Philip Osment October 2010
In 2007 Jim Pope asked me to come and work with his group of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) at the National Youth Theatre. This group were taking part in the Playing Up course which Jim had set up as part of an outreach programme run by the NYT. The young people involved had dropped out of education and some had experiences of homelessness, probation or prison.
At the same time Jim was conducting workshops in young offenders institutes (YOIs) as part of this outreach programme and he invited me to participate in the one he was running with a young fathers’ group in Rochester Prison which houses convicted sentenced young offenders serving up to 6 years. The young men had previously all participated in a programme called Fathers Inside run by an organisation called Safeground.
Paul Roseby, the Artistic Director of the NYT had at the same time proposed that I should be commissioned to write a play entitled FATHERS INSIDE and on the basis of this and my experiences of the workshop in the prison Jim and I began work with the members of the Playing Up course in February 2008. Their initial task was to create characters who, for some reason, were incarcerated and had young children. These characters came out of discussions we had about my experiences in Rochester and out of their own experiences and knowledge. We began to “hotseat” the characters – interviewing them about their lives which helped to define who they were and what the relationships between them might be. These relationships were further developed through improvisation and slowly a story emerged. This process culminated in three improvised performances in the Studio at the Soho Theatre in May 2008. A few weeks later we took this improvised version to Cookham Wood YOI where the young men in the audience were rapt throughout and talked eagerly about the issues that the play brought up for them. Most importantly they wanted to talk to the actors about their journeys – how they came to be such accomplished actors.
In 2009 our cast began the final year of the Playing Up programme – an accredited A-level standard course which would qualify them for higher education. It was decided that as their final presentation our actors would perform FATHERS INSIDE. I scripted the play and it had a longer run in the studio at the Soho Theatre in late August and early September 2009 garnering enthusiastic reviews and responses.
Given this positive response, Jim and I decided to set up a company (PLAYING ON) to provide professional development and employment for our actors. We made an Arts Council application to restage a reworked version of the play which we now called INSIDE to avoid confusion with the Safeground programme and to research a new project with our cast. At this point the Roundhouse came on board with the offer of financial support and a run in their studio theatre.