His Girl came out of a workshop that Marie Vickers and I ran for Southwark Youth Offending Services and London Bubble. It was to produce a film about (un)healthy relationships in young people. The film, His Girl, was to be devised by youth offenders and girls at risk of sexual exploitation with guidance by Marie and myself. It is now being used as an educational tool to start a conversation about the subject in school.
What we discovered was that neither the young people nor us really knew what a healthy relationship was, the stable happy nuclear family presented to us in media and by the government did not to exist. Rather it seemed something of a fantasy and not applicable to the everyday. Relationships are more messy and complicated than they are usually portrayed in youth fiction. Who defines what is healthy? The young peoples’ idea of what is a good relationship was also disturbing. Women seemed to be divided into virgin/whores, by both boys and girls alike. If a girl was to have sex with a boy she became a “sket” and a target for exploitation. “Sisters” were supposed to remain virgins and subject to an honour code. Lastly, relationships were demarked in terms of status. The world in which these young people live is limited so they see brands and symbols, including relationships, as a way of marking status rather than education or working, which would give a positive sense of self.
The development method involved theatre techniques and improvisation. This allowed the participants to share their experiences in a way that was safe for them. What we were given was an insight into a world that was disturbing. The work was producing ethnographic data of young people in South East London and it was data that was authentic. The participants were able to reflect on and refine the experience as it became closer to a script. We used words and devised scenarios. Then we honed them to fit into a script. While improvisation and re-enactments have a long history in ethnofiction (Rouch, Sjoberg 2008), scripting and filming with a cast of actor and a crew does not. Contrary to what Picault (2008) feels, that to write precise and detailed scene before shooting would be predictable and the opposite of anthropology, the more detailed and precise the script became the more insights we were given. Being specific meant that the thoughts and motivations questioned the participants further and meant they could go deeper into the explanation without exposing themselves. While the development of the script was fun and safe for the participants, acting in the film proved not to be. A couple of the participants did not turn up on the day of the shoot. So actors from London Bubble’syouth program LB+ had to step in at the last moment.
A year later we decided to refine and remake His Girl. The starting point was the script developed during those workshops. The cast is made up of Young People drawn from London Bubble Theatre Company’s youth program LB+. We looked at the elements that were strong and for what might be missing. We continued to bring the actors experiences in throughout the production process as they are also young people living in London. Improvisation and theatre techniques were a central part of the rehearsal process as we looked at elements we did not deal with in the first time around such as the role of friends. It was a successful and our audiences wanted to who what happened next. We have now completed His Girl 2 using the same actors and method. His Girl 2 looks at where you go when things have gone wrong. We are starting to write His Girl 3.
Here is the link to His Girl 1.
His Girl 2 will follow soon.
And we will keep you posted about His Girl 3.