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Interview with Paula Boulton

Paula Boulton 

‘Shouting for 20 Years’ Interview with Judy Caine – 9th September 2020

 

 

Judy Caine [00:00:03] Okay, this is Judy Caine, I’m one of the interviewers for the Shouting for 20 Years project. It’s Friday, the 7th of August, and I’m here with Paula Boulton, who is the founder of the Shout Youth Theatre and its Artistic Director. She’s going to talk to me today to tell me about the whys, whats wherefores, what it meant for her. So, Paula, just just to start off. Could you  give me your  your full name and age.

 

Paula Boulton [00:00:29] yes. I’m Paula Boulton and I’m 64.

 

Judy Caine [00:00:33] Thank you. Paula. I understand

Shout Youth Theatre started in 1998.  Tell me how it

came about.

 

Paula Boulton [00:00:42] I was approached by Corby

Borough Council, their youth involvement person at the

time was called Nikki, and she said, would you like to do a summer school to get the kids off the streets? You can use the Civic, she said, because in those days it was the civic centre. And erm, so I was basically given access to the theatre and all the changing rooms. And I’m sure I can’t remember whether the whole building had gone before you arrived,but, you know, there were lots of very serviceable dressing rooms of size that could be used for breakout rooms as well. And the foyer and everything.

 

[00:01:22] So, I decided I would put together a music, dance and drama summer school. And I was walking through the town after I’d had this meeting and I bumped into my niece Emma, who at the time was doing A-level theatre studies. And I said, what are you doing during the week? Blah to blah, wherever with, you know. It was in August. And she said, well, not a lot, why? So I said, well, would you like to be involved? And she corralled all her a level theartre students, you know, not students. She now teaches. You know, the others that were studying with her. And it was great because I immediately had help, helpers. So, so I could leave an 18 year old in charge of little breakout groups within the number of children that turned up and know that they would know enough about theatre to be able to help them make something up. Whilst I went round from one group to the next. So that was just an absolute, if, if Emma hadn’t been there that day in the town centre, I don’t know that I would have ever thought, oh, maybe I’ll phone Emma. It would have taken some other shape.

 

[00:02:34] I also involved Sammi Scott right at the beginning. She was at the time a dance teacher in her own right. She’d been one of my dance pupils. And I asked her if she wanted to run the dance part of it. And also, Cory Grey, my neighbour, was a singer. And, you know, we had some notion of doing bits of music as well.

 

Judy Caine [00:03:01] Can I just interrupt one second Paul, sorry. Just for the people who listen to this, who aren’t from Corby, I know what the Civic is, the old Willow’s. next to where the Cube currently is, isn’t it, it used to be the old civic centre with theatre. Just tell me, just clarify what it was.

 

Paula Boulton [00:03:20] Okay? It was a really, I think it was a wonderful building, but it had a theatre, which is what we used. It had a function room called The Willows, which was like cabaret style events would happen in there. There was a really nice bar where lots of people used to congregate. Graham Charles used to play the piano there. It was, it was a proper Arts hub, actually, but it also upstairs had the Festival Hall, which was an acoustically perfect concert hall, which had the major touring orchestras, and ballet companies come to it. So we had more, before it was knocked down.

 

Judy Caine [00:03:56] So it was a really nice prestigious place to run something like Shout Youth Theatre?

 

Paula Boulton [00:03:59] Oh yes. Yeah. And also it was it was unlike the current theatre. It was a community thing. So community did get involved. It was ours, you know, but it was, you know, it was subsidised. So, you know, the council could have a week where they were paying the bills or, you know, allow community groups to use it. Lot of ownership there. I first was in Aladdin, I think, it was one of the, oh, no, The King and I, The King and I, I was one of the children in The King and I when I was nine on those boards. So, yes, we did feel feel a lot of familiarity with it.

 

Judy Caine [00:04:37] So the council asked you if you are interested in doing this, how had they identified the need for a youth theatre or some sort of worship?

 

Paula Boulton [00:04:45] Well, they hadn’t. They just were doing that ‘tick’ we need to do something to get the kids off the street. Paula runs dance groups and does music and drama. Let’s ask her.

 

Judy Caine [00:04:53] So where did you get the kids from?

 

Paula Boulton [00:04:55] We put an advert in and they all just turned up and we said 11 to 18. I decided that, you know, my interest is in social documentary always has been, and using drama as a kind of youth work thing because I had youth and community training as well. I thought, well, we’ll do it issue based. We’ll ask the kids what they want to shout about and then we’ll do drama based on that, because I wasn’t going to come at it with a theme already or a written play because it’s a it’s a different thing then, there’s so many kids don’t get involved. I wanted every child involved. So that was my my idea. And what I was most tickled to find out was that one of the first lads that turned up was called Frankie Malloy. And erm, I said, oh, how old are you Frankie? He said 11. I said oh, alright then, that’s good, well, you’ll be one of the youngest. Frankie was 9, but he had decided he was doing this thing. And I mean, he was brilliant, he was really good. But, you know, I don’t know nowadays, would we have needed parental this, that and the other blah, blah, blah?  It was so much easier.

 

[00:06:09] But yes. So it was a group of kids from 11 to 18.

 

Judy Caine [00:06:15] Nominally.

 

Paula Boulton [00:06:16] Yes, nominally, and we we did an a wonderful mixed programme. They had it, we had everything in there. Some of them chose, er, there was child abuse, there was rape as two distinctly different subjects.

 

Judy Caine [00:06:29] How did you pick the subject?

 

Paula Boulton [00:06:30] They did. We just had these we had these little groups, you know, like as I said, the A-level theatre students. We did some warm ups altogether as a whole thing. And then it was OK, I want you to get into smaller groups because as you know, anything bigger than 10 doesn’t really function very well. So we we split it down discuss in group, what topics you want to do, and we’ll work those up. One of them did one about dyslexia, which, funnily enough, came up a few years later and we did a whole tour of the libraries about reading, literacy and dyslexia. I mean, right then and there, they, they’d chosen one topic because they were asking because what it did with the warm up was literally what’s troubling you? Because my theory is acting out that kids do and cause, causing trouble, anti-social behaviour is because they’re acting out. And if they could act out in a in a theatre context, then they wouldn’t be acting out on the streets.

