As part of our We Watch Youth Culture event at the Barbican we asked our panelists to write up what they saw and what the experience of spending a week being culture critics meant to them. Here Maya, Boundless Adviser and panelists takes you through her week, the culture she saw and how she spent her wildcard money.
‘Youth culture’ is a collection of feelings that unite all young people, regardless of our differences. Feelings of frustration, but also of freedom and empowerment. In the age of social media, this would be the most obvious place to look for expressions of youth culture. However, it can also manifest in the arts. Over the past week, Boundless Theatre sent me and two other young people on the exciting mission of travelling around London to soak up as much culture as possible, culminating in a panel discussion. With expenses paid, we had the freedom to interact with as much as we could squeeze into the week including plays, exhibitions, films and books.
On Friday, I went to the Tamasha Scratch Night at Rich Mix to see scratch performances of two shows, each with young people at their heart. The first was entitled ‘Graveyard Gahng’, written by Lakesha Arie-Angelo and directed by Simone Watson. As the audience came in, the only thing onstage was the gravestone of a young person so I naturally prepared myself for a sad story where young friends try to cope with grief. To my surprise, the show turned out to be so much more: developers plan to build over their friends’ graveyard, so the ‘graveyard gang’ spring into action and stage a protest. This portrayal of young people was particularly refreshing because for once we were not shown as passive to our circumstances, but as active agents in changing them, instantly flipping negative connotations of the word ‘gang’. Perhaps theatre could be the way that stereotypes of young people are challenged, rather than reinforced.
I am also particularly interested in Intersectionality and Feminism so this book was perfect for me. Looking at the price tag, I remember feeling that all too familiar pang of disappointment. But then I remembered that this time I could actually afford it!
I proceeded to have the most culturally enriching Saturday ever, purchasing my wildcard book and going to see two other plays. The first was ‘Misty’ at Trafalgar Studios, written by Arinze Kene about growing up young and black in London. It was based on the extended metaphor of London being a human body with main roads as arteries. It questioned what the virus is that take over main roads- young people or gentrification? I loved Misty because it forces you to confront your own prejudice and question your role in the complex body of London. The show is mainly composed of monologues backed by live music, formulating in powerful spoken word pieces. Every so often, this is interrupted by snippets of feedback that Kene received from his friends and family while writing the play. A recurring criticism was that he had contributed to the plethora of plays that only feature marginalised narratives if they are about a ‘struggle’. This really resonated with me so I was glad that it came up during our panel discussion. It seemed that everybody wanted a balance to be achieved: for representation to be embedded into positive narratives whilst not erasing prominent struggles that need to be addressed.
I also saw ‘Pot’ at Ovalhouse Theatre, a play about being trapped in gang violence. This is a narrative I have seen quite a few times, so I wondered how this show would differ in its approach to the issue. The protagonist of the show was female, something quite rare in theatrical portrayals of gang violence. It also spoke about pathways out, which isn’t usually something that is addressed. Thus, the show exemplified how theatre can be educational, not only in spreading awareness but also by directly helping young people who are dealing with the issues discussed. For this reason, I was delighted to hear that the show is currently being toured around secondary schools.
As well as Boundless suggesting particular things for us to see, they also gave us a ‘wildcard’ option: £30 to spend on anything cultural of our choice. This may seem strange, but I’ve never really had a spare £30 to spend on something cultural; any spare money usually goes on food and travel expenses. Eager to exercise this freedom, I headed over to Waterstones to purchase ‘Black Feminist Thought’ by Patricia Hill Collins. As I wish to do a sociology degree, interacting with this kind of cultural content is crucial. I am also particularly interested in Intersectionality and Feminism so this book was perfect for me. Looking at the price tag, I remember feeling that all too familiar pang of disappointment. But then I remembered that this time I could actually afford it!
Seeing most of these shows independently made me realise how important youth engagement with the arts really is. We are so hyper-connected through technology that there is something quite beautiful and necessary in taking time to engage with something cultural on your own. Youth culture is all around us. It can be entertaining, it can be educational and it can be empowering. It is important, it is valid and it is not going away.
We Watch Youth Culture was a Boundless programmed event as part of Real Quick the Barbican’s new platform for rapid responses to the state of the world.