying to make work. They face pickets, economic censorship and, in one case, the loss of employment. This meeting took place in a city that until 1989 was under Communist rule and was essentially destroyed towards the end of the Second World War. This is a city where the history and the politics of its past are writ large in the buildings and the people.

​“So, for me as the political dramaturg on this project it acted as a reminder than throughout the creative process we can never forget the vastly different place that Poland has come from. We can not understand the drives of these people if we see them purely through the prism of our own experiences. That is what I will try and take from this trip; well, that and a love for pierogi.”

Get involved

Did you vote leave, or do you know friends, family or colleagues who did, who also live in Hull? We’d love to hear from you and them, so have put together a five to ten minute online survey using Google Forms.

New board meets for first time

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The new Middle Child board met for the first time in May under new chair, Martin Green CBE with new members Jane Fallowfield, Meg Miszczuk, Aysha Powell and David Watson joining continuing board member Sharon Darley.

Sharon Darley is the former quality of life manager with the Goodwin Development Trust, accredited with the creation and development of Estate of the Nation arts programme and the development of Thornton Neighbourhood Plan, which used a mix of arts and non-arts community development to improve the quality of life for people living on the Thornton estate, Hull.

Jane Fallowfield is a director, dramaturg and literary associate with Talawa Theatre Company. Her directing credits include Drip and Cosmic by Tom Wells, Red by Somalia Seaton, Germ Free Adolescent by Natalie Mitchell, Fingertips by Suhayla El-Bushra, Bird by Laura Lomas, The Only Way Is Chelsea by Frazer Flintham and Lagan by Stacey Gregg.

Meg Miszczuk is a project specialist working in the arts, culture and publishing industries. She previously managed the Hull GADA project for Hull UK City of Culture 2017, has worked as an interpreter and translator in Germany and also produced a number of cultural events in Poland.

Aysha Powell is the general manager of Paines Plough theatre company, based in London. She has previously worked with agents Curtis Brown, the Lyric Hammersmith theatre, Soho Theatre, Northern Broadsides and the Brisbane Arts Festival.

David Watson is director of brand and advocacy for Birmingham Royal Ballet. Prior to this he was head of digital/digital editor-in-chief for Hull UK City of Culture 2017. He has also previously worked in similar roles for organisations including English National Ballet, London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games opening and closing ceremonies, Royal Opera House and Rambert Dance Company.

​Martin Green CBE, appointed chair in April of this year, was previously the chief executive and artistic director of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. Prior to working in Hull, Martin was the head of ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, overseeing the torch relays and opening and closing ceremonies. He was also the executive producer of the opening ceremony to the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart, which took place in Yorkshire.

Martin Green CBE named as new chair

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Former Hull UK City of Culture 2017 chief executive and director, Martin Green CBE, has been appointed as the new chair of Middle Child’s Board of Directors.

He will take up the role in April 2018, the same month that Middle Child enters Arts Council England’s National Portfolio.

He succeeds Sarah-Jane Dickenson, who has held the role since 2017.

Martin Green said: “I am thrilled to join Middle Child at one of the most exciting moments in the company’s short but impressive history – I’m a huge fan.

“Middle Child’s work to engage new audiences in Hull created some unforgettable memories in the city’s first year as UK City of Culture and I look forward to guiding and supporting their strategic direction over the coming years.

“The role also allows me to keep a strong connection with this great city – something that I was very keen to do after a life-affirming four years at the Culture Company.”

Prior to working in Hull, Martin was the head of ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, overseeing the torch relays and opening and closing ceremonies.

He was also the executive producer of the opening ceremony to the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart, which took place in Yorkshire.

Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, said: “Everyone at Middle Child is absolutely buzzing that Martin is joining our team.

“His wealth of experience, affinity with the city and belief in doing things differently makes him the perfect person to lead us into the future.​

“We would also like to thank Sarah-Jane Dickenson, the outgoing chair of the Board of Directors, for her invaluable guidance over the past twelve months.”

Panto audience raise over £3,000 for charity

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Back in December 2016, during our run of Dick Whittington at Fruit, we collected money on the door for two Hull charities doing important work in the city: The Warren Young People’s Project and Hull Help for Refugees. 

It was the first time we’d run a fundraising campaign during our alternative pantomime and we were thrilled to see our wonderful audience raise £1,757.58, to be shared between the two organisations.

Encouraged by your generosity we did the same again during Cinderella last month and are pleased to say you absolutely smashed the previous year’s total, this time raising a fantastic £3,140.39

That money will be shared between Hull Homeless Community Project and Hull Red, a charity that organises social events for adults with learning disabilities. 

Thank you so to much to everybody who came to see Cinderella and also helped to support these two charities, your kindness is hugely appreciated!

It’s panto time!

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By Mungo Beaumont, producer

Oh yes, it is! Oh no, it’s not! OK, promise, the worst of the panto jokes are behind me…

I love this time of year. Pigs in blankets beckon, Christmas jumpers are finally acceptable to wear and pantomime rehearsals have begun. Now we know we’re on our way.

It’s our sixth annual, affordable pantomime at Fruit, and writer Tom Wells has dished out another delight with Cinderella. What’s more, the show will mark our final contribution to Hull UK City of Culture 2017. It has all gone by in a whirlwind, hasn’t it?

With so many different types of cultural offerings throughout the year it’s nice to finish on something that feels so familiar – and important. Pantomime is often a person’s first introduction to theatre, so we take it incredibly seriously, underneath all the custard pies.

For the past three years we’ve tried our best to spread the Christmas cheer by giving away free tickets to local community groups in Hull. In 2016, groups from The Warren, Hull Help for Refugees, Hull Homeless and the Butterfly Memory Support group all came along and we’re hoping to do the same this year via our annual crowd funder. If you feel like you have a few pennies to share, please do back our campaign – we’ll love you forever.

Whilst it’s important to remember that Hull will continue to be the City of Culture until 2020 and a city of culture for evermore, it’ll be nice to get to Christmas and look back on what has so far been an incredible journey, for all of us. But then, if you REALLY want to see an incredible journey, you should probably be checking out our attempts to turn a pumpkin into a carriage!

See you at the ball.

Towards an Acting Utopia

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Photo by Wullie Marr.

By Paul Smith, artistic director

Middle Child will soon be entering into the Arts Council’s National Portfolio, pending a ‘signed off’ business plan. This means that we now have some security in the work we are making, and that a small number of our team (including me) will be going full-time. This is very exciting, but I’m determined to use my new-found ‘security’ in an arts job to interrogate the lack of security in other roles. We’ll soon be launching our Artist Development Programme (I CAN’T WAIT – I LOVE IT!) that looks to offer opportunities to new critics, writers and artists. In the lead up to that, I want to dare to dream of an Acting Utopia.

One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with actors. Actors are brilliant; creative, brave, open individuals without whom this industry simply wouldn’t exist. However, I’ve been aware for a while now just how hard it is to be an actor, while continuing to be a human being who lives like other human beings. Not a week goes by where I don’t find myself in some sort of conversation with an actor friend about how dispiriting and unrewarding the whole thing can so regularly be.

My all-too-easy first response has always been something rubbish like ‘that’s just the job’ or ‘the industry is like that’ but recently I’ve been stopping myself because the industry is only ‘like that’ if we continue to make it so. Do we really want to propagate an industry that wears its ‘ruthlessness’ as a badge of honour or that chides actors who give up on the career as ‘not tough enough’? That seems to be in complete opposition to an industry that often sells itself as liberal and welcoming.

I recently set up the Middle Child Acting Gym to try and encourage a space where actors in Hull can develop their skills and be part of a support network which addresses the problem of ‘doing it alone’ as an actor. Each week we come together, talk about issues relating to the industry/job and then work on some plays (this month’s focus is ‘doing what scares us’).  I’ve learnt lots from doing it and am looking for ways to improve it in future but know that it’s not enough to have a truly positive effect on the mental wellbeing of actors.

So my question is a simple one, and one that has definitely been asked many times before:

What can we do to make acting a more viable, less damaging career choice?

And I mean actually do. Practically do. Physically do.

This isn’t about seeking agreement that things aren’t right, more a cry for guidance.

How can I/Middle Child/all theatres/theatre companies/theatre makers help improve the working conditions for a job so commonly accepted as ‘tough’? Can we crowd-source a code of conduct that means actors aren’t left feeling like an old, unused toy the second their contract finishes?

So please, if you’re an actor reading this, tell us. What changes – big or small – can we make to improve how it feels to be an actor?

I’ll get started with a few problems I’m aware of from my job, from conversations I’ve had and from things I’ve noticed. Each of these brings their own questions I’d love to have answered from as many actors as possible.

Abuse of power

The #MeToo response has shown just how large a problem the abuse of power is within the theatre industry. No human should be subjected to such harassment and everyone at Middle Child takes this issue extremely seriously. How can we, as an industry, better protect actors – often in such a vulnerable position – from abuses of power?

Casting

I always, always meet 10 times more brilliant people than I can offer jobs to. Often I’m asked for feedback and sometimes the truth is that all you can say is ‘someone else just suited it better’. Massively unfulfilling I know but often the truth.

Is that useful? Is there a better way to say that? If you auditioned brilliantly but just aren’t right for the project, how can I tell you that in a way that is constructive? If your audition was, for any reason, not a good one – how much feedback do you really want, or is being told you haven’t got the role enough? How do you want to find out if you have or haven’t been cast; an e-mail? a phone call? How often do you not hear back at all? Is there ever any excuse for that? Does not getting a job have to be such a negative experience? How could we make it less so? Is ‘you were so close’, ‘you were down to the final two’, ‘it was so nearly you’ a useful thing to hear?

Agents

While I’m aware there are lots of brilliant agents out there, I also hear lots of actors who struggle with this relationship – be it problems with their own agent, or the pressure of not having one. How do we improve the role of the agent for the actor? How, as a company, should we respond to agents? Do you want us to go through agents at all or simply to come straight to you? Is there anything we can do to make sure more agents see you in our shows?

CVs

I often get sent CVs from actors. I tend to save these CVs in my Spotlight database and then get in touch with anyone ‘suitable’ once we have an audition coming up. Is that enough? Is there anything else I could be doing?

In between jobs

Many of the conversations I have with actor friends centre around the bits in between jobs. Not knowing where the next one is coming from and not knowing how to go about getting one. What can the industry do, if anything, to lessen this feeling of loneliness and fear?

After the contract finishes

I’m often so aware of the day after the contract finishes. The first day where there’s no rehearsal that day or show that night. Does the employers duty of care finish at the same time as employment stops or is there a way we can help lessen that feeling of staring into the abyss?

Feedback

I worry that sometimes there is a fear of giving genuine feedback to a company at the end of a project as it may mean they won’t employ you again. How can we undertake necessary appraisals to make sure we do things better next time?

Pay

I am so sick of hearing from actors who are being paid under Equity minimum by well-funded buildings and companies. Why is this still happening? Either you can afford to do the show you want to do with everyone paid fully, or you need to rethink how many cast members you have. It is not okay, and I have had conversations with actors who want to say something about this but can’t because of fear of being blacklisted.

Is the knowledge that if you don’t do it at that rate someone else will part of the problem? Do we need more solidarity when it comes to pay? Or is it simply that work is so scarce and hard to come by that actors feel they should do it for any fee? We’ve made proper payment a priority as we look to join the National Portfolio, and there is no excuse for others not to do the same. Let’s also stop thinking that development opportunities mean we can’t pay people, or allow them to pay themselves through the funding. The human cost is non-negotiable.​

* * *

These are just a few things I’m keen to seek better solutions for. Are they important issues? What am I missing out? What’s the hardest part of the job for you and what can we – together – do about it?

Please, please do comment below, tweet us @MiddleChildHull or for anything confidential please e-mail me on paul@middlechildtheatre.co.uk.

I’d really love to find tangible solutions to these persistent problems.

 

 

Girl on The Platform Smile

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By Emma Bright, company member

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you think, how did we get here and why is this our normality?

​I spend a lot of time on trains. A lot of actors do. This particular time, I was on my way back from a weekend working on my mum’s farm with my brothers and sister, vaccinating the lambs, which is about as glamorous as it sounds. Here is the team.

