Ned Glasier is one of the team responsible for creating When this Is Over which is at Unicorn Theatre from Wednesday 27 to Saturday 30 October 2021.
The company has created a blueprint of the show and working with youth theatres and school groups around the UK in creating their own version of this piece. Together they are building a shared database of stories told by young people about their lives, available for anyone who wants to better understand the teenagers at this pivotal moment in history. It is rather an impressive feat of real collaboration.
Also the piece has been timed to coincide with COP26, as the world leaders gather in Glasgow to decide the future of the world, the cast share with us the extraordinary, funny and sometimes embarrassing small moments that make up a life – from childhood pasts, to the impossible imagined hope of what is to come.
Your new show, When This Is Over, is coming to the Unicorn Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
It’s a very simple show, but like the simplest things, it’s actually really complex.
There’s a group of seven teenagers on a set that looks a bit like a giant playground. It’s been constructed entirely out of bits of set and scenery that have been used in other theatre shows.
The teenagers stand on that set and tell the stories of their lives – from before they were born until the end. We hear about them as babies, as children and teenagers – what happened to them during the pandemic and what they think will happen next.
For us, it’s a play about a generation, about hope and the future.
What inspired you to create this show?
We always start our work from conversations with young people. With this play, it was one of our cast members talking about their interest in parallel universes – and another talking about how big the expectation is on their generation to save the world and make a better future.
Then of course, it was the pandemic – we were making it in the pandemic, mainly on Zoom and in socially-distanced workshops.
Gradually, we started to use the time we had in the pandemic as a moment in which we could think about our past and our future. It felt like a lot of people were talking about how we were all in a very pivotal time – both with the pandemic and climate emergency. Working on Zoom means we were talking more than we were making – telling stories about what life used to be like, and what we hoped it would look like – after this was all over.
As we developed the project, we wanted to celebrate the power of telling stories – of thinking both about the past and the future. At some point, one of the young people involved spoke about how burdensome the idea of being the ‘generation of change’ was and so that became a focus of the show: why do so many adults assume that the young people are going to save the world and resolve their mistakes?
Tell us more about the process of creating the show with young people, and how you plan to leave a lasting legacy?
It’s been both a very familiar and unfamiliar experience. We have a quite consistent way of making shows in Company Three – one in which we try and centre the authorship of the young people as much as possible. It’s their stories and their artistic impulses that guide us, supported and developed with professional artists.
What was different this time was how restricted we were – we made lots of the show through conversations on Zoom, which were never as good as conversations in real life. And even when we met up in actual workshops, we couldn’t be less than 2 metres apart. So, all the things you normally take for granted – chats in pairs, moving together, games, ensemble work – we had to re-think everything.
We also had a different creative team leading the project this time – when we invited Sadeysa to be involved we really wanted her to be more than a designer, because she’s such a brilliant storyteller in her own right – so she became a co-creator of the show, and that’s had a huge impact on what we’ve made and how we’ve made it.
In terms of legacy, there are a few ways we hope that the play continues to resonate after we’ve made it.
Firstly, there are going to be more than forty productions of the play, by youth theatres and school groups across the whole of the UK. We hope each of those inspires a conversation between younger and older people – about fear, hope, the past and the future.
We hope too that each of those processes inspires the youth groups involved to keep making work born of the experiences of the young people they work with. Youth theatre has all the infrastructure needed to make real change – we just need to focus on the experiences and artistic impulses of the young people, rather than just pulling adult plays off the shelf.
We hope that our experience in building a set entirely out of re-used and repurposed materials provides the basis for a future in which youth theatre can benefit from re-using sets that would otherwise be thrown away or discarded by other theatres. And in which all of theatre is more careful and creative in how we build and re-use sets.
Finally, once we’ve done the show, we want to create a final version of the blueprint – so that any groups, anywhere, can continue to make their own version of the show.
What do you think will be your lasting memory of the process?
Telling stories. Finding a starting point and watching the young people just flow – almost like we’d pressed a button and they couldn’t stop. It’s such a magical thing to create a space where people can just talk and talk about themselves – it’s only when you put those things into a script that people realise how interesting they are.
It’s run will coincide with COP26, how are you making this an environmentally sustainable production?
We’ve built the set entirely out of sets that were otherwise going to be discarded or recycled. We put a call out and lots of places gave us things – we’ve got timber boxes from the Almeida, barrels from the National Theatre, ramps from Regents Park Theatre. Once we’re done, we’re going to give it all away to other youth theatres and companies – hopefully they’ll do the same too.
What would you say to anyone coming to see When This Is Over?
Sing along when you know the words! Join in when it feels right.