Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m originally from Liverpool, and moved with my son to Newcastle in 1993 after falling in love with a Geordie, and the North East - although I still love Liverpool. I’m driven by a passionate belief that great theatre can bring about social change. I co-founded Open Clasp in 1998 and feel totally privileged to do the work I do, and witness the change that theatre can make.

How did the collaboration with Open Clasp and Frantic Assembly come about?

I love Frantic Assembly. I saw Black Watch and Beautiful Burnout, and they were like nothing I’d seen before. They captured working class stories and told them in such a powerful, exciting and dynamic way. I remember wishing our audiences in the North East could see their work. So I emailed them and said, I want to create a play about young women as brilliant as your shows, would you consider working with us? They were really keen, and it just went from there.

What is unique about Open Clasp?

I believe there’s no other women’s theatre company working the way we do. We involve communities throughout a project, from discussion about lived experiences, creating characters, script development, to rehearsals and attending a preview. In this case, we’re working with 162 women aged 12-20 - they’re the experts in their own experience, and we work together to make change happen.

Who are the participants and how are they recruited?

Over the last 16 years we’ve built strong partnerships and trust with community groups and organisations. We advertise, use social media and have a membership and mailing list. We work with whoever wants to be involved in the initial workshops, so any group of young women could participate.

Why do you feel it’s important to involve young people in this project?

It was important for the company to make space for the voice of young women. Even though I understood some of the issues they were experiencing from research, it wasn’t until the consultation sessions that I really began to understand (and remember) the complexities of being a teenager. Now I know why that voice is important, because it’s holding up a mirror to the world we live in, the here and now, and reflecting issues that are impacting, not only young women’s lives, but on humanity itself.

What is the project working towards?

Ensuring the voices of young women are heard and valued through the production - a contemporary, energetic and exciting piece of physical theatre about the lives of two sisters and their friends over Halloween weekend. The play will tour the North East and Liverpool in February and March 2015, to coincide with International Women’s Day. We hope it will reach a wider audience in 2015/16, including a legacy project to support young people nationally to look at healthy and unhealthy relationships, including bullying.

Who is your audience?

More than half of our audiences are people who don’t usually go to the theatre. We tour to both community and mainstream venues and our audiences include women who share the life stories of the characters we depict. Our shows sell when people don’t know what the story is, or what issues are being highlighted, because they know it’s about them, or that it’s about something that will make them think, laugh and cry, and think some more.

What are the challenges presented by this project?

The challenge right now is getting the script right. We have a great creative team, and the pressure is on me to deliver. I have to try to ensure that audiences will hear the voices of the young women who have put their trust in us.

Another challenge is cuts to youth services. Our audiences include youth and community centres/groups, and over the last 16 years I’ve seen the landscape change, and it continues to do so. While working in Liverpool this year, the youth service had a 50% funding cut, so key people we’re working with may not be here in six months’ time. However, I’ve seen the passion and fight that good youth workers have for ensuring young people and communities have access to work that can bring about personal and social change. They’re always trying to find another avenue to access funds so they can continue to provide services. I believe in the strength of people, but if the funding cuts continue, will communities be left behind?

  • Open Clasp will continue to work on the production at Northern Stage in September, before touring the North-East and North West in Spring 2015 including dates at Washington Arts Centre and ARC, Stockton. For more information, or to book the production for your group or venue, visit