A letter of hope to the world….

A letter of hope to the world….

Dear world,

I wanted to write you a letter to speak openly of how I’m feeling about you and how this last year has seemed for the many of us. A letter of hope really to people out there who maybe feel like life isn’t worth living, to the masses who need everyday support – some days more than most, people who have had bad news – grief, loss, hurt and deep set damage; physically and mentally…people like myself who feel like they’ve been beaten from pillar to post from incredible amounts of trauma and unfortunate circumstance.

This year; 2016 has been incredibly difficult to say the least for the majority. One that has been full of death…loss for those extremely close to me and those that bit further, some particular strangers known by names. A year of extreme violence and political harm and hatred. A year of segregation and deprivation, anger and hurt. A mix of negativity and emotional struggle for many a human living on this planet.

I ask the question world – is this what we have to live with? Is this negativity what we’re supposed to focus on and keep dwelling on to carry on mentally tying so many people down? Are we not allowed hope? Positivity? Happiness? I am well aware that a lot of these circumstances are both in and out of our control as humans living on this earth. I’m equally aware that a lot of the time, we cannot really change other people’s lives either or the way in which society is conformed but what I do know is that every single person on this planet has the incredible ability to love.

I am one single human on this planet who has felt like you world have tested her. In fact more than the most. My year began by continuing to be incredibly ill with both cancer and anorexia combined, I then got raped before January was even over and then the year continued to present me with further struggles splitting what could have potentially been a great future relationship from no fault of any parties just confusion and mental trauma, authorities who didn’t look after me when they should have resulting in more trauma to then feeling like there was no way out and becoming mentally unwell, to more recently with further medical and legal struggles….tipping me over the edge once again not wanting to continue life at all. World, I am one single human on this planet who has had an absolute shit load to go through in the space of twelve months and yes, yes right now world I feel angry, bitter at you! I feel sorry for myself and utterly at my end but I am not willing to have you, this negativity or this upset pull other people to this point EVER.

This is where my letter World defers a little to those reading into our personal chat… This is where I address this part of my letter to the many on this planet who are struggling, continue to struggle and need that support and understanding. To those reading this, hello! You don’t need to know my name if you’re reading this without knowing who I am but what I do ask is that you please read and listen to what I have got to say. For those who don’t know my story, what I’ve been through and what my life has entailed, I’d like to think they’d know no different. This year, when focusing on all of the negatives seem like it has been the worst for sure, as I’m sure may be the same for the many of you! But I ask you now to please, read and listen.

Firstly, I’d like to reassure you that things WILL get better. No matter how terribly horrible they seem right now, whether I make it through this next week, weeks, year or few years, I can promise you that they will because they simply have to. I also ask that you trust me when I tell you that nobody can change that, nobody but YOU! I share my negative year with the fact that I can equally counteract it with my positives. My year has been awfully horrendous yes but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had some amazing things happen as well. I have indeed had some incredible acting jobs and begun to work again, I have travelled to see one of my closest over in Hong Kong, I got approached to publish my book, I have helped hundreds of young people and performed to even more. I have made new friends, gained trust and friendships with some stunning people and met even more amazing humans from the traumas whilst by some miracle raising the £4,000 for me to be able to look into and begin the process of freezing my eggs to one day have a family. I also realise that no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad they seem or how ‘on your own’ you feel….you are NEVER EVER alone!

It would be so easy, in fact it is so easy to forget these positives when you’re at your lowest point I get that believe me. When time and time again this ‘world’ kicks you mentally and physically in the face. When you loose the people closest and things that mean everything to you but may I ask you something? Can you for just one second stop and look around at the beauty. Look at the smallest thing….that weird mark on the wall that if you look close enough is a shape of something you recognise, the fact that the feather, dust or bit of a dandelion is falling slowly, possibly in time to the song in your head. The wind, rain or sun on your face. The feeling of warmth falling down your cheeks from your eyes. Yes – even in tears there is beauty! The beauty that you’re able to feel, the fact that you can cry if you need to and that there is always someone willing to grab you, hold you and tell you that everything will be okay. The capability to speak and communicate in some way – whether that be speaking, blinking, looking, the vibration of a shake, the silent swallow or glazed glimpse in the ever so tired eye. Someone, somewhere and in some way WILL understand. I promise.

So world, I’m talking to you now and asking for us both. Can we please begin by injecting more beauty and love into the world? More kindness to each other? More consideration and understanding in that we all make mistakes, we all hurt people when we don’t mean to, we all aren’t perfect but can try to make you, us all, each other a little bit better? A little bit nicer? A little bit more tolerable for the many? It’s fact World, that all us humans living on you have negatives and positives to live through…good and bad but can I ask you….can you please help to make these; no matter how hard, just that little bit more beautiful?