​I was tired, dirty and slightly flustered: thanks to the lack of public transport to Hull, I’d just caught the final train that day. I wanted to get home with minimum fuss and hopefully without any human contact as I felt gross and smelt like sheep poop.I was going to change at Doncaster, which wasn’t too far away, so I thought I’d stand by the door. No awkward eye contact across a table, no forced conversation with the person next to you, just me and a podcast. Cool. Please note: I do like talking to people, just not when I look and smell like poop.

Two guys arrived who were loudly bragging to another they’d just met about avoiding the ticket collector and how they did this most weekends when going to watch the football in Sheffield. They quizzed the man on football, where he lived, the usual small talk. Just keep looking in the other direction and they won’t talk to you, I thought, you have your headphones in, you’re fine.

“What do you think love? Should he play football if his foot looks like that? Excuse me? She can’t hear, she’s got her headphones on.” A tap on the shoulder, take my headphones off, turn around. “Excuse me, love, do you think he should play football if his foot looks like that?”

I then get caught in a conversation while I’m cornered in the doorway. I don’t feel threatened but, equally, I feel the only way to handle this situation and leave the train without being belittled or demeaned is to join in the conversation and laugh along to the jokes. I can’t deal with “cheer up love” or “smile it might never happen” today, I just want to get home.

They keep calling me “love”. They ask my name, say it once and then return to “love”. I keep my cool. We’re all getting off in Donny. Me to change trains and them to go home. As we say goodbye one says: “Come on then, let’s have a hug.” I give them a hug, I walk away, I hate myself for doing this.

Now reading this it might seem like, given the news at the moment, this is a small matter to be talking about, but stuff like this happens all the time and we let it. As a woman I so often feel I have to go along with this sort of behaviour as it’s easier, to avoid confrontation or abuse, to get to the train station, smile and walk away.

How to Start a Revolution

Last week I was once again on a train. No sheep involved this time. I’d been to London to see some bloody brilliant shows: “No One Will Tell You How To Start a Revolution” by our fave Luke Barnes and “Victory Condition” by Chris Thorpe. Both outstanding, both northern writers – yay!

This time I’m with Marc Graham. On the table opposite is a loud drunk man and a woman showing him her niece’s shop on her phone. She has a glass of wine and he has a pint glass that he keeps topping up with vodka and red bull. At first I thought they were friends but, as the conversation progresses, I realise this is not the case: they have met on the train and are being friendly.

She laughs along, they start talking about football and the man on our table joins in as he has also been to the match that day. The drunken man gets louder and louder. I give up on my book, close my eyes and pretend to sleep. Marc has his headphones in. I can’t wait to get off the train so I don’t have to listen to this man anymore.

He starts to moan about the City of Culture. The woman starts talking about her daughter, who is working in Edinburgh – she’s so proud of her. It’s nice to hear three strangers exchanging tiny snippets of their lives. The friendly man on our table who joined in reaches his stop, Brough, about five minutes from Hull.

Then Marc is dragged in to the conversation: “I thought you looked like a bit of a dickhead but you’re actually alright.” This guy is super drunk and he’s started to slur his words. This woman has done a cracking job of talking to him. The train starts to pull into Hull so we start packing up. The man tells the woman how much he’s enjoyed her company, while she talks about everyone else they have met on their journey, including “the students from Sheffield, the nurses, the friendly man from Brough.”

I zone out of their conversation again but my attention is caught as I hear her say, very quietly and calmly: “That’s really not appropriate.”

He makes a swift exit down the train, to the next carriage, saying: “Alright, alright I’m off now.” As soon as he’s out of earshot she lets out a huge sigh and rolls her eyes. I smile at her, a kind of shared, “He was a bit much wasn’t he?”

“He stroked my leg three times,” she says. “After the third time I had to tell him it was too much.”

I was completely taken aback. This had happened right next to us and I hadn’t even noticed. I’d chosen to keep out of the situation. She was clearly shaken but just seemed relieved that he had disappeared. “It doesn’t matter,” she said politely, “he was just really drunk.” I said: “It’s never ok.”

