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My First Production: Maggie Norris – ‘I use drama to steer young people away from custody’

Maggie Norris in rehearsal
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The Big House is a charity that works with care-leavers and young people at risk, creating theatre that allows them to express themselves and have their voices heard. Phoenix was our first production. Written by Andy Day in 2013, it’s about a young person’s experience of coming out of care and was created with the first young people I ever worked with at the Big House.

Having used drama as a tool with offenders, I found that my skill set as a director was useful in building their confidence as they were coming out of prison. I also realised that a shocking number of young people were coming out of care and straight into custody. I wanted to set up a charity to halt this path, which is why I started the Big House. Inspired by these young people’s experiences, I wanted to give them a platform to express themselves and it made sense to stage something they felt passionate about. Phoenix is a brave and emotional play – it was a profound experience for everyone involved.

Looking back, I realise I underestimated the impact of the show on the cast and audience. I was working with untrained and un-auditioned young people so couldn’t believe the level of public attention it attracted. I learned very quickly that having a public audience meant the young people blossomed, and the audiences were moved to help and be involved.

Each young person I worked with on Phoenix was totally different. As much as I planned, the important thing was to stay absolutely in the moment and listen to these young people. I definitely still prepare for my rehearsals now, but I’ve learned to be flexible: lots of my preparation goes straight in the bin after the first day of rehearsals and I’ve come to embrace that.

CV: Maggie Norris

Age: Undisclosed
Training: University of London
Theatre credits include: Bad Girls the Musical, The Sunshine Boys, The Bodies, Josephine, The Father, The Cheese Shop, The Assignment
Other credits: Artistic director and chief executive of the Big House; as a writer: Hot Stuff, Ferry Cross the Mersey, Rock Hard, Long Division

Phoenix Rising runs at Underground Car Park, Smithfield Meat Market

Maggie Norris was talking to John Byrne

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