 

Judy Caine [00:07:26] Tell me about your circle method, because you have a very unique way of working with young people don’t you.

 

Paula Boulton [00:07:31] Yeah, well, I thought it was, I thought everybody did it, but apparently not.

 

[00:07:35] I went to Kingswood, what was Kingswood Grammar School. And it was a Quaker school. I didn’t know that. But the headmaster, Alan Bradley, was a Quaker. So every assembly for the entire time, from my 11 to 18 in the mornings, we would go in and we would sit wherever we wanted to. And I imbibed that, therein lies my hidden agenda. We’re all equal. There was no hierarchy. There was no, and d’you know, they do it even now. And they have a minute’s silence where you just focus. And that was the Quaker away. So I grew up thinking that that’s what happened in every school. So, my model of Youthwork, I’d already got that in me, but also my my own training and the stuff I’ve been doing. I’ve been very active in the peace movement. I did a lot of non-violent direct action training as well. And everything works. And the women’s movement stuff I’ve done all works in a circle because there’s no hierarchy. So every Shout session we’ve ever had begins with the circle. And, erm, there is an implicit expectation that you will be listened to. But there’s also an explicit set of rules and guidelines to say, you know, if you if you want to speak, let us show somehow that you want to speak and that you, active listening was the thing. Because somebody speaking isn’t necessarily only what needs to happen. Everybody else needs to listen.

 

[00:09:08] And we also in in that circle very early on, I realised that there’s more you need to do to create equal participation. And one of the things is to work out who the dominant personalities are and get them to write rein it in a bit, and to make space for those who are less forthcoming. So we had all sorts of warm up games to work that out. And one of the things we frequently did would be a line, you know, so line up that end, you know, really bolshy and stroppy that end really timid. Where do you place yourself? And then they would have to interact all the way along the line and argue it out if they thought they were in the middle, somebody else did, well, they’d have to have an argument until they worked out about where they were. And then we’d say, right, you top four. You’re not gonna get to speak till the end of the circle, because if the stroppy ones and the bolshy ones, of course I’m one of them, erm, started, our ideas are there right at the front of our brains. And we just say, what comes to mind? The others, erm, right, well, could be this and might be that, and they’re much more thoughtful. They’ve put more into it and then they speak. So we did. We did a lot with the circle.

 

Judy Caine [00:10:24] What was your first play?

 

Paula Boulton [00:10:25] Well, the first thing we did was this mixed, mixed bag, that first time. And it was just a series, I would say, it was a series of short sketches. We went on from there. We did Teenage Sex Shop.

 

Judy Caine [00:10:42] Sketches about what though?

 

Paula Boulton [00:10:42] Well, the different topics they’d chosen. So there was one about child abuse, there was one about rape. There was one about, erm, dyslexia and you know, the things that I’ve previously mentioned. They formed the body of the play. But we also, all of us, sang Lulu’s ‘Shout’. Emma performed as Lulu. And we had that as our theme tune. And we also did erm, did a dance. I made everybody, I made everybody, well, I’m very persuasive. I did, I made everybody join in. So, we had we had the whole cast doing a kind of a contemporary dance piece. And we had a band as well, because some three of the lads were brothers, the Goodman brothers were there. So we had, you know, drums, guitar, vocals, and they, you know, did some like music stuff. So it was very mixed. But when when we got on to doing our first play, there’s a bit that I probably need to fill in here, which is that it was it was an absolute success that night. We had a full theatre. And everybody said it was a success. And the council said, “thank you for that”. And the children said, we’d like to do this regularly. Now, in my innocence, Judy, I thought that was a done deal then. So the following Tuesday, I turned up. We agreed on Tuesday. It’s always been a Tuesday. Ever since then, I turned up ready to do it. And we we carried on meeting and then at the end of the term, I received a bill for the hall hire for the Civic Theatre, for a whole term.

 

Judy Caine [00:12:24] The Council had meant as a one off?

 

Paula Boulton [00:12:26] Yes. I didn’t realise, the kids didn’t realise, and there I was with this massive bill. I mean, I would never, I’d have gone to the Labour Club and said, can I have the space for free? Which is what we subsequently did. And I said, you know, you asked me to do this. I did it, got the kids off the street. They became engaged. They really want to do this. And now you’re charging us hall hire, this doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, so to to be fair, they were then helpful. Peter Floody, he was culture and leisure at the time, he helped us get a constitution together, and he said, what you need to do is apply for a grant. So, so I mean, Shout’s grant getting capability started right then. But I just thought that was a load of nonsense because we were applying to the council to give us money to give to the council.

 

[00:13:17] I mean, I don’t get it, but it was it was the dip, the toe in the water of this is the way it needs to be. And basically, the core costs for shout were covered for the entire time through grant applications. The kids paid a small sub to be part of the group. And it, and you know, it was quid to start off with and it was I think it was only £2.50 twenty years later. But, you know, the subs was then obviously there for whatever we needed. But we, we used practically every club house you can think of in Corby. We were at The Grampian for a while. We were in the bowls part at the back of the Grampian for a while. We were in the Caledonian, which doesn’t exist anymore, the British Legion doesn’t exist anymore. I think Club 2000 is gone up by the Autumn Centre.

 

Judy Caine [00:14:11] Connaughty Centre?

 

Paula Boulton [00:14:12] We were at the Connaughty for a while, and we were at the Labour Club. We had two lives at the Labour Club. The first one until we got kicked out.

 

Judy Caine [00:14:19] Irish Centre?

 

Paula Boulton [00:14:20] Er, we did various rehearsals there, but we were never like resident there. But, you know, we we moved around Danesholme community centre quite a lot. And some of that would be if I’d put a grant application together, or project funding, into which I could write hall hire then we would be able to hire, say, Danesholme community centre. But, a lot of the time, it was just the goodwill of the clubs. Huge loss to working class communities because so much goes on in those spaces, you know. Anyway, so I, went off because it was, “what was your first play?” That was the question, and I said this in response. What was the first play? We couldn’t do a play because we were kind of, we were prevented from doing so by this, oh, no, you can’t use the Civic anymore. And erm, I think it was good being an outsider you know. I think the kids being told that there was a problem with what they really wanted, made them fight for it.

