Humans of Shakespeare North Playhouse- Ashleigh

Fri 17 Feb, 2023

Inspired by the original Humans of New York, Humans of Shakespeare North Playhouse aims to document as many of the wonderful people who walk through our building each day. Giving a glimpse into who they are and the story they have to share.

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Twelfth Night, Act 2 Scene 5


“Home for me isn’t really a place for me. I’m half Scottish and half Jamaican, I was born in Yorkshire and brought up in between Liverpool and St Helens and now I live on the Wirral and work all over the country. Home for me isn’t really a place, it’s a feeling. So Prescot, Rainhill and Knowsley are just some of those homes. Shakespeare North Playhouse it has to be said has changed the town massively. It’s a better place now, it’s a more vibrant place and people are loving it. There’s so much going on there now it makes me emotional every time I see it. Culture opens minds and starts conversations and there’ll be more of that, and I hope to be involved with doing stuff at the theatre that really starts conversations about change and community and society and race and diversity.

“I can’t remember how I heard about Shakespeare North Playhouse initially, but I heard about it on the grapevine, and I thought well I have to get involved in any small way that I can. I was contacted by Ian Tabbron who was working with Laura Collier at the time, and they asked if they could have a meeting with me. They heard about what I’d been doing with putting out my self-published version of Locks which is my debut novel, and doing the show for Locks and making some noise around that. They also heard about the work I do in the community with prisons and probation, helping people overcome their pasts and move on in their lives using the hero’s journey and my own story.

“I’m from the area, I used to get harassed by the police there. I was locked up numerous times in the police station facing the site of Shakespeare North Playhouse when I was a teenager. I’d been threatened with an axe by some racists when I was young on the very car park on which the theatre is built, not long after Anthony Walker was murdered by racists in Hyton just down the road with an axe. I moved away from that area decades ago because I felt like there wasn’t a lot of culture and there was a lot of racism. I had to find my own way in the world of the arts and develop myself as a person away from that place.

“But now, here was this amazing project that was happening in that very place. So it just felt huge for me and something I had to get involved with, I never had any inkling at that time of the extent to which I would end up being involved. I got on really well with Laura and Ian and they really saw my vision and what it was I was trying to achieve. They kept me involved and I was asked if I would co-curate the opening weekend Open Up. I’m now on the education board as a Special Advisor.

“Being involved with Open Up was an absolute honour. It was a really beautiful experience; the whole weekend was so successful. The theatre managed to get the main stream press involved so I ended up just off the cuff being the first person to deliver some Shakespeare as I did one of the sonnets for BBC News. I was also fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the VIP event during the weekend, so I became the first person to deliver a piece of Shakespeare on the Cockpit Theatre Stage.

“It was so lovely to bring artists that I’ve worked with for the past few decades to the theatre and get them involved, and a lot of them are still involved now. It was also amazing to be kind of welcomed back by my old community, and to see so many of the people I grew up with that I haven’t seen for a long time. It’s been a very emotional journey, and I have this feeling of home coming and of a journey going full circle every time I visit the theatre.

“In my early to mid-twenties I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine that I was in a hip-hop band with about how amazing it would be if we could go into schools and teach what it is that we do. Not only the arts but the stuff that we study in terms of understanding your own mind and getting control of your life. Coincidentally, we were approached a week later by a friend of ours who was the choir master at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The Philharmonic wanted to do something to get into schools to promote the idea that the Philharmonic is not just about classical music, and not just for middle aged middle class stuffy people, but for young people too. They had the idea of bringing in rappers, DJ’s, people like us, to make it more appealing to the younger audience. So, we started working on a project that continued for maybe 13 years. I was working in schools and mental health units, during that time and I also started my own company with a family member. It was an arts and education company, because there was a lot of money in arts and education at the time of the new Labour government. So that was how that started for me. It kind of dried up since the change in government but I always had this idea to take the work I’d been developing into prisons.

“I wrote to every single prison governor in the county and got completely ignored 100% ignored. I did that 3 times and got ignored every single time no-one even said ‘no thank you’. The government started a scheme and the idea was to get more charities and social enterprises into prions and probation. I knew it wouldn’t last but I did see an opening to get a foot in the door, so I thought I’m going to restart the program now get a foot in the door when they were at least saying that’s what they wanted to do and then by the time this is all over we’ll at least have a reputation and a programme. The scheme lasted an even shorter amount of time then I expected, but we got our foot in the door.

“We call ourselves RiseUp CIC, and we developed a programme that teaches mindset. So various ways of understanding your own mind, how to get control of it, how to get control of your own emotions on a day-to-day moment by moment basis. The way that you feel, your state of being and how to take back control so that nobody else controls your mind and your feelings. We’d teach that over 12 sessions in prisons and for people on probation. We use the arts in order to engage people and build rapport and to teach through the arts, poetry, crafts, drama and music so the learning starts to come from the inside out.

“We’re not just pushing information onto people, because people know deep down what makes sense and what they want out of life. Everybody knows that they don’t want to be in prison, they want love, community and empathy and acceptance and success- everybody knows that, but maybe they go about it in the wrong way. So, we teach how to just look at yourself, don’t judge, just look at what’s happening, and then through creativity and honesty what starts bubbling up is the truth from inside. Learning isn’t just from the outside in, it’s from the inside out and that’s what the arts are for.

“We teach the heroes journey which is the way great myths and religious stories are told. It’s the story in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Moana, Frozen, Hunger Games, Wonder, Rocky, Mad Max- all the same story. It’s a way of seeing that in your life there are hardships but you become stronger because you learn from them and from the things you have to overcome, so that gives you a sense of redemption. When you achieve things it’s because of what you put in, and that gives you a sense of agency and ownership, and people who see life in that way are generally happier and more successful.

“As far as diversity and acceptance goes, Prescot’s changed in the way that the whole country has. We’re on a journey and I believe things ae getting better. We still have massive issues, and we still have people in positions of power who don’t care in the least about diversity, who are doing their best to stoke division with all these culture wars, who thrive on polarising communities. But those people are a dying breed, they’re losing the battle. Things are changing, things are better. