‘Changing space’: Theatre project sees award-winning youths take over Manchester Art Gallery for five days

Young people will take over Manchester Art Gallery this week to explore the role of art in the 21st century.

Members of the award-winning theatre ensemble Contact Young Company are teaming up with youth poetry group Young Identity, to stage five days of performances and tours through the corridors of Manchester Art Gallery.

The multi-disciplinary performance, Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures, is being co-directed by internationally renowned dramaturge, Tunde Adefioye, from KVS – The Royal Flemish Theatre in Brussels and Manchester poet and creative practitioner Ruby-Ann Patterson.

The title for the project is taken from a speech by American womanist and civil rights activist Audrey Lorde.

Former BBC Words semi-finalist Ruby-Ann said she was initially surprised to be selected to co-direct the project. She said: “I hadn’t really done that [theatre] for years. I don’t really know why they wanted me.

“Bringing music words and music into this is possibly a key thing.”

As part of the project, members of Young Identity and Contact Young Company have been discussing issues surrounding post-colonialism and thinking about how they relate to Manchester today.

“They [the young people] have been trying to think about how we can change this space,” said Ruby-Ann.

“It seems apt that the young people of Manchester can have the opportunity to have a say about that.”

She added that the project had been a learning curve for all involved. “There are not many memorials that show these histories. There are things that I did not know.”

Evie Appleson from Contact Young Company admitted that addressing some of the issues in the project had been challenging.

“It has taken lots of thinking,” she said. “There has been a lot of talking. For me as a white woman, is that my place to be speaking about these things?

“But there has been space so we’re not worried about saying the wrong thing. It has been about being able to deal with uncomfortable emotions.

“The whole performance feels like a conversation and it’s a conversation about us, about how we can implement changes.”

Ruby-Ann noted that Manchester Art Gallery curator Kate Jesson has been wanting to explore ways of changing the gallery space and the young people’s project was an ideal opportunity to do that.

Last year, Manchester Art Gallery temporarily removed John William Waterhouse’s world-famous painting Hylas and the Nympths from its walls, provoking controversy.

Visitors were invited to leave their opinions about the removal on post-stick notes on the wall. At the time, the Manchester Art Gallery said it wanted “to prompt conversations” about how the gallery displays works.

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