“It’s Not Love”: Using Theatre to Help Teach Young People

By | February 14, 2023

As an ISJ intern, I was lucky enough to interview three actors working on the “It’s Not Love” project directed by Rachel Conlon and Jules Dorey Richmond, senior lecturers from the School of the Arts, and commissioned by the NSPCC as part of their “It’s Not Love” campaign. The piece focused on healthy and unhealthy relationships, highlighting issues around Interpersonal Domestic Violence and coercive control amongst young people.

Previous collaborations between the NSPCC and YSJ focused on raising awareness about child sexual abuse, online grooming, and sexting. However, their new performance focuses on emotional and physical abuse within intimate relationships.

The play is performed by York St John University alumni students, Jake, Jordon, Natalie, and Caitlin. During this interview, I asked them about their experiences working on the project and what they hope audiences can take from this new performance and digital film resource.

The following transcription is taken from a conversation with the actors and myself.

Hello, please introduce yourselves.

So, my name’s Jake. I graduated in 2020 in Drama and Theatre. This was one of the first acting projects I’ve picked up again after graduating, and obviously after lockdown. I’ve been involved from the start with the development side of the project, like the character biographies ourselves and the feeling out of what the project would become. So, from the very bare bones of what the NSPCC gave us.

My name’s Jordan. I graduated in 2021 in Drama: Education in the Community. I’ve since gone on to a masters’ degree to become a drama therapist at the University of Derby. Echoing Jake, my involvement with the “It’s Not OK” project has been right from the start. Crafting the characters with help from Rachel Conlon and Jules Richmond.

Hi, I’m Caitlin. I graduated literally, just this summer, so I’m very new to the world of being a proper adult. This is my first performance job. It’s really an eye-opener on the world of performance and being a working actor is completely different to just performing in productions and plays. It was a little bit nerve-racking, but it was interesting to gauge the differences that I brought to the character having taken over the role from someone else.

What’s something that really stood out for you in this project?

I think the diversity of the audiences that we were able to touch with the message of the piece is astounding. Going in, you have a certain angle on what this project is for and there was a point along the way when we tried to open and fine-tune it so that it is adaptable as a live performance. Performing for secondary school children, which is our primary target audience, but then also residents in a young women’s group for abusive households stood out to me. I think seeing how effective it is amongst all those diverse groups of people and still seeing an effective response from them is fantastic. And I think it’s been great to see that in action just how wider a target audience we can sort of hit with one piece.

How has the project changed and developed from its initial idea? What’s it been like going through that developmental process again?

In terms of the developmental process and I think the best example for me to give would be my own character. Initially, it was very dark, my character presented as sociopathic. If we were to take in that version of the character in the schools, it would be very easy for the discussions that happened after the drama to just put them into prison or into the judicial system. So, we’ve had to really kind of look at these characters in order to make the audience empathise with them and understand the background of my characters trauma. Because if the audience can’t empathise with the character that’s abusive then it shuts something down for them a potentially important conversation about abuse and the causes of it. We need there to be a discussion afterwards, so it’s to see the characters go from a very kind of two-dimensional place at the beginning of the process to bring this multifaceted layered person this living and breathing character that we’ve made.

What’s something that you hope to gain from this? 

I think as actors you can take so much from your own life, but if you’ve not experienced certain things and you’re going to go into a particular role, you want to be able to perform it as authentically as you possibly can. If you’ve not necessarily experienced something you know you can try and bring emotion from aspects of your own life, but I think it’s just nice to be able to learn stories and be able to take those away.

One final question, what do you hope an audience would take from this project? Do you think it’s something that they could come away with and apply to other situations?

I think it’s a matter of observation, not just assessing the situation and snap judgement. Making an audience have a bit more critical thinking and to be observant of their surroundings. And be a bit more emotionally understanding of other people’s struggles. Overall, it can help stop a lot of problems. Whether it’s with regards to the issues we highlight or whether to seeking help and support.

I’d like to think that the audience would leave the performance emotionally charged and recognise the behaviours that they’ve seen and be able to take a step back in their own lives and try and notice these behaviours. You know, either in themselves or in friendship groups. And really kind of work with that and offer support to people if they feel like they might need it.

We live in a world in which there are a lot of problems, and sometimes you feel like I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to just get on and deal with it. But I want the young people to take away that if things are getting too much, you can speak to other people. It’s picking up key things it’s not just about supporting yourself, it’s also about how can I support the people around me. I think that’s very important for young people to take away from that.

With the “It’s Not Love ” campaign from the NSPCC and YSJ, the message of helping those in vulnerable positions is so important. From building an awareness and understanding of situations of interpersonal violence in a safe and supportive manner. To working with communities, in places like schools and youth centres. These are things that Rachel Conlon and Jules Dorey Richmond’s arts and social justice work aims to do. With the help and passion of the actors I interviewed, I believe that this project will achieve these goals and more.