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

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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

HATE CRIME AWARENESS WEEK!

HATE CRIME AWARENESS WEEK!

So, what’s this all about and what is it you’re all actually doing?

We are Kieran, Sophie, Jemima and Margot….four actors 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.’

Over our last two weeks, we shall be blogging and writing away with the aim to support and get the word out about the project we are doing. There will be specific facts, figures, personal and impersonal features included surrounding the topics within the show. Each day you will get introduced to one of the four characters individually and their stories within the play – Ania, Kim, Joe and Susanna . It will be an insight into where their stories originally came from, what it feels like to play the characters as actors and what surprises, shocks and new found information has come about from delivering and performing the show and post show talk across Cumbria.

Next week, we’ll hopefully have posts from other key figures who have been part of the team – The writer / director, people who have supported and commissioned this wonderful project and hopefully some of our audience members!

Keep up to date, keep informed and in the words of Ania Berlinski:

‘Don’t stand for it. Don’t allow it.

Thankyou.’

Tour, titivation and tangled oppressive motiv…

Tour, titivation and tangled oppressive motiv…

So it is week three of a five week tour (including rehearsals) and I am among a group of strangers performing to thousands of young people and professionals with a devised show surrounding Hate Crime.

It’s during the times of research and with having the ability to spend the time looking into the Cumbria area that my,our, the company’s eyes really begin to open and see reality of such horrendous events.  The types of hate crime and segregate discontent amongst humans is beyond belief, the lack of knowledge and education in people around the world is incredibly vast and so very varied. It is in the Cumbria area, as we present verbatim pieces of language…stories, people’s lives that the horror of such violence, abuse, incredulous activity and actions come alive in physical form. It has been in some of the most under privileged schools where most questions have come about, the truthful nature of such British extreme groups and people among these ever so closed minded communities really comes out in the open.

It’s standard that when processing, rehearsing and especially starting on a new show that opinions and idealistic voices come out as to what and how much we believe to be true and commonly existent in our lives. The lives of our families, friends and those of strangers fed by our media; which is indeed a big point within our show. Especially surrounding the portrayal of Isis Vs Muslims. I have not really given myself the opportunity to debate as such, nor express certain things when speaking with others in order to simply ‘get out’  how I feel and the frustrations of the political and diabolical atmosphere around us all in this country…well, the world really. The horrendous decisions, lack of and horrifically terrifying laws and rules that new politicians shockingly believe to be a sound reality of living in ‘peace.’ The feedback at the end of this show will be somewhat exceptional, somewhat enormous I am sure and over these next two weeks I, we, us as a company will continue to take notes, give young people a voice and educate the generation before us about just how important making a difference and speaking out in this world really is……We continue! 🙂