About Tandem Theatre
The foundations of Tandem Theatre were built on a desire to engage vulnerable women in participatory theatre. The co-founder, Frances Nutt, identified the need for arts projects to specifically target young women. From this ‘Inspire Manchester’ was born as part of the Future Fires programme at Contact Manchester.
“I worked on lots of projects working with young people with behavioural issues. The group would be mainly made up of young men with one or two young women who would feel really insecure. Whereas, when we started to work with young women’s groups, they would be a lot more confident and more bold with their creative ideas.”
‘Inspire Manchester’ delivered theatre projects with vulnerable women at Salford Women’s Centre, young women in Salford and young women at risk of offending in Manchester. The project exemplified how when women work together to create drama it facilitates the development of confidence and self-esteem and the correlative improvement in emotional wellbeing, mental health and behaviour.
As Tandem Theatre expanded to work with adults who have experienced homelessness, especially their long standing drama group at Mustard Tree Homeless Support Centre, and with young people involved in the criminal justice system in partnership with TiPP (Theatre in Prisons and Probation), Tandem ensured it continued to provide arts projects for women only groups. This included further drama projects with Salford Women’s Centre, ‘Tales of Manchester Life’ for young women in Salford and Manchester focusing on the life and works of Elizabeth Gaskell and ‘On Her Their Lives Depend: Greater Manchester Women and the Great War’ where women from Salford, Bolton and Manchester explored the role of women in WWI culminating in performances by the women in Bolton Museum, Salford Museum and Art Gallery and Manchester Museum.
With the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 where some women were given the vote, it was a prime opportunity for Tandem to work with women’s groups to celebrate the event. It was not until Frances Nutt, the project creator and manager, sifted through the suffrage collection at Archives +, Manchester Central Library, that she realised some key aspects of the suffrage movement that would be ideal to explore in a community project:
- The suffragists’ efforts and campaign activities had long been overlooked by the more famous and headline grabbing acts by the suffragettes.
- Greater Manchester was the epicentre of suffragist activity e.g. The Procession and Bazaar as well as being where lots of significant suffragists were located.
- The ethos of the suffragists was that different groups from different communities could work together to achieve change. That there was not one method or one person achieved equal suffrage, but each person using their unique set of skills and an amalgamation of methods that would promote the cause, change peoples minds, pressure political figures therefore lead to a change in the law
From here Nutt was able to make links with youth services and youth charities working with young women in every borough of Greater Manchester.
“It was important to me that every borough of Greater Manchester was involved as that’s what was so fundamental about the suffragists, they had committees everywhere and it was important the project reflected that.”
The contents of the archives provided a basis for all of the activities, this ensured multiple art forms would be adopted to convey the different campaign methods.
Whilst planning the project, the purpose evolved, ‘It was not only that more people needed to know about the suffragists but how can that knowledge help with today’. The strong emphasis was then put on how the young people could apply the suffragist’s methods to campaign for issues facing young people today.
“It was great to see how passionate the young people were about issues that impacted them. One group wanted to protect their youth centre whilst another wanted to eradicate period poverty. The Game Changer groups had been inspired by these women from 120 – 130 years ago who were in the same position, ordinary women who wanted change and persisted until they got it. This has also become a really relevant issue for today. Over the last few months we have seen Black Lives Matter protests and protest acts by Extinction Rebellion and lots more questions have been asked about methods of protesting and demonstrations.
What we were able to do with the Game Changers project was facilitate young women to share the suffragist’s story. A story that was often overlooked but still important, still contributed to change. We told it through engaging with the local community and harnessing the young women’s artistic skills and talents. It feels like the baton was passed on from those suffragists to young women from all over Greater Manchester and it is now their role to campaign for change until there is nothing left to protest for.”