We offered to walk her off the train to meet her husband. She was extremely grateful of the offer but made it clear that we were not to tell her husband. As we left the train she talked about how her daughter (aged 21) lived for a year in London for her first job, where “she received so much abuse walking down the street she still has anxiety about it.” She’s a little bit teary now. We can see her husband by the entrance, she thanks us, says goodbye and goes over to give him a hug. We walk home.

I was so angry. I was angry because this sort of thing happens all the time. I was angry because I missed all the signs. When he said “I’ve enjoyed being with you” she quickly tried to deflect his advances by taking the focus off her. I was angry because I didn’t know what to say. I was angry because I don’t understand why the two of them having a drink and a laugh on the train makes him think that it’s appropriate to stroke her leg.

He’d talked openly about his girlfriend, she’d talked about her family; there was nothing that could have been misinterpreted. He did it because he could, he did it under the table so no one could see, he probably won’t even remember the next day because he was drunk. But that’s not OK. And I was angry because the same thing has probably happened to his girlfriend or his mum or his sister and I’m sure he’d be fucking angry if he knew that. But this happens all the time and we don’t say anything.

Our voice

We need to start talking. So I’ve written this blog because at Middle Child we have a platform to talk to people and make our voices heard. I’m using my anger to make sure other women and men know that this is not OK and the problem is HUGE. It’s fucking massive.

So how do we start the revolution? Well first of all we need to start calling people out and we need to reassure women and tell them this sort of behaviour is never OK. The #metoo hashtag has shown how widespread a problem this is. But this shouldn’t be just on women to highlight the problem: men, we need your voices too.

I am sure a lot of men have kept quiet on this to not detract from women’s stories but I feel like now we need some recognition from both sides. We need to work together to stop this and call those people out. On the Guilty Feminist Podcast on “Male Privilege” Deborah Frances White said: “Confidence is the product of our experience.” It really struck a chord with me. We need to change the narrative. We all need to give people the confidence to speak out, free of judgement.

So many times I have started to write a blog for Middle Child and then deleted it because I’ve convinced myself that I’m not clever enough, or the point has been made more succinctly by someone else or no one will care what I think. We have women in Middle Child and our voices and those opinions will only be heard if we put them out there.

Maybe it will inspire other women who feel the same anxieties as me to say something too. As ever, I doubt every word I’m writing, I feel slightly sick at the thought of other people reading it, but I’m going to post it because we need to lead by example. Also, Ellen has written a flipping brilliant play this year, I Hate Alone, so what more inspiration do I need?!

I’ve also questioned whether my own personal experiences are ‘big’ enough. I’m grateful to have not experienced some of the things that I’ve read other women have been through. I do however have a constant fear that something like that could happen to me walking down the street, in the workplace, on a train. We need to stop doing ourselves down. If it’s happening every week, if we feel the fear, it is big enough. It has taken something huge like the Harvey Weinstein case to kick this off but we need to ensure that every woman feels that her experiences are of importance.

Let’s make sure that within the theatre network there are safe spaces for women to come forward. Vicky Featherstone’s Day of Action is a great start. Unsurprisingly, her call out highlighted the fear of speaking out and the potential effect this could have on an individual’s career. Speaking personally as an actor it already feels like you have to sell yourself all the time, so I don’t find it surprising that people have found they have had to keep quiet about something or someone because of their role within an organisation.

It should not be an excuse. I imagine this is the same across the board – directors, stage managers, designers, technicians. So many times getting a job can be about who you know. It can create a muddy area where you feel you want to protect your career – your livelihood – to the detriment of letting this behaviour continue to happen.

Now more than ever we need to make sure women feel they can voice this. We need to make sure that we can be open and honest. The focus needs to be on the problem and the causes, not mourning the loss of theatrical idols. We need a big shift. We can’t make excuses for this anymore.

And while we’re here, let’s stop reviewing women based on their looks. I read one today and it made me want to be sick in my mouth.

So thank you to the lady on the train that made me want to write my first blog and say this is not OK. It’s for her, her daughter and every other woman who feels they can only smile and walk away. It’s about the everyday encounters and the fear of speaking out.

This is our industry. All of us. This should not be our normal.

EN PL