By Simon Sharkey, Associate Director (Learn), National Theatre of Scotland
Following the great success of Jump which worked with over 1000 young men from Fife and Glasgow we set upon promoting the model internationally. The first country to respond was Jamaica, where the British Council invited us to test the model out on the Jamaican young people in Kingston. We worked with Manifesto JA and engaged boys and girls from the downtown area. This blog tells the story of a fantastic and challenging week in Kingston. We hope to return and to roll out the model elsewhere. If anyone is interested in finding out more please do get in touch.
Monday 11th March
I arrived in Kingston to a friendly welcome from Lesley and Natalia from Manifesto JA. They had dragooned their mum into being the taxi that would transport me to the hotel. It was, as I was about to discover about Jamaica, all about family. The Blue Mountains, famous for coffee, dominated the landscape as we drove into Kingston- lush, green and full of flora and fauna that cannot be described in words, they need to be experienced.
I was immediately in love with the place and wondered how such a paradise could possibly be so contradictory- Kingston’s disenfranchised youth and extreme poverty co-exist with such beauty. I wondered how my expectations might shift when meeting the young people from the downtown area.
I caught up with Chris Grant of Glasgow Parkour. Chris had been training with Joka- the local Parkour troupe, in Mandela park in Kingston and with the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) at Mr Nashidas gym.
From what I heard Jamaica is hungry for this activity and I was excited to meet the groups.
Tuesday 12th March
We made our way to Mr Nashidas gym- a well equipped and fantastic resource for Kingston. I met with the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) and the parkour trainers and immediately got to work with our physical theatre training. I was impressed at the openness of the JCF. They threw themselves into the weird and wonderful exercises I was putting them through and did it all with great humour despite the 30 degree heat, so “big praise” goes out to them for seizing the challenge and making the most of it.
We showed the Jump documentary of the work we had made in Scotland with young people. This video is powerful testimony from the mouths of the young people, their parents and peers, it illicits strong emotions as it’s very evident that lives were transformed by theatre. I was pleased to see that this transformational evidence also made the JCF emotional and hopeful.
The team work and laughter was brilliant and everyone left tired and enthused.
Wednesday 12 March
Wednesday was our first day at Breezey Park with the downtown young people. We arrived at the basketball court and took shelter from the sun in a gazebo set up for the reception of the young people who wished to participate. Shane, a local who runs a community farm in downtown, had rounded up some young people and told them about Manifesto JA coming in to run some workshops. They didn’t know what to expect, but such was the hunger for activity and the respect for Manifesto that they came from nowhere.
As we worked, the company grew….and grew and in the end we had around 50 young people turning up regularly and throwing themselves in to the work.
This was a challenging group in challenging circumstances, but they soon connected with the ideas that Parkour and physical theatre were offering. Structure, discipline, exercise, problem solving and most importantly self expression.
It was clear that the young people were seizing the opportunity to get away from the stress, tensions, and lack of opportunity that pervades their community. The chance to simply leap, move as an ensemble and share their stories and hopes was one that was rarely presented.
Part 2 coming soon…