 

[00:15:29] So, we been never spoon fed as a group and that’s, that’s allowed us to have our separate identity. So, when we did finally find a proper home, which was the Labour Club to start off with, we always chose our subjects as a group. I would, I would say, you know what, what’s the topic going to be for this term or, you know, what do you want to do tonight? Some weeks we would do, there were a couple of periods when we just did “how are you feeling tonight?, What do you want to shout about tonight?” And the subject would come up in the group, we would choose which ones were going to do, then we’d we’d have done some warm ups, then they would go off into small groups, work up something, and the latter part of the evening was always ‘show and tell’. So, they became very good at constructive criticism. And it was always fed back to the person. Never about the person.

 

Judy Caine [00:16:25] So, they’d do a little improvisation on a topic and then show people at the end.

 

Paula Boulton [00:16:29] Yeah.

 

Judy Caine [00:16:30] You mentioned several times you asked them what they wanted to ‘shout’ about tonight. How did the name ‘Shout’ come about? Who chose it?

 

Paula Boulton [00:16:38] Well I did in the end because of that. I mean, that’s what we were doing. But there is a story you will hear, no doubt when you’re interviewing others.

 

Judy Caine [00:16:45] Go on, tell me your version.

 

Paula Boulton [00:16:47] They believe, some of them believe that shout was the name of the group, because that’s what Paula did just before a show. (Laughs) Oh dear me, I thought that was, and actually, you know. Well, you know, because you know what production week, whatever the project is, is like. And I would, I still to this day appoint somebody as cast welfare officer. And I say I am going to be horrible now until this show’s over. So I will be Brusque, I will be blunt and I will have no spare energy to mollycoddle or be kind. This person, that’s her job. So, go to her and I’ll see you as the human being again at the end. But I, you know what that high pressure thing is like? You just have to stay focussed. So, yeah, there have been times. Why haven’t you learnt your lines? You’re holding up the whole thing. You’re ruining it. Get out. You know, I was horrible.

 

Judy Caine [00:17:46] I shall be very interested to hear the other side of that from some of the ‘Shout’ young people now older people.

 

Paula Boulton [00:17:53] Yeah.

 

Judy Caine [00:17:53] So, what were your hopes in the early days for this group Paula?

 

Paula Boulton [00:17:59] That’s a good question. I think that. Well, first of all going along with why I was asked to do it. You know, giving some young people in the town something constructive to do with the time that would also educate them about social issues and help them channel them of their, erm, you know, confusions and feelings was always there right from the very beginning. But I do remember and this is this is something, you know, I’m being honest about the way it came about. However, I also know that I’d just finished touring with Banner Theatre Company and the reason I left Banner Theatre in 1998 was, ironically, because I found a sweet in my pencil case. Now, I used to take a pencil case with me because I was always able to rewrite things on Tour. And I remember it was between plays and I thought, why have I got sweets in my pencil case. I don’t eat sweets. And suddenly I realised the lifestyle on tour is just awful. You spend more time in the back of a flipping van, motorway service station, never eating a decent meal really late at night, by the time you get to bed, then you’re on the road again in the morning, even though you haven’t had a proper sleep. You’ve got to be really nice after the show because your staying with people and be kind and helpful and lovely when really just want to go to sleep and you spend more time building a theatre in a working men’s club than you do acting. And I just thought, why am I doing this? We go to these places, we stir up, because Banner Theatre was a political theatre company. We did one about, erm, sweatshops all over Britain and we met the Timex strikers in Dundee. They, they featured in the play.

 

Judy Caine [00:19:45] This was Banner, not Shout?

 

Paula Boulton [00:19:46] This was Banner. And they’d never, loads of those people and never been to the theatre. And we’d gone to their working men’s club and converted it into a theatre for the night. And I loved them coming up after and saying, if this is what theatre is, oh, I’m going, it was ever so exciting. And, you know, they were really gripped by it. But then we’d go the next day. So I never got to find out if any of the issues that we did anything about, if there was ever any real change took place as a result. So, somewhere along that, I can remember a very concrete thought, which was I need to do something like that in Corby. So, Shout Youth Theatre, I think was my own answer to that, because if we were doing it in one town, where you could measure the impact of what you were seeking to change, then it was worth it. I mean, I don’t mean the other wasn’t worth it. But I would never be able to measure that. I could measure it with ‘Shout’.

 

Judy Caine [00:20:42] Did you measure it, and how did you measure it?

 

Paula Boulton [00:20:43] Well, interestingly, I don’t think I ever did anything analytical at all after that first thought. But anecdotally, yes, there was a lot. We always got feedback after the plays. Follow through from the kids themselves, seeing them grow, seeing their opinions develop. One topic that came back several times. Teenage pregnancy. Watching how that subject was different. Five years down the line. And the way kids were towards that topic. I took it upon myself, I have I have a Medical family – my dad was a pharmacist, my mum was a nurse – I was selling condoms at 10 at the shop. And I was, I did human biology. I did biology a level. I’ve always been really, really very clear about contraception and people knowing about their own bodies. And I’d run the women’s centre. So I had years and years of pregnancy testing experience behind me. So the idea of being faced with a bunch of stroppy teenagers and telling them about anything they wanted to know about sex and pregnancy and stuff didn’t ever faze me at all. And it’s funny because a lot of them have said that they, you know, the things that they were told at that time,  have held them in good stead. So, you know, we had all the stuff at the women’s centre, which I was also involved with at the same time, so we could demonstrate how to use a condom or, you know, talk about fertility and the way your body changes. And it was it was it was great actually having them be able to, in a trusted space, talk about things. But I remember in the first the first play was Teenage Sex Shock. And we had totally wacky things in that. We had a battle of the battle of the germs versus battle. There was germs and sperms. This was it, because we we were trying to explain that barrier methods protect from germs and sperm. So we had we had one team and then we had somebody dressed as, as erm a Dutch cap, and we made we made a massive Dutch cap out of a hula hoop, covered it with like clingfilm and and then had the the the sperm and the Dutch Cap having a fight. I mean, it was totally nuts, that one. And we had and we had a lovely biology lesson where I don’t know whether you can remember your sex ed at school but everything is couched in such.