XxX

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An interview with our commissioners -Cumbria Police!

An interview with our commissioners -Cumbria Police!
  • Why did you decide to commission a project like ‘Feel The Hate?’

I believe that the police and crime commissioner wanted this play to be delivered to our area because following BREXIT the hate crime figures in our area increased and he felt that would get a very strong message to our youth in the hope they would be less influenced by the hate crime that they may have seen or heard occurring in their area.

  • Why is it so important to Cumbria and do you think it should be branched even further in other communities? Why?

I don’t not think that there is an area that would not benefit from the advice! It should be relayed to even younger people than year 9 kids in my opinion. Sadly hate crime has the potential to affect any community and some people do not realise that their prejudice could actually be criminal.

  • What sort of sentences would people who victimise others and perform hate crime get? E.g. Prison, fines etc.?

It would depend on the type of incident associated with the hate crime. The incident itself will hold certain sentences according to what it is eg. assault, murder. However, the fact that it is associated with a ‘hate crime’ means that the sentence can be extended due to it not just insulting that one person, but also the entire community that they are associated with such as: the homosexual community or all muslims e.t.c.

  • Are there any of the stories in the play that are more significant to the Cumbria area and why?

They were all very important but:

I think that the story about Suzie was very important because he do not have many people in our area who are seen to demonstrate their religious believes through such identifiable clothing, therefore seeing ladies in these garments makes people notice them more which leads to a visual cue of “they are different to me”.

I think that Joe’s story is important to young men as Cumbria is very traditional and men tend to have very stereo-typical lives here. There are not the support organisations and agencies based here in Cumbria that are well known enough for people to know where to go to if they felt they had a need to talk to someone and I am sure that young people find it hard to “come out” even when there is an advice centre down the road, which we just don’t have.

Anya’s story was very impactive for people who are living in our area from Eastern Europe that are probably seen to be taking peoples work and without good English would find it hard to integrate into our society that is not very multicultural. Our supermarkets do not stock products like the ones in the large cities do so people from other countries must find it hard to feel “at home”.

  • Do you think anything within the play will be a shock to the audience?

I think that we are fairly good at being sympathetic to people with physical disabilities and some children would find it shocking that Kim was given such a hard time. I think that it is a shocking lesson to learn that one punch can kill a person but I am glad of that lesson!

Which character resonates best and do you feel the strongest connection to?

Personally I feel the strongest connection to Anya because…. I was born in England but moved to Scotland when I was 4 with other members of my family as my dad’s job was based there. I joined Primary school and lived a very happy life making good friends. However, the bigger picture was not so pleasant. My whole family suffered many years of abuse because we were English living in Scotland. A person in my family was so badly bullied and then attacked with bricks on the way home from school. They were immediately moved to England to a boarding school out of fear they would be killed or that they would kill themselves as they was so depressed. This broke up the family unit and was very damaging for everyone. We had to sell our house, (eventually) and my parents left their jobs just to protect us all from violence.

This did not stop just because we moved to England.

 

My family member was then invited to a party in Scotland many years later, to their old best friends (only friend) house where they were beaten very badly. I remember seeing them walking up the garden path, their face was purple and their eyes swollen so badly they couldn’t see out of them properly and they had driven back from Scotland in this condition. I can’t believe they even survived to be honest.

This resulted in my wider family then blaming “the Scottish” people which has always been very hard for me because my “home” was Scotland as I had grown up there from 4 years old and was very “Scottish” at heart. I moved to England when I was 11 so all of my child hood memories were connected to a happy life, for me at least, in Scotland.

 

Moving to England meant I had to lose my broad Scottish accent just because I was so scared that I would be beaten up in England because I sounded different. I changed my identity out of fear of being a target for hatred.

On  brighter note… I think that people will identify with Joe more than they let on. Gay lads watching the play will feel a secret connection to him and people may change their vocabulary now knowing that “that gay bag “does actually represent a person.

  • And for a bit of fun, if you weren’t in the police…what would you like to be doing in  dream world?

If I won the lottery I would buy a massive mansion and like Angelina Jolie, adopt of lots of children and given them a brighter future.

https://www.cumbria.police.uk/home.aspx

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Introducing Sean McGrath – Writer and Director of AlterEgo’s ‘Feel the Hate.’

Introducing Sean McGrath – Writer and Director of AlterEgo’s ‘Feel the Hate.’

What is it you’re actually doing and what is ‘Hate Crime?’

