Art is a powerful thing. In all its forms it has the ability to transform a single human experience into something so precise that others gain an understanding. It’s that need to understand, and then communicate that understanding, that often drives artists and creators. This same drive exists at the heart of the BRIGHTLIGHT study; a series of research projects designed to answer a single question: Do specialist services for teenagers and young adults add value?
The studies are supported by a fantastic cohort of organisations and form the stimulus for our next Contact Young Company show; There Is A Light: BRIGHTLIGHT. Directed by award-winning artist Adura Onashile, the show is developed in collaboration with Brian Lobel, BRIGHTLIGHT’s researchers, youth board and young people with personal experiences of cancer. Central to BRIGHTLIGHT is the involvement of young people: BRIGHTLIGHT was developed by young people for young people, so who better to create an artistic response than the young people of CYC.
We were also joined by researchers on the BRIGHTLIGHT project, Lorna Fern and Rachel Taylor, who were both eager to take part in the exercises. Later they held a Q&A which provided invaluable insight into how and why the project was brought about and the ultimate aim; To make living with cancer more bearable for young people and to ensure they are able to do the things they wanted to do before they had cancer.
Week one is always both exciting and slightly nerve-racking; meeting new people, exposing yourself as a performer, finding common connections and sharing personal experiences and ideas. However, this initial workshop had the added pressure of dealing with a topic that most people would prefer to shy away from. Senior Lecturer at University of Chichester (Theatre, Performing Arts) and one of our Lead Artists, Brian Lobel, had the challenge of introducing the subject of young people and cancer. After a quick warm up game we embarked on a series of exercises designed to help us explore this sensitive topic; throughout it became quite clear that cancer must be named, it should be talked about, we’re allowed to be curious about cancer and cancer treatment and it certainly can not be viewed as a taboo.
I could have been surprised by how effectively the young company was able to handle this topic. I could have fallen into that awful way of thinking that ‘young people can’t discuss big and complicated ideas’. But witnessing the work this company created in the space of a few hours is enough to eradicate that thought process from anyone’s mind entirely.
During the workshop we were shown clip art style images relating to young people, cancer and cancer treatments. We were later asked to work together and create new images and moving statues which embodied these ideas, the catch being that we should work in silence.
It was after this, when discussing what had just happened, that a member of the company accidentally said ‘when we were speaking in silence…” and there was a chuckle as we all realised how nonsensical that was. I don’t know why this sentence stuck with me. Perhaps it was because we DID just speak to each other in silence. We connected and created in silence. Or, perhaps it was because that’s what the BRIGHTLIGHT study and our production are ultimately doing - speaking about young people and cancer treatment in a world that is, more often than not, silent on the subject.
Towards the end of the workshop we challenged misconceptions that young people are not included in these types of research because they are uninterested, and asked the CYC why young people should be included. These are their responses;
"A lack of interest is a symptom not an unchanging state of being. With age comes perspective, knowledge and wisdom but these things come with experience too.”
“People are speaking on behalf of young people, who are definitely not young people.”
“At this very moment the opinion of a 25 year old on the subject of 25 year olds is probably the most important opinion.”
"Life experience is subjective and knowledge can not be so ignorantly categorised into an age group, is qualitative not quantitative, bitch."
and perhaps most importantly
Q. "Why should young people with cancer be included in cancer treatment research?"
A. “We exist”
It certainly left us all with something to think about.
I’ll be looking forward to the next workshop led by Nathaniel Hall and updating you on the progress of the production, so stay tuned.
Mark (Assistant Director)
Special thanks to our partners;
- National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
- National Cancer Research Institute Teenage and Young Adult Clinical Studies Group (NCRI TYA CSG)
- University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
- University of Chichester
- Commissioned by SICK! Festival. Supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award. Sponsored by Slater Heelis.