 

Judy Caine [00:23:17] Oh, bananas. I think banana and a condom is all I remember.

 

Paula Boulton [00:23:21] Oh, you have that. Oh, well, there you go. This was all about erm. anyway, we found, what we did is we took some actual wording from what the schools were being told at the time. And we we had Dani being, you know, on on the middle of the cycle, the egg is released from the ovaries and la, la, la, la, la. She was the (sings swan lake lake ballet tune) da, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee. Being an egg travelling down the ovaries. Meanwhile, the sperm and we had (sings rousing marching classical piece) der, der, du, du, du der der, du, du, der, der, der. So we used classical music quite a lot. We had these two meeting and then when we said the the sperm and the egg share their genes. And at that point, because what we were trying to show, you’ve seen it already, how stupid is that to a kid? What are you what are you on about shared the genes? So we portrayed what it feels like to a child when you do biology, speak at them. And it was very effective.

 

Judy Caine [00:24:13] So do you think that was your most effective type of play?

 

Paula Boulton [00:24:19] I was thinking about this when I was, you know, helping, we talked about putting the questions together. You know what marked out a typical Shout play? All was educational. So there was always information to be gleaned from it. Factual information which changed in how we displayed it. That one we didn’t, we were pre-projector then. We had an overhead projector, wind through cellulose stuff, you know, the transparencies, which we had a, we put a sheet up and, you know, chlamydia statistics were coming up during the thing and, you know, stuff like that. So, we always had something factual. There would always be some physical theatre in it, such as that, you know, these two trying to get into this pair of jeans, props and costumes were always, you know, Cory was very, very creative with, with, with that. And later on, our set designer was Jennifer Garlick, who is now Jennifer Standon. And, you know, we never had much money, but key things, key actual, and I say things because things that you can see and touch would always enhance the plays. We would always have choral speaking. There would be a point where the whole cast spoke together. And there’s to me there’s nothing more powerful than a team of kids all saying the same thing with that, you know, neutral stance and looking the audience in the eye. There would always be a strap line somewhere as well. Even if it was the name of the play repeated at the end, they’d all come on. And very often they would reprise a pose from an earlier moment and then all turn to the audience and say, I don’t know, Stop, Think, Don’t Drink or whatever, you know, the play was about. So I mean, I would recognise things as Shout. But it’s interesting in this project because it’s now that we’re able to see if there is any similarity, because what there never was, Judy, was the same kids,.

 

Judy Caine [00:26:26] That was going to be my next question. How many kids did you have at any one time and what was their average stay with Shout, if you like.

 

Paula Boulton [00:26:33] Yeah, well, that, that analysis will have to be done by Jen. But to start off with, we’re talking like 25 kids on Tuesday night, which was a nightmare.

 

Judy Caine [00:26:42] And that was just you and Emma and Sami?

 

Paula Boulton [00:26:45] Well, by then, Sammy had gone. So it was me and I would have a variety of assistance as it came along. The 18 year olds, of course, were free in the summer, but they weren’t free once we started the weekly thing. So, yeah, that was quite a handful. But it’s, I mean, I wouldn’t do that now. I would know that that was crazy. But I didn’t know then.

 

Judy Caine [00:27:06] What was the most challenging thing about Shout?

 

Paula Boulton [00:27:10] Bbehaviour, straight away.

 

Judy Caine [00:27:11] In what way?

 

Paula Boulton [00:27:11]  I mean, these were, these were certainly the early days, these were, erm, these were kids who had something to shout about.

 

Judy Caine [00:27:21] What, angry shout or?

 

Paula Boulton [00:27:23] Whatever it was. But they had stuff to say and they wanted to say it. They weren’t used to a kind of collaborative way of working. They were used to fighting it out. And I wouldn’t have any fisticuffs or violence or bullying. So we had to find a way of communicating.

 

Judy Caine [00:27:39] So if you did have any fisticuffs, violence or bulling or something kicked off, what did you do?

 

Paula Boulton [00:27:43] Well, we had we had ground rules. The ground rules, the kids thought up themselves. Everything was theirs. I think ownership was the big thing with Shout. So how do you, I would put that very question to them. So if you lot end up having a fight, how should we deal with it? Is it three strikes and you’re out? You know, how do you want to do it? I mean we, you know, we ended up as a as a new person arrived in Shout, it wasn’t a closed shop at all, we would give anybody a chance. But we used to have this thing that, that the the audition process when it settled down was you came along for four weeks and at the end of four weeks, there would be a gathering of the whole group without you. And the group would say, does this person have any dramatic flair at all or anything to contribute to the group? Because some people were clearly directorial the minute they got there, and they would, the way they would give feedback at the end of the evening would let the others know that this person was seeing stuff they don’t  see. Or they had a particular technical bent. And so it would be well, they don’t really like the drama, do they, but they’re very good at all that other stuff. So, we were also teaching the kids, in that process, about being fair in their assessment of others’ skills. And then we’d say, are there any dynamics going on? Is there anybody this person is clashing with? And if so, is there history? What is the history? Can we solve it? And we did have that person bullies me at school all day long. And then it would be right. OK. Well, that isn’t going to happen here. Is that going to spill over at school? Shall we have a chat? And then I’d get the bully and the bullied together and talk it through with them. And very often the way we solved it at Shout would mean that it stopped at school. And that was great.

 

Judy Caine [00:29:35] Clearly, Paula, you are so passionate. It’s wonderful. I just wish all my interviewees were like this, you are clearly really passionate about young people, about helping, about helping them become the best they can be, getting the best out of them, giving them a voice, which is amazing. But I do wonder, you give a lot, you’re one of life’s givers. You must get exhausted sometimes total burnout. How has Shout affected you both personally and professionally? Because it was clearly an enormous project, an enormous, very personal, very special experience for you. I just wonder how it’s affected you personally and professionally?

 

Paula Boulton [00:30:19] Okay. I just wanted to say our strapline was ‘giving young people a voice’.

 

Judy Caine [00:30:24] Oh, really,.

