There is a revolution happening in Manchester’s theatres. Young creatives are producing extraordinary work that is political, provocative, and hugely inspirational. Contact Theatre have been a main contributor to this exciting surge in youth theatre, with their drive towards providing opportunities for emerging young artists. Their recent collaboration with Brazilian activists, ColetivA ocupação, proved that we need to start listening to our younger generations.
Contact Theatre’s latest project is Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures. It will see young creatives take over Manchester Art Gallery to bring a political message to the audience, encouraging them to think differently about representation. Contact’s Young Company will be collaborating with spoken-word organisation, Young Identity, to challenge the authoritarian version of history by allowing collective, decentralised, decolonised voices to flourish.
I recently caught up with co-director Tunde Adefioye, who is a city-dramaturg at KVS, the Royal Theatre in Brussels, to discuss Old Tools and the importance of youth theatre.
“What makes Contact unique is that young people don’t just get given a script. They have a part in devising the work. We want to provide them with a wide range of tools to approach the story-telling process”. Since January, young creatives have been encouraged to attend poetry workshops, maths lessons, and visit museums and art galleries. “The idea is to equip them for the creation of this piece in Manchester Art Gallery”.
Having the event held at Manchester Art Gallery, rather than a theatre, is crucial. “It is a place that holds what we consider to be our collective histories; our collective stories. The reality is that it shows only one version of history. It was created and built by a certain class of people. We are caressed into believing that this is our joined history. Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures is all about saying ‘Let’s take a look at the histories that are represented. Perhaps there are pieces that aren’t included in this collection. Maybe there are stories that aren’t told completely’.
“Take the [James Northcote] portrait of Ira Aldridge, for example”. Titled A Moor, this portrait represents Ira Aldridge playing Shakespeare’s Othello, as the first black actor to play the role on the British stage. Bought in 1827, it is the first piece acquired for Manchester Art Gallery’s collection. “But what is the story behind it? What made an African American move to Manchester? By revisiting these stories, we can make them more full and complete. We are making sure that all voices are heard”.
“We cannot forget that all these struggles are intertwined. The struggle against oppression, faced by people of colour, is not something separate from the struggle for queer rights, accessibility, or class struggle. We can’t separate these things”. That is how to decipher the meaning behind the project’s mathematical equation; Old Tools is greater than New Masters but does not equal New Futures. “If we continue to look at things separately, rather than realise that everything is intertwined, we will repeat the same mistakes. We cannot keep living this separation of our realities”.
“Working with young people is pivotal to this. Young people have a way of seeing the world that adds a certain level of urgency. They have so much more information than we had when we were younger. No matter where you are in the world, young people are trying to change the dynamics of the places they live. Sparking a revolution in Cairo. Mobilising the world to be informed about climate change from Stockholm. Young people in Florida exposing America’s gun violence, proving that Black Lives Matter”.
“Young people are at the epicentre of change”.
Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures runs from Wednesday 12th – Sunday 16th June at Manchester Art Gallery. For tickets, please visit Contact Theatre’s website.