We are currently touring  AlterEgo Theatre Company’s new show, ‘Feel the Hate.’ The play is the fictional retelling of four different characters, deriving from a collaboration of verbatim narrative (taken from true stories of residents within the Cumbria area.) Ania – a sixteen year old Polish female, Susanna – a sixteen year old English girl who has converted to Islam, Joe – A sixteen year old homosexual male and Kim – also sixteen with MD (Muscular Dystrophy.)

It was at the beginning of 2016 when the company brought the script (in its early stages) up to Cumbria for a bit of a read. Between four actors, the director and police we had a session to scope where it was going and if there was any other relevant stories we could include that were issues up this end of the country that maybe we hadn’t touched upon. After discussing with Cumbria Police, they gave significant feedback and after a few tweaks and additions have stuck by the company resulting in the ‘go ahead’ and then commissioning us to make this project come alive and our tour possible!

In addition to this fantastic project, it just so happens that National Hate Crime Awareness Week (October 8-15th)  falls during this time (on our third week of touring) and we’re feeling pretty darn passionate about not only the show but a lot of stories within the media that are extremely relative and linking to the post show talk at the end!

‘ Hate Crime is any incident which may or may not be a crime that anyone perceives to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards any aspect of a person’s identity. This covers race, identified gender, disability, ethnicity or sexuality.’

An Interview with Sean:

What made you want to write ‘Feel the Hate?’

I was approached last year by the office of the Cumbria Police & Crime Commissioner to write ‘Feel the Hate’.  Cumbria had had a number of very successful tours of our CSE awareness raising play ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ and wanted a similarly impactive project that could raise awareness around Hate Crime

How did you find the character’s stories and are they real?

The main narrative of each character’s story is based on a real event that happened in the UK within the last 3 years – all the names have been changed though.  I researched a lot of Hate Crime incidents (online, in conversation with victims and with support agencies) and chose the main story for each of the characters in the play.  With the rise in Hate Crime incidents post-Brexit I did alter/add in a couple of things from other true stories within each narrative though to make it fit the objectives of the play a little more effectively.

What happened to the guy that punched Dominik?

The guy that killed Dominik was given a life sentence and was told he would serve a minimum of 16 years in prison.

When did you start writing and directing?

I originally trained as an actor at The Oxford School of Drama.  About 7 years ago I side stepped into directing and my wife and I formed our own company, AlterEgo.  We started off touring Shakespeare and other curriculum based plays into schools and were soon asked by a friend if we could do a play that covered alcohol awareness.  I researched and wrote a play called ‘Smashed’ which toured to a number of London boroughs.  That was my first go at writing a play and I’ve since written 8 others.

What inspired you to write for schools and to raise awareness about such big issues?

My first foray into writing, ‘Smashed’, went really well and was very well received.  On the back of that I was asked by a Northampton based charity to develop a play raising awareness around Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).  The resulting project ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ has now been seen by over 480,000 young people around the UK, has showcased in New York City and will showcase in Canada next year.   As part of the first tour 6 years ago we presented it to a number of parents who’s children had been groomed and sexually exploited.  When they were speaking after the performance, telling their heart-breaking stories, I had a moment of catharsis where I realised that we had a responsibility to use plays like ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ to have a direct and positive impact on young people’s lives.  We’d recently had our first child and hearing parents speak about their children’s horrifying experiences hit to the core.  We reformed the company as a not-for-profit social enterprise and set about developing a market for ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ as well as other new projects that covered issues that we cared about.  Over the past 6 years AlterEgo has developed into one of the leading theatre-in-education companies in the UK – specialising in illustrating the narrative around complex social issues such as Hate Crime, Radicalisation, CSE, Domestic Abuse and Safe Internet Use.  My inspiration comes from knowing that we have a direct impact all around the UK and, on a selfishly level, trying to make the world a slightly better place for my children, their friends and peers.

If for some reason you were suddenly forbidden to write plays or direct, what would you end up doing?

I truly don’t know. 

What is most helpful to you as you sit down to write a first draft?

Having a really clear set of objectives on what the play needs to accomplish (when the audience leave the room they think/feel/know what?).  Having done enough research, interviews, reading so that I know my subject matter backwards.  Coming up with a detailed, scene by scene, plan for the play and working out my characters and their objectives in each scene.  The dialogue can then take care of itself!

 It’s known that you’re a busy man, but on your days off (if you ever got one), what would be your perfect Sunday?