 

Paula Boulton [00:30:25] Yeah, so, spot on there.

 

Judy Caine [00:30:25] So, Shout Youth Theatre, giving young people a voice.

 

Paula Boulton [00:30:25] Yes, well, I erm, I didn’t know how it had affected me, Judy until it wasn’t there. And then I realised what a gap there was in my life, because we used to argue all the time and there was that, you know, no holds barred. This was you can’t start with these kids and say, but you’re not allowed to say that. You’re not allowed to say that. You’re not allowed to say that. It was like unlike nowadays, you know, this ridiculous situation we’re in nowadays where you’re not allowed to say A, B or C. I remember, for instance. It’s better if I give you an example, we did a play. We got a commission, because that was the other way the money came in, by the way, it wasn’t just grant applications to Awards for All or other youth funding strands. We would be commissioned by people.

 

Judy Caine [00:31:24] Such as?

 

Paula Boulton [00:31:26] For instance, the Department of Health put out a call for ways of finding out how young people were regards bisexuality and Sami saw that bid and she said, why doesn’t Shout, take this on? I said, well, let’s see if we can get the money. And we we put it to the group and nobody said, whoa, well, we’re not doing that. They said, oh, well, have a go, see if we get any funding, and we did get the funding. So that was a set amount of money within which I then had to say we will do this, that and the other. And the library commissioned us to do a piece around and books and learning. They also commissioned does on a separate occasion to launch their collection of books on teenage pregnancy, because we, for years and years have the highest rate in the area, or one of the highest rates in the area. So, those sorts of things would be a kind of tied-over in between one year’s grant funding ending and the other, other beginning. So, at the beginning of the one about bisexuality, we, we sat in a circle. And one of the leaders said there is no such thing. It’s just a load of nonsense. They’re just greedy.

 

[00:32:41] Now, given that already a couple of the young people had identified themselves in that way and it said, well, I’m bisexual and what have you, you know, anywhere else he might of think, yeah. Out you go. So that the fight was on then. Okay. So this is what Lee thinks now – oops there we go I’ve said it – this is what Lee thinks now, let’s see what he thinks at the end. Because we then would delve into the topic.  We would research the topic. I would bring in stuff that I’d found, they would bring in stuff they’d found. The research process would always involve people who had lived whatever it was we were on about. It was never just book-learning or off the Internet. And once you’ve sat opposite somebody telling you their life story, you have to believe it. I mean, this was this was the way. The racism play was amazing. They sat and heard people say, oh, yeah, well, I was beaten up the other day. Well, what’s that about? Well, they said, why don’t you go back to your own country, you know? And they’d sit and go through their own feelings. And then we would interview said person as a group. So they would then be able to say, I’m really sorry that happened to you. You know, is what can we do to help? So they became ambassadors for all sorts of subjects through being exposed to the truth of it. So for me to not have that in my life, which is after the Shout shouted about stroke play, there were no more projects.

 

[00:34:05] I don’t have that. People are frightened to think they don’t do critical thinking. I don’t have a group of people around me to properly interrogate a subject. And, you know, you can imagine in a whole group of kids, you had all sorts of backgrounds going on there. So when we started, the Foreigners Bloody Foreigners play, you know, we had a whole year about anti-racism and that was the play that we finished up with. But I remember afterward, you know, we’d kind of got the play to a state where we were rehearsing and. I remember Carl turning up for his first night. And, you know, we of course, these kids had already had several months of being exposed to all sorts of opinions about racism and what have you.

 

Judy Caine [00:34:55] Who’s Carl?

 

Paula Boulton [00:34:56] Carl was one of the ones that came along to the reunion. You met him. He was just a new lad Shout.

 

Judy Caine [00:35:01] OK a new Shout lad, not a person who’d suffered racism.

 

Paula Boulton [00:35:01]  So he came in and he was, I mean, he’s a really confident, quite cocky, lad, you know. And erm there was a moment when he had to say something or other about about what he thought. And it was straight out The Daily Mail. Absolutely, Daily Mail. And I saw a couple of kids actually turned to each other and say ‘Daily Mail’. They’d, they knew, by then, we would regularly get all the papers. There was the Iraq demo, for instance, when that happened, you know, we, we did topical stuff as well. They were living through that. So help, to help them to think about it. So I’d bring in all the papers and say, there we go. That’s what’s happening today. And they say but that that says it’s happening and that says it isn’t. Yep! So, what do you believe? Well, well, my dad gets that one. Well, so what do you believe that one then? Because somebody’d written that one and that girl over there, her mom gets that. So who’s right? And it was always a brilliant way to get them to think. I don’t think any of the Shout kids believed anything.

 

Judy Caine [00:36:04] So why did it stop?

 

Paula Boulton [00:36:05] It, it basically got to the stage, and I think this will be replicated by many a youth group, youth club. Obviously, the advent of mobile phones had a big impact on the way the group used to function because they were coming out on a Tuesday night to have social time and to be with their mates and to learn something. But why go out when you’ve got everything you want in your hand? Why talk to those people when the people you want to talk to is in the palm of your hand? So whereas the break used to be the time for socialising, possibly across the group you were working in. It got to the stage where break would be get your phone, we’d confiscate the phones at the beginning. We would all put our phones on the table at the beginning, there we go, that’s a better way of putting it. They would go grab the phone, go off into the corner, because the15 minute break was their’s to do with what they wanted. And that’s when I saw it. I remember, I remember one autistic boy and he was in the corner with his head in the phone. Prior to that, he would have been being socialised and other children would have been learning to deal with his particular, you know, different, different way of behaving. And none of that was happening. Erm, so I saw that. Also at the end of the night, we would always have a post Shout debrief with the leaders because kids, once they got to 18, could opt to stay by being leaders. So there was a whole youth leadership training aspect to it as well. And we’d, we’d get a drink in and we’d sit there and it got to the stage where I’d be thinking, oh, are we gonna get this meeting started or what? Football results. God knows what. You know, what’s your girlfriend doing? La, la, la, la, la. Normally, you’d have booked the whole evening off your normal life to get on with this. So I noticed that happening. I also, we changed after bricks, ‘If Bricks Could Talk’. Bricks Could Talk was another project that we did with older people because Women of Steel was 2006 and we, Shout tackled one side of things. The young people today ask the townies the Corby Women’s Theatre Group did the way it was back in the day, and Emma and some others in their 20s did the hidden, the forgotten generation that, you know, the forgotten years when the steelworks closed. So, when those three groups got together, it was amazing. And the kids loved it. They thought they thought these older women and what they were doing was really interesting. And they learnt about their history. And of course, the women really got on well with the youngsters. And this, they often said, you know, can we can we have some other people in? And they began to ask for older people to come in. And we, when I was asked to do their 50 year history of the Labour Club that was commissioned by Mark Bullock, Councillor Mark Bullock, with his empowering councillors money and I said, well, it’s got to be intergenerational, the cast hasn’t it. And so we had Shout kids, but we had, but we actually had members of of the club because when I was interviewing them, it’s not much further from an interview to a do you want to be in it then, isit, you know, a persuasiveness? So we had a cast that was from 12 to 80. And after that, we had a management committee meeting and said, how about it? Why don’t we be Shout Theatre instead of Shout Youth Theatre? And that changed the nature of what we were doing. And I think it gave us a longer life than we would have had otherwise.

