Real Lives: Inspired by Scotland’s Invisible Army of young carers

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Victoria Beesley worked with young people from Glasgow South West Carers Centre to create Invisible Army, a play based on their lives

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27th September 2016 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

It all began on a night out when I had a conversation with a woman who was caring for her terminally ill partner. She was explaining the frustration and difficulties of being a carer – earning enough money for the both of them, dealing with the bureaucracy of claiming benefits for her partner, the physical demands of caring for him and helping with his physiotherapy, the emotional burden of seeing someone you love so ill.

At that time I was running drama workshops with a group of young people and knew that one was a young carer who cared for both of his parents. I thought:  “Flip! He’s having to go through all of this and deal with all these different aspects and he’s only 14!”

Victoria Beesley

Victoria Beesley

The show is aimed at teenagers and their families. Young people can be a tough audience – they’ll let you know if they’re bored!

There are thousands of young carers across the UK doing this remarkable thing without anybody paying much attention to them. So, I wanted to share their stories with a wider audience and I began working with the young carers at Glasgow South West Carers Centre. They were very clear that the story we told shouldn’t be one of doom and gloom and that they didn’t want people to feel sorry for them.

​My work is always inspired by real-life stories so my process often begins with interviewing and meeting people who will inspire the production. This process began with a block of workshops with the young carers.

The workshops were an initial exploration into their experiences of being carers, and I expected to follow up the workshops with more in depth interviews. But the young people I was working with were so energetic and playful that interviews seemed the wrong way of working with them; they wouldn’t be representative of their character.

So I took a slightly different approach and carried on collecting information and ideas from them in workshops – setting different exercises, asking them to devise scenes, to create new worlds and to design characters.

It quickly became apparent these young people should be involved throughout the creative process because it was their show as much as it was mine. So they have worked with me to plot the story arc and offered feedback on rehearsed readings of drafts of the script.

The show is aimed at teenagers and their families. Young people can be a tough audience – they’ll let you know if they’re bored! One of the great things about having the young carers involved in creating the show is that their ideas and feedback have helped us to create a show their peers will enjoy.

I hope the audience will experience the things I like most about theatre – a good story, great characters, twists, surprises, humour, heart. The show is about young carers, and although it’s interesting and unusual to hear a story about a young person who is responsible for an adult, the show isn’t worthy. It’s the story of an adventure –  imaginary and real worlds combine in the story making it familiar and surreal and dark and silly. There’s also live music, with a musician onstage throughout the performance, and the story is told with movement as well as text so the audience should experience a show that looks good and sounds amazing.

Victoria Beesley is artistic director of Terra Incognita. She developed Invisible Army with the young carers at Glasgow South West Carers Centre.  Invisible Army is touring Scotland throughout October.

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