What working on Stitched taught me about young people

Stitched: A Hip Hopera has been an incredibly special project to work on, and one that I feel privileged to be part of. The objective has been to build on the 4 years of embedded singing, rapping, writing that the young people have been involved with as part of New Writing North’s Young Writers’ City at Excelsior Academy. The aim? To work with the students in creating their own musical. A hip hopera. One that reflects their voices, with characters and plotlines that speak honestly of their lives rather than far off Southern cityscapes or invented Hollywood dilemmas.

Though the performing cast is around 20 in number, the piece wears the fingerprints of hundreds of students who have contributed thoughts observations and terminologies through writing hooks of songs, lines of poetry, or cracking on to remind us about the pains of adolescence, some familiar and some unique to this current age of snapchat and snap judgements.

The piece moves to their rhythms; the pace of dating, the volume of family strength and disappointments, sibling competiveness, school ins and school outs. But it also warns of the harder edges of growing up in the here and now. Poverty. Fear. Aggression. Pressure to conform. Pressure to commit.

Ultimately the play seeks to convey the story of a world. In their own words, ‘a possible world’. Where love and loyalty in all its diversity takes centre-stage against the white noise of inequality and austerity and politicians and systems that just are not speaking to our young people. And who certainly aren’t showing any intent to listen.

Stitched runs through with ambition to tell it like it is, but with an overwhelming want for hope to win over ill. A fiction based in truth. Not ‘here’ but ‘like here’ Not ‘us’ but ‘like us’. Their passions and their potentials. Both the good and bad. Both the right and wrong.

Where the odds might feel as though they are weighed against us, but with a reminder that that which stitches us together is greater than what pulls us apart. We hope that the Sage audience will hear just that. But that additionally what they will witness is the underlying current of a story of young people from Newcastle’s West End stepping up and speaking out with courage and integrity, working together to make their voices heard.

Throughout this project I’ve laughed from my toes, I’ve been warmed by kindnesses, outraged by injustices, unsettled and alarmed by the ways of the present world. I’ve pondered long and hard about impossible contradictions. But most of all I have been continuously utterly floored by the talent and the generous outpouring of creativity from these young artists.

So when they close their eyes and they sing about craving safety or looking out for their friends. When they speak about being cheated by leaders or being confused about what doing the right thing might look like. When they rap about ambition, fear, survival. When they ask us why the world looks the way it does… and then offer a thought on where it might change for the better, or a simple retort that might set a policy-maker back to the drawing board, then quite simply theirs are the voices that I want to listen to. And I’m so excited to hear them do their thing. And so proud of everything they have achieved.

All credit to the teachers, arts professionals and the other networks who against the overwhelming odds continuously fight the tide in order to instill in our young people their absolute right to take space in the world. And to everyone who is and has been part of NWN’s Young Writers’ City. It’s been a pleasure to be amongst your number.