 

Judy Caine [00:40:05] So that was in 2006?

 

Paula Boulton [00:40:07] No. That was when ‘Women of Steel’, it was 2013.

 

Judy Caine [00:40:10] Oh, right.

 

Paula Boulton [00:40:12] Mmm. Was ‘If Bricks Could Talk’. So, yes, it went from there. And, the last play was commissioned by the Stroke Association. And erm,.

 

Judy Caine [00:40:29] I remember that, that was in the Labour Club, wasn’t it, it was just called ‘Stroke’ in fact.

 

Paula Boulton [00:40:31] Yeah, ‘Shout About Stroke’. Yeah. And, erm, I mean, that was a properly mixed, mixed bag. That was integrated casting. But the notion by then, the notion of children, young people choosing to spend  a Tuesday night, having a youth club stroke drama group was, you know, it’s gone, it’s gone. Which is really sad.

 

Judy Caine [00:40:59] How did you feel the very last performance of ‘Shouting About Stroke’?

 

Paula Boulton [00:41:04] I remember feeling, I remember leaving the Labour Club for the last time. Because we had our last devicing session rehearsal and the actual public performances after we’d done it. We did what we usually do, which was presented to an invited audience to make sure we were getting it right. How far off topic had we gone? Was our research accurate? We had some stroke survivors watch it for us. We had physiotherapists come and watch it, because we never wanted to be putting out inaccurate stuff. But then our public performance was at Brooke Western. And I remember walking out that night and thinking, oh, my God, that’s it. I’m not going back in there with the theatre group ever again. And I was gutted. I was absolutely gutted it, see, I’m welling up now at the thought of it, and you asked me a previous question, what did it give me? I mean, it was, well, family and purpose. There you go. There’s two words, the Shout family, which you experienced a bit at the, at the reunion. Such deep stuff used to happen there. And, navigating life with these kids and helping them to navigate life. You know, watching them grow, the pride, it’s the same with any teacher, you know. But there was there was something not, so much more informal about Shout that, you know, the loves and the relationships that happened within Shout, and, and watching some of them get together and the break-ups and the God knows what. We had residentials that were great fun. And I, I was doing youth work. So I also then had the professional community around me. You don’t realise what do you stop doing it? You know, I wasn’t going to the NAYC Christmas dinner where I was one of two vegetarians and it was always a big laugh, you know. Also, the National Association of Youth Club, Northamptonshire Association of Youth Clubs, they would also have an AGM and Shout would be invited along to do a play. Well, if you haven’t got a theatre group, then they don’t bother inviting you, do they?

 

Judy Caine [00:43:08] So why are you looking back at it now? This is project Shouting for 20 Years, what made you want to do that?

 

Paula Boulton [00:43:15] My garage! To be perfectly frank,I suddenly realised that I kept walking into my my garage and there would be a face staring at me. And it was the bully head, which you might also have seen, that huge, great big fibreglass head. And I remember thinking, what, why have I still got that, what am I going to do with that? And then I went on a fertal and I thought, Paula, you’ve got a world in here. That was, Women of Steel, that was this that and the other, you know, all the plays, they’re all there, all those lives down there. And I just thought, this is heritage, this needs done, it needs told and how life has changed for young people or has it?

 

[00:44:00] So it all came, the bullyhead, and I didn’t know whether the Heritage Lottery would be interested in, and you know, the rest, coz you helped me put the bid together? But of course, that’s not the point because the tape doesn’t know it does it.

 

Judy Caine [00:44:12] The tape doesn’t know that no. I think, erm, it’s going to be very interesting project, isn’t it? I mean, what’s surprised you about the Shouting for 20 Years project already now?

 

Paula Boulton [00:44:26] The alacrity and keenness, she says, choosing another word to say the same thing, with which the kids got involved you know.

 

Judy Caine [00:44:36] They’re not kids now.

 

Paula Boulton [00:44:37] No they’re not. I mean, that’s one of the things to be having a Zoom session. I mean, obviously, we didn’t expect it to be happening in COVID, but the devising sessions have been an absolute eye-opener. We’ve, we’ve, what we’ve done so far, is we’ve we’ve got all of the plays together. We found all the plays. Scoured my flat where I thought I knew where all the plays were. But I found that the cupboard where there was some more and, you know, thank God on a hoarder is all I can say. But Jen is a brilliant administrator, a brilliant archivist. She’s got, there’s these three massive arch, lever arch files with, you know, all the plays. And we’d started the devising sessions. We would talk through the different plays. Any memories? Who was in it? What it did for them? What did they learn from it? And then fast-forward, is it still relevant today? And is there anything you can contribute today?

 

[00:45:32] Well, hilarious, because, I mean, some of them have got kids that are teenagers now. So they’re facing, how do I tackle teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, all of that with my kid? Well, I replicate anything I did in Shout? Oh, they haven’t got a theatre group to go to so that they aren’t just hanging out with the kids at their school. So they are learning what kids across Corby think. So of course, it was never one school, kids from all schools.

