by Esther Richardson, Artistic Director
A very long time ago, when Doc Martens went mainstream for the first time, mobile phones were laughable brick-sized toys for “yuppies” (young upwardly-mobile professionals who were mocked, at least in Durham), and mixtapes were the universal expression of friendship and sometimes love, I entered my eighteenth year.
The world was a completely unrecognisable place from today. That said, a distant, scary and incomprehensible war was rumbling in the Middle East. My friend Judith was writing to a soldier as part of a scheme, and would read his very amorous letters out in the common room at school. With no internet or social media, the news was gleaned from one of four TV channels, or the radio, and mostly the stuff of global and historical import felt far, far away from my tiny life.
This year I was enjoying the relative freedom of being in the ‘lower sixth form’, a beautiful, unpressurised year that followed GCSEs and preceded A-Levels, when at some point I supposed that all those serious decisions would be taken about my future. I remember having a lot of free time, coasting a bit at school, and hanging out with friends down by the river, and at the pubs we could get into, and of course at house parties. I was holding down a couple of sporadic part-time jobs to fund my two main interests: clothes and going out. I learned I was good at checking data – the best person on the whole team I was told – and I worked out the money I could make from doing it full time if only I dropped out of school. That’s not happening said Mum. I wasn’t, nor did I feel, wholly in control of many parts of my existence, not least because I wasn’t yet legally an adult, though never to be seen without my thick black eyeliner, I now looked like one.
Later that summer, when the rave scene would make it even as far as Durham, I would explore its fringes, and once having disappeared in a car with ‘go-faster stripes’ on the side, stayed out all night without telling my parents where I was (this might still be the worst thing I have ever done to them – I will never forget my Dad sitting on a kitchen chair in the hall when I attempted to sneak back into the house the following morning, his face ashen). That summer, I discovered youth theatre for the first time, and a group of people who were planning to become actors for real. It seemed a bit of a far-fetched notion, but putting on plays was an idea that caught my imagination too. Then, when September was finally on the rise, I vaguely started to wonder about whether I would be the sort to go to university or not. I had good GCSEs, and I knew that I could focus myself more this year when it counted. It was free to go to university too, in fact many people still got a grant … so there was no hurry. Life shone with possibility.
I can barely believe now how privileged I was then, and how liberated, to have this time to enjoy my youth, while having the security of also knowing I had these choices. As Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre today, living once again in a northern city in the UK, I’m acutely aware of what a sharply different world it is in 2018 for young people, and for someone from my background. Or is it as different as I think? I intend to find out.
Eight weeks ago we put out a call in Yorkshire for people who were turning 18 this year to contact us to take part in a year-long participatory filmmaking project to interrogate this subject. We want to document what passing through the hallowed portal from official childhood into official adulthood is like today. What are the hopes and dreams of young people living through these years, how do they spend their time, what are their fears, what challenges do they feel they face turning eighteen? We want to bring together a group to explore this not only to give a voice to an age group which mainstream culture mostly ignores, but to examine the kind of society we are today in respect of how we treat, value, create opportunity for and interact with those on the brink of adulthood.
We have already had some amazing applications, not just from Yorkshire either – from across the world. And so we have decided to include everyone who wants to participate in the journey. Over in Italy – in Forli – our Platform Shift+ partners took the idea to a film festival, who are now also going to run a group there. Similarly, there will be groups in Portugal and Dresden, Germany. At the moment we are recruiting the team to work on this whole project and developing the format which will enable both local groups and online participants to take part in the project. It’s going to be amazing and there’s still time to get involved – drop us a line if you want to hear more. Email us at [email protected].
I can’t wait to start this project and look forward to hearing from everyone who wants to tell their story of turning 18 in 2018.
Find out more about the project and how to get involved by visiting the Eighteen page.