A lie-in, cooked breakfast, Sunday papers, lazy morning, afternoon pub visit, home cooked Sunday lunch, family movie with the kids, evening box set (preferably new GoT) with my wife, red wine and log fire a’glow!

sean

Introducing Joe Macintyre (Played by Kieran Doherty)

Introducing Joe Macintyre (Played by Kieran Doherty)

Character: Joe Macintyre

Age: 16years

Ethnicity: Caucasian

Origin: English

Bio: Born in Carlisle, Cumbria. Homosexual. Child to Jane and Graham. Sibling to little sister Jennifer (Jen.) 

An interview with Kieran:

Why did you want to be involved in this production? I was excited to be in the production and not often as an actor do you come across jobs so involved with helping others. The entertainment industry can feel at times like a selfish business but this role gives me the opportunity to make a huge difference to people’s views of the homosexual community. I love touring and seeing different parts of the country too.

What’s challenging about bringing this script to life and taking on your role? It can be challenging to play vulnerability on stage. As a person who has never been subject to bullying of any kind I often struggle to portray a vulnerable person. However my research into hate crime and looking at statements from victims has helped me empathise with and emote their struggle.

Is it easier to play this character or to be yourself on stage? For me, a character is always easier to be on stage than myself. In front of an audience, when being yourself all of the judgments they make about your behaviour and characteristics are that of your own personality. However when being somebody else, you immerse yourself and therefore leave yourself backstage.

If you could play any other character in this show, who would it be? All the other characters are female so I may struggle playing somebody else! However, if I were to pick one of them and change them to a male, I’d choose Suzy. I’d love the see the response from audiences to a Muslim man.

Who’s the funniest person in the cast in real life? I am the funniest person in the cast…. I feel I should prove that with a funny comment or anecdote but I’d like to just answer the question genuinely!

What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage /  the curtain goes up?Before going on stage I always stretch and yawn, my body’s way of dealing with nerves is to trick myself into thinking I’m tired. So I shake all the tiredness out before I go on stage.

In one line what would be you piece of advice to any young person out there?  My advice would be… Think.

 

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Introducing Susanna Johnson (Played by Jemima Watling)

Introducing Susanna Johnson (Played by Jemima Watling)

Character: Susanna (Susie) Johnson

Age: 16years

Ethnicity: Caucasian

Origin: English

Bio: Born in England, UK. Only child with no siblings. Converted to Islam whilst in secondary school.

An Interview with Jemima

  • Why did you want to be involved in this production? I feel very strongly that ignorance is the root of prejudice, and that education is the only way to combat this. I feel deeply for the victims of hate crime; and am angered by the thoughtlessness of those committing these crimes, and the ill-informed grounds on which they base their attacks. I want people of all backgrounds to feel welcome to live happily in the UK without the fear of being harassed or attacked. This production aims to teach acceptance of others and condemnation of hate incidents, and this is why I feel it is important.
  • What’s challenging about bringing this script to life? The script is a series of monologues, which is possibly the most difficult format with which to hold the attention of an audience – and teenagers in particular! We try to keep them on the ball by really living the moment each time we perform; and connecting with the emotion of the piece – as you should do every time you’re performing, of course. But the stakes are higher here: if you lose your way or stall, you’ve lost their attention. You need to be with the character at all times; you can’t drop it for a second. These are real incidents collected from real people in Cumbria, so connecting with the emotion isn’t too hard to do. I’m very saddened by these stories.
  • How is this character like you? Different? Susie is much like I was at her age – a bit of an oddball! I felt like I didn’t fit in, just like Susie. I was quieter and more studious than many of my peers, and very interested in history, philosophy and spirituality. I didn’t go to lots of parties. I didn’t have boyfriends. We are different, though, in that Susie is very calm and measured in the face of the attacks she’s experienced, which is very admirable. I, on the other hand, can be a little hot-headed…
  • What’s the biggest challenge about taking on this role? I think the biggest challenge for me was understanding Susie’s attraction to religion. I myself am not religious, so this is not something I naturally identify with – but it was extremely challenging and rewarding to research, and I learned a lot. Even though I’m not religious I have always recognised the need for freedom of religion, and religious plurality; and I can identify with the search for spirituality, and for peace – and these were the drives I used to access the character.
  • Without giving anything away, what’s your favourite or most poignant line of dialogue? “I’m not going to try and convert you or make you see the light – your choices are your own, and your choice of religion – or lack thereof – is your own. I just want you to know that I found peace”.
  • When did you first perform? Probably aged three at my local ballet school! But for the first time professionally in 2014, in a production of ‘Godspell’ the musical.
  • When you have a five-minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing That’s tricky – I’m the sort of person who needs enough time to really sit down and do something! If I had a bit longer, I might read a book or do some character research – but if it really is just five minutes, I’ll make a coffee.
  • In one line what would be you piece of advice to any young person out there? As my character Susie says, ‘broaden your horizons’.  Often we don’t know what we don’t know; and we are all raised with some form of prejudice or another. It’s our duty to try and dismantle this by recognising our privilege or prejudice ‘blind spots’, and educating ourselves.

