What York teenagers are really thinking – and it’s surprising and moving by turns

31 Aug 2015 @ 10.15 pm
| News

What are York’s teenagers really thinking?

It’s an age where a lot of young people keep their innermost thoughts to themselves – however much they share on Instagram and Facebook.

Where I’m Stood

Sep 4 @ 7.30pm, Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York

Sat Sep 5 @ 8pm, York Explore

Sun Sep 6 @ 5pm, York Boxing Club, The Maltings, Walmgate, York

£5-£7.50

Show website

But more than 100 York teenagers have shared their inner lives in more than 100 interviews, discussions and workshops over the course of the last year.

And their thoughts are at once funny, touching, worrying and thought-provoking.

They were collected as part of a year-long project which culminates in the first performance of a new play next month, Where I’m Stood by Upstage Centre Youth Theatre.

The show’s producers have shared some of the teenagers’ thoughts with us. Names have been changed to protect their identities.

Aisha, 14

Aisha has undergone a self-confessed transformation – and one that very few of her peers will have experienced.

I used to be a horrible person, before my parents took my phone away.

I haven’t had a phone for eight months now and if you had seen me then and could see me now, you wouldn’t believe it was the same person.

I’ve changed so much. I was not a good person with that phone.

I was constantly on Facebook, taking endless pictures of myself on Instagram, trying to Photoshop myself, trying to make myself look prettier.

Bigger boobs. Thinner. Changing my make-up ten times a night. Different selfies – posting it all on Facebook, trying to get boys to like me.

I had 5,000 friends on Facebook. But I didn’t have one real friend.

Now I’ve got eight or ten real friends and no Facebook at all… I’m much happier and I’m a much better person.

– Aisha, 14

Cassie, 16

Cassie’s words hint at a deep-seated anxiety…

Dealing with physical changes of going into adulthood, you know fancying girls and boys, becoming more aware of your appearance, coming to terms with periods and getting over the shock of your first boner…

All these things are important, I’d never dismiss them.

But in all honesty my teenage problems were bigger, much bigger.

– Cassie, 16

Ross, 14

Ross is in care in York. He is honest about the dud hand that fate has dealt him, but shows a steely resolve to rise above it.

Other kids brag about their family weekends. Me, I brag about the C grade I achieved in an English assessment, even though my classmates are achieving As and A*s.

Children in care are shown to get bad grades and end up having no life. I’ve already been put in that category.

I will prove this fact wrong, I shouldn’t be labelled a failure because of my care order.

No child in care should.

– Ross, 14

Ellie, 17

Another teenager in ‘the system’ is 17-year-old Ellie.

Her words should give any of our councillors and MPs pause for thought.

In reality I’m a list of words on paper, depression, dropout, illness.

The council doesn’t know my personality, my likes and dislikes.

My daily life is recorded on paper for them to asses my needs – how can they govern what I can and can’t do when they have never met me?

I’m just another budget and that budget is cut, the money only flows in to assure I give back what they gave.

– Ellie, 17

The lion

And finally the words of one nameless boy, aged 15, which is nothing other than poetry…

I’m like a lion, trapped in a cage.

My thoughts are the lion, the cage is my age.

‘Their stories matter’

An all-action shot from rehearsals. Photographs: Upstage Centre Youth Theatre
An all-action shot from rehearsals. Photographs: Upstage Centre Youth Theatre

These are just some of the experiences of York teenagers which fed into the creation of Where I’m Stood.

Described as a “cutting-edge documentary theatre experience”, the show is based on their stories, dreams and beliefs – all gathered during a year-long project by Upstage Centre Youth Theatre and City of York Council.

“We have met and worked with some of the city’s most vulnerable and disengaged young people,” said executive producer Joshua Goodman.

“We felt that it was time to give a voice to alternative versions of what it’s like to grow up in York.”

He added:

Everyone’s always talking about how cosy and middle-class the city is – but that discourse can have an oppressive, marginalising effect on those who don’t fit into that narrative.

We hope this piece will give some young people a sense that their stories matter, even if they don’t feel like they are part of the city’s norm.

Brilliant early-career actors

The play centres on three fictional friends whose world falls apart when one of them overdoses on hallucinogenic drugs.

As they try and make sense of what is happening to them, they encounter four young strangers, all looking for answers to different problems. The actors portraying these characters use a mixture of real words recorded from interviews and made-up words inspired by true stories.

“We are working with seven brilliant early-career actors from York – each of them just a little older than the characters they are portraying – and so there is quite a lot of cross-over between acting, remembering and imagining,” says director Matt Harper.

He said:

Many of the cast have had experiences similar to those in the play, and we are encouraging those to come through.

I guess you could say it’s half-play and half-documentary. In that way, it’s really quite ground-breaking.

Where I’m Stood plays three venues on three successive days from Friday, September 4. See the panel for the full details.