 

Judy Caine [00:45:55] So you’re going to start ‘Shouting’ again?

 

Paula Boulton [00:45:57] Well it, d’you know, lots of people have said, oh, why don’t you still do it? I think we wouldn’t get kids because that’s why it stopped. You know, it’s, erm, what I am hoping is that we can do, we may do another project in the future when this is finished. That would be like when I did ‘River of Life’ with Emma for the Northants Black History Association. And that was the title, that was the topic for Corby and Oundel is the two communities with the fewest black residents, the, you know, the whitest towns in Northamptonshire. Do we know about our black history? And that was the, you know, that was the aim of the thing. But we then just advertised for people to be part of that project. So I ran it as a Shout thing. It was paid to us through Shout, but it wasn’t advertising as a Shout project, if you like. It was erm, Northamptonshire Black History Association, a play about this. So I can imagine doing that, but a weekly group? Well, will anybody ever have weekly groups again? Maybe we’ll have a zoom Shout, because I tell you what, the conversations are still there. The way of critically thinking and analysing a topic, it was like. I just felt I was at home again.

 

Judy Caine [00:47:20] I guess at the end of the day, people are always people and still have the same human problems, and whether it’s Shout 20 years ago, Shout now, Shout in the future, it’s still gonna be the same basic human issues that people have.

 

Paula Boulton [00:47:32] Absolutely. Yeah.

 

Judy Caine [00:47:35] Interesting. Well, it’s been fascinating talking to you. I know our hour is nearly up. What haven’t I asked you about that you’d like to tell me about?

 

Paula Boulton [00:47:43] Oh dear. That would mean knowing what you’ve already told me and asked me. Erm, I think, I think the question you asked me about what what did I get from Shout or what was it?

 

Judy Caine [00:47:56] Yes, what personal and professional impact did it have on you?

 

Paula Boulton [00:47:58] Yes.

 

Judy Caine [00:47:58] We didn’t really answer that.

 

Paula Boulton [00:47:59] No, we didn’t, because I, you know, I was talking about the loss of critical thinkers around me. Professionally, I had no idea that at the end of it I could say, oh, I happen to have written 60 plays or whatever. You know, I thought that was normal, Judy. I really did think that this was something that other writers did. I was at a writers’ group the other night and they said, what you do next, because I was talking about my poetry book. I said, oh, I’m putting a play together, la, la, la. And I talked about it as if it was doable. Well, of course, it’s doable. If you’ve got a theatre group you need to write plays and if you’ve got a play, you need to put it on. That’s my approach. And I didn’t know that that was not the normal approach. And so I, I know that professionally I am very resilient because I have managed that whole time to fund myself and and the theatre company through grant applications and through staying with what was current and adapting with it. And it might be that this, that COVID is actually a blessing in disguise in terms of I’m excited about how we might do a Zoom play or what have you. These young people who are now between the 20s and 30s all need to talk. Never mind the the teenagers. This lot still need to talk. They’ve got lives to process. And drama is a fantastic way to do it. So, you know, who knows what I might do next?

 

Judy Caine [00:49:26] That’s the professional Paula, what about the personal Paula?

 

Paula Boulton [00:49:33] Erm,  think, I almost I think I answered that more with the lack of critical thinkers and la, la, la. And there is one thing that I hadn’t realised, and that is the reputation that came with it, because Shout was always contentious and I am always contentious. So, you know, for me, I and I didn’t think that was odd, but I’ve heard people go, oh, yes, Shout. Whereas they’d go, oh yes, Eclipse, you know, just the tone of voice. And we make audiences feel uncomfortable on purpose because, you know, like, like with the Foreigners, Bloody Foreigners play, you had to get a visa in order to be able to come in. And then you had to to say what your ethnic background was. And, you know, there’s lots of intermarriage in Corby, the Scots and the Irish, the English are all very intertwined. But if a couple came in and one was Scottish and one was English, they had to sit in separate areas in the in the audience, which left people feeling really, really uncomfortable.

 

Judy Caine [00:50:34] You use of word contentious, I prefer challenging rather than contentious, but there you go. Did you ever overstep the mark for the young people? Did they ever say Paula, hang on a minute? Did they ever challenge you?

 

Paula Boulton [00:50:48] Yeah, they did, actually.

 

Judy Caine [00:50:50] Tell me about that.

 

Paula Boulton [00:50:51] I thought of three things then. One, we overstepped the mark about racism. The, whoever commissioned us would come to some rehearsals, just to check that what we were doing tallied with what they wanted. And this particular woman, she says, we that ‘bloody woman’ voice came in and they were having the scene that they decided they needed where somebody was telling racist jokes, they were telling the jokes in order to make the point. She walked straight out and was convinced that we were, you know. No, what we’re saying is at what point do you stop laughing and start saying, hang on a minute, you can’t say, you shouldn’t say that, you know, because don’t tell me you didn’t laugh because you did laugh. I watched you laugh. That’s what we were intended to do, Judy, which would have been hugely transformative for the audience of right-on people who thought they were all sussed. How uncomfortable did they feel when a child says something that they’d heard in the playground? You know, we weren’t allowed to do it. So, and that was the Magra conference.

 

[00:51:52] So, you know, that was your interagency lot too PC for Shout.

 

Judy Caine [00:51:57] What was your other two.

