Caitlin tells us about our latest forum theatre project in Knowsley...

My colleague Rachael and I have now taken the Grassing or Grooming drama workshops into lots of schools in Liverpool and the city region; but the school we’re currently at in Knowsley is the first where the kids already seem to know the language of the resources and more. They laughed, called out and poked each other as they watched our video, clearly recognising some of the scary moments and transactions taking place. 
The script and video we use with this resource tells the story of Dean, who meets an older boy online: Ellis. Ellis persuades Dean over time to be his friend by offering him gifts, video games and a bike, eventually persuading him to deliver drugs in packages for him. Dean is beaten up by a gang who steal a package and Ellis’ bike from him. Ellis then reacts by telling Dean that he owes him everything back and that he can’t ‘grass.’ Ariel Trust have developed the piece in collaboration with schools and pupils. 
What’s really striking is how much each set of young people has connected with this story, even those who laugh and resist begin to easily talk about the issues after one or two sessions. They seem to be surprised and refreshed about how honest, upfront and realistic the content is. 
In Knowsley we hear the young people talking about the video amongst themselves, mentioning phrases like ‘roadman’ (not mentioned in the script or video). We speak to them about what they think, using the characters from the story. They listen to their classmates talk about what real friendship is, how the gang who beat Dean up was probably set up by Ellis, and who would be in trouble if Dean told someone about the package - categorically ‘not Dean’, say the young people, ‘except from with his friends’ - ‘and maybe with his parents’, one of the kids concedes. ‘This is why it’s so important that we find ways to involve parents in these workshops’ my colleague Rachel tells me - this is something Ariel Trust are committed to doing as part of these projects. 
Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been lucky enough to be able to take the young people outside so they can run around and play games. On the grass there is a little area with a bench, ideal for an audience, and a stage like clearing in front. Here, the kids have plenty of space to role play the story and make up their own scenes, although they do occasionally get distracted by worms. 
This week, starting in the classroom for a chat, and then moving outside, we focus on the idea of covert and overt pressure - how someone can put ‘snakey’ pressure on you to make you feel like you owe them something or should do what they say. We play a game I have learned from my work with Theatre on Foot, Liverpool based drama workshops for young people and adults, called Character Merry Go Round. The kids are split into two circles, the inner circle are all ‘A’ and the outer circle are all ‘B’. A’s and B’s face each other and have thirty seconds to improvise a scene before moving around the circle to face another partner and a different scene. In this particular version of the game, one character is putting pressure on the other in various funny scenarios: selling someone a broken scooter or returning a yappy puppy to the pet shop. I stop the young people a couple of times to remind them to use their words and not resort to shouting or shoving each other - observing them is interesting because within these boundaries they begin to use more imaginative tactics to persuade one another. 
After this the children split into pairs and to play Ellis and Dean, Ellis has to get Dean to deliver a parcel while Dean must resist. We hear loads of persuasive arguments like ‘I’ll get my brothers on you’, ‘it’s easy all you have to do is take the package’, ‘you’ve got to be a good friend’ and ‘you can have any video game you want’. 
The Deans are all also practicing resistance skills, asking questions about what is in the package, saying ‘why should I?’, ‘I don’t want to’ and ‘If I don’t know what it is, it could be something illegal that I’ll get in trouble for.’ One of the girls remarks: ‘Ellis should be doing his own dirty work not getting Dean into trouble’ and we are able to discuss if we thought anyone was pushing Ellis in the same way. The pupils decide yes, it could be his brothers, or the gang, and we talk about the potential group of adults pulling all the strings. 
There are always these serious moments, but there are lots of funny ones too. It’s important that the children feel they can experiment, practice and play with different forms of communication. Those who may struggle communicating in the classroom come to life when pretending to be someone else. 
I did think I’d struck gold with the genius of my Merry Go Round game when I instructed:  ‘A’s are afraid of water  - B’s, are trying to persuade A’s to come into the water’, and noticed one of the boys from the B circle (the persuader) lying on the ground kicking and crying out ‘I’m drowning, I’m drowning!’ while reaching out to his friend. I immediately clapped and called out to the rest of the group: ‘look at the tactics he’s using here to persuade A to get in the water! He’s pretending to drown so that A has to get in and save him! Very clever!’ Only to be informed matter of factly by the drownee that he’d gotten mixed up - he was actually playing the person who didn’t like water because he couldn’t swim, but had jumped straight into the water and was now doomed.