Weapon of Choice
Our 2009 project 'Weapon of Choice' (WOC) is a shining example of the potential of our young people as the next generation of positive citizens who actively seek for solutions to community problems.
WOC grew from a theatre project, investigating gun and knife crime into a dynamic theatre company formed of 10 young people (15-25) from four London boroughs. Together, WOC devise interactive plays that investigate pertinent issues affecting them, their peers, and local communities. Their plays explore: peer influence and pressure, low aspirations, negative surroundings, youth violence, gang affiliation, joint enterprise and, choice and consequence.
WOC use drama to spark a debate amongst young people excluded from mainstream education, susceptible to peer-pressure, and (or) at-risk-of offending or gang affiliation, and ignite a change in mindset.
Using authentic dialogues, and with real understanding, they invite peers to re-think the options in their lives, and examine the consequences of the very real and life-changing choices they may have to face. Skilled performers and facilitators, WOC toured their interactive performance to schools, youth offending services, the Roundhouse Studio Theatre, Pupil Referral Units, the Old Bailey, and the Rose Bruford Annual Research Symposium.
‘She [audience member] was talking to me and she had tears in her eyes and I was thinking, is this woman for real? I swear to God, that was my honest thought, but she was being dead serious'. Participant performer, Old Bailey performance, 2014
What were the strengths of the performance?
'The fullness of the world. You guys are so committed. When all of a sudden we are invited to have an impact on the story – it is an engaging invitation – you WANT to help this kid. I like that you are all great improvisers. The play seems very alive'. Audience member, Rose Bruford, 2014
In 2013, the Arts Council England supported Weapon of Choice in a new phase of work: WOC2.
The grant supported the creation, develop and tour of a new interactive performance by 10 junior artists. They received bespoke artistic training, which equipped them with the tools to engage new audiences, thereby creating future audiences, and future artists.
Two years ago, our young company expressed a desire to work more intensively, and over a longer period of time, with the young audiences they meet. Teachers also expressed an interest in their students being involved in the project. With the support of Help A Capital Child, our Haverstock School project: Your Choice was established. This year, WOC piloted two 10-week projects with young people. Our schools’ pilot at Haverstock School began with 20 young people involved in a mini-WOC project. Using the same drama techniques, games, improvisations and Forum, the Year 11 students have worked alongside 4 members of WOC to create their own interactive play.
Here is what teachers, workers and participants had to say:
‘Schools: if you don't work with Pan - you are MAD. What they came in and did was BLOODY AMAZING.' Chloe Combi, Write Club, 2014
‘… You guys were amazing.’ AAmy Hoppett, Head of Arts, Willow Brook Primary School Academy, 2014
‘Weapon of Choice is a ground-breaking innovative project that uses dynamic theatre performance to effectively investigate youth violence. The work is delivered at exactly the right pitch and pace to reach young people… in a thought-provoking way that does not preach a message but allows the audience to genuinely engage with the subject matter. This is a difficult line to tread and this project achieves the right balance. It is an ambitious and brave product'. Selina Busby, Senior Lecturer MA Applied Theatre
‘[I’ve learnt] how to work with people, how students are sometimes wrong'. Participant, School project, 2014
WOC specialise in Forum theatre because it’s a form of Theatre for Development, an interactive technique that presents a play dealing with a specific issue presented to an audience who have direct experience of that issue. Forum theatre is a kind of theatre debate, a theatre game, an empowerment exercise, in which the aim is to take the power, to fight the oppression, and come up with as many different possibilities for change, an audience can imagine. For more information about Forum theatre and how to use it, you can purchase our book: Theatre for Development Handbook.
Using Forum theatre, supported by expert practitioners and artists, WOC inspires young people considered to be hard-to-reach and retains them in positive activity. The WOC process includes a focus on personal and professional development. The young theatre company are trained in facilitation and workshop-leading skills. This training has equipped them with the tools to lead drama workshops and create a safe forum, vital, to host the dialogue initiated by the performance.
One of the developments alongside the main programme of work has been a peer mentoring and youth leadership strand.
Pan's work advocates for the empowerment of young people. Particularly in the Arts Against Violence programme, young people, especially those at risk of exclusion or failing academically, can turn their lives around and re-establish a positive sense of self, raise aspirations and increase respect for others when they are given the responsibility of leading their own project and mentoring others.
The Joint Enterprise Film
WOC members are currently scripting a film that takes elements from this live performance, research, and interviews with Judges and Barristers to produce an educational DVD explaining Joint Enterprise. This film is made possible thanks, in part, to The Sheriffs’ and Recorder’s Fund.