 

Paula Boulton [00:51:58] Okay. Education Action Zone asked if their head, who was called Ben, this was to try and merge the schools in Corby that were, Beanfield and Queen Elizabeth. They were merging the two, so how could we make education work for different groups of people? And my kids actually thought that this was real, a real opportunity to tell somebody that could do something about it, what was wrong with their education. Seventy four minutes, I know exactly where the tape is, of proper engagement from these kids telling this man, respectfully, hands up, saying their piece. And when it came to the conference where this should have been presented, he chose the uniformed organisations and had some girl guides and some scouts say nice things about we go to school and it’s lovely. My lot were furious about that, I was furious, but they were they were more furious. They felt completely, you know, pushed aside. We overstepped the mark erm, Foreigners, Bloody Foreigners, the BNP founders. And when we’d finished the play, which featured the BNP, I have to say not the real one, obviously, there was a character. And the play had been commissioned by the Northants Racial Equality Council who had asked us to do a play that looked at racism in the town because it was the first time. Jimmy Kane had died, councillor Jimmy Kane, and the BNP were standing a candidate in his ward. So British National Party taken over from one of the longest standing, longest serving Labour councillors. So the, the town had quite a bit to say about that anyway. So we did play about racism. At the end of the night. We were about to leave and Helen from the Labour Club was standing at the back of the hall at the door, and Emma was going like this. She was crossing across her arms like, cut, don’t, don’t move, don’t stop there. Coz I was just about say, off you go, thank you for your feedback. And she, she said the Labour Club would like to say something. And Helen said, you’re all going to have to leave by the other door, there’s been an incident. And the BNP had got in and they had graffitied the ladies toilets and they left a knife in one of the toilets with what they wanted, horrible, horrible stuff, what they wanted to do to foreigners. I mean, it was really, that was scary. And quite a lot of the kids went to Kingswood School at the time. And Dave Tristram from Kingswood was there and he stayed behind with me and he just said, I’m not letting these kids go, which was, you know, he, he understood that this was scary because the point is they’ve just been on stage. They’ve all been identified through being on stage. It’s alright me being identified as an adult. But these kids had taken a huge risk doing that. So, yeah, that was, that was erm,.

 

Judy Caine [00:54:49] That’s pretty heavy stuff.

 

Paula Boulton [00:54:53] Hmm.

 

Judy Caine [00:54:53] But did the kids ever say to you,

 

Paula Boulton [00:54:55] Yes,

 

Judy Caine [00:54:56] Anything? Did you ever push the line too far for them?

 

Paula Boulton [00:54:58] I did. Yes.

 

Judy Caine [00:55:00] And what did they say?

 

Paula Boulton [00:55:01] OK, so this was the fact that I was employed by Shout is important to say here. We had the system that the 18 year olds became the leaders and the management committee had to be 18, kids were 18 or more. So they had a proper process. I told them about AGMs and I was contracted by Shout. So they they were the management committee. And every year they had a chair, treasure, secretary and we’d go through the whole thing. We would look at an annual report, the director’s annual report, as well as the chair. So we did it properly and they learnt about, you know, the democratic functioning of a constituted organisation. So technically, I would say to everybody, I’ve been approached to do this show, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. The kids that were there as members would make that decision. But in terms of we’ve run out of money where we’re going to get the next lot. The management committee would talk about that. And technically, if there was a disciplinary required about my behaviour, then it would be up to them to do it. So this particular night, we had a young woman called Rachel who was off to India to do some, she did, you know, foreign travels. She was an artist, very independent young woman. And I just thought it would be broadening for their minds to meet an ex Shout member who was now travelling around the world. And as part of the evening when we were interviewing Rachel, I said, So how will you actually travel, Rachel, when you’re in rural India? How will you get from A to B? And she said, well, I’ll probably hitch a lift. And, you know, people are different out there. And it occurred to me that hitchhiking, there’s a thought, I wonder if the group has ever thought about the risks or advantages, if there are any of hitchhiking. So I said erm right, is there anything in what Rachel said that you’d like to explore this evening? You know, the idea of foreign travel, travel generally. And it was a bit, it was a bit woolly because, you know, her own personal journey involved a Buddhist this an artist that and la, la, la. And I said, well, how about hitchhiking? Anyway, they were all up for it and we spent the evening doing sketches, looking at the pros and cons and dangers and what to do and how to keep yourself safe and all sorts of things. That was that. Well, I got hauled up. That was my first and only disciplinary because the two, the chair and the secretary at the time were also leaders in the group and they were brothers. And I think they watched too many horror movies personally. You know, their idea is you get chopped up and put in a boot that’s it. My idea is if you’r stuck out in the middle of nowhere and a car, says, do you want a lift love? You get in, you know, more or less. I mean, that’s simplifying it. But they’d not lived it, Judy. I mean, I’m of an era where you used to hitchhike. So, you know. Anyway, they took, they they told me off. They said we should never have done that, you exposed 14 year old girls to to risk la, la, la, la, la. And and I was called in before the session, so I’d had my ticking off before everybody arrived. So, when the session started, I said, I reminded them who runs Shout and how the power structure worked. And then I said, so I’ve been, I’ve been disciplined this evening. I want to share it with you because it’s about you. And I told them. Well, they were they were up in arms. Not on my defence on their own defence. How dare they think they can tell us what we’re going to learn about? We do sex. We do drugs. We do every every topic. And we can’t talk about, about hitchhiking. That’s ridiculous. And they defended their right to explore whatever. I was, like, secretly going, yeah, you know. But the lads, the lads had their say as well. We think this is dangerous because, you know, we don’t want you doing it. One girl said, What do you honestly think, if we spend one evening doing a play about youth, hitchhiking, we’re going to go out and do it. And then another girl said, well, I tell you what, if ever I needed a lift, I know how to read the space and read the body language and keep myself safe, which I would never have known before. So I think I’m in a better position. And so it was great.

 

[00:59:03] Anyway, that weekend I had gone off to Edale Youth Hostel for the weekend and I get the last train and get there just after eleven o’clock at night. And it was winter and there was snow. And I do it on purpose because it’s a beautiful walk across the valley and up the hill to, up the hill to Kinda the youth hostel. And two young people got off the train when I did. And there was a car waiting for them. They got in and there was a woman about, you know, probably 10 years younger than me, wound the window down and said, would you like a lift somewhere my dear, she said. And I thought about Shout. I thought about my warning. And I said, No, thank you very much. That’s very kind of you. And walked to the youth hostel on my own in the dark, halfway up a mountain in the snow. Which, of course, is a much safer option Judy (laughs).

 

Judy Caine [00:59:56] Well, on that note, I’ll definitely reserve the right to remain silent.

 

Paula Boulton [01:00:01] Yeah.

 

Judy Caine [01:00:01] Paula, it’s been lovely talking to you. Thank you very much indeed.

 

Paula Boulton [01:00:06] You’re welcome.

 

Judy Caine [01:00:07] Good luck with the project.

 

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