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Introducing Kim Fletcher (played by Sophie Wardlow)

Introducing Kim Fletcher (played by Sophie Wardlow)

Character: Kim Fletcher

Age: 16years

Ethnicity: Caucasian

Origin: English

Bio: The only child born in to parents Catherine and Mike. Lives in Keswick, Cumbria. Was diagnosed with Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy when she was 14years and is now permanently disabled.

An Interview with Sophie

  • Why did you want to be involved in this production? I think that Hate Crime is a massive issue in daily life and especially within the media at the minute. A lot of areas are so close knit and closed off to the world and how many different cultures go about their daily lives. I think it’s important to branch out and show young people from the get go about who different people are, the rights they have to exist like everyone else and be themselves with no prejudice of judgement.
  • What’s challenging about bringing this script to life? I think the script itself is very real and as an actor it’s quite normal to have to embody ‘real roles’ that touch on hard topics. I think the difficult thing with this script is that you don’t want to let the people down who have shared their stories and you almost want to do them justice as well as send out a valuable message to the audience the best you can!
  • What’s going to surprise people about this show? Gosh, that’s a hard one. Surprise? Erm, I’d say maybe at the end. I think the way the script is written is very realistic and it may be hard for our younger audiences to distinguish between the reality of the characters and the fact it has this almost ‘fictional’ element to is as we’re simply actors acting them out. It will be interesting to see the reactions in the post-show talk.
  • How is this character like you and different? Aside from the obvious physical traits of Kim being nearly ten years younger than myself and also that she has muscular dystrophy, I do surprisingly have quite a few traits of hers. She’s very bubbly and outgoing which I am as well and I can link to the use of crutches and the bullying she experiences. I was partially disabled for quite a lot of years in my childhood; not being able to walk. It helps bring Kim to life I guess.
  • Is it easier to play this character or to be yourself on stage? Definitely play the character! I’d much rather be someone else than stand up and be myself on stage any day!
  • Who do you look up to (as an actor/director/etc.)? Oh gosh there are lots really! Stage wise – I love Judi Dench, she’s my idol. TV / Film….I’d have to say either Emily Blunt or go old school and stick with Audrey Hepburn – possibly one of the most classiest and stunning women to have existed in a lot of respects morally and skill wise!
  • What do you do when you’re not doing theatre? I like doing a lot of things really. I also write so you’d usually find me sat somewhere outside with my notebook or in a little corner with my typewriter. I also work with young people and women who have hard hard lives / been through certain unfortunate situations helping them rebuild their lives and exist with confidence again. It’s extremely rewarding!
  • What would be you piece of advice to any young person out there?Be yourself. Talk….talk to anyone about anything. Never feel alone, never be alone and never be afraid of who you are or who anyone else is!

Each of us has a spark of life inside us, and our highest endeavor ought to be to set off that spark in one another.’

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Introducing Ania Berlinski (Played by Margot Navellou)

Introducing Ania Berlinski  (Played by Margot Navellou)

Character: Ania Berlinski

Age: 16years

Ethnicity: Caucasian

Origin: Polish

Bio: Born in Torun, Poland, in the year 2000, only child of Marya and Pietrek Berlinski. Moved to Kendal at the age of 7.

An interview with Margot

  • What’s challenging about bringing this script to life? These are real stories that came from real people. As actors, our job is to make the audience experience the full emotional impact of these stories, to make them feel the pain those people felt. To a certain extent, that means we have to feel their pain too. Twice a day, every day. It can be tiring emotionally, but it is so important and so rewarding when you find you are making a real difference in a young person’s life.
  • Why did you want to be involved in this production? In the post-Brexit world, with extremism rearing its ugly head around every corner, it is more important than ever to educate our young people so they can become compassionate, tolerant, loving citizens of the world.
  • What will the audience be thinking about in the car as they drive home or when they leave the room after this show? Hopefully, they will leave the show thinking about how much of an impact their words and actions can have on other people, and knowing how to find support if they are ever the target of a hate crime.
  • When did you first perform? I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t performing. I think my first experience on stage was in a dance show at the age of 3. I was playing a mermaid and spent the entire time adjusting the giant bow in my hair instead of dancing!
  • What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like? I get up late, meet friends for brunch, go for a long walk (with a coffee or cider break thrown in) and finish up the evening curled up on a sofa watching a good film.
  • In one line what would be your piece of advice to any young person out there? It’s not my line, but “be excellent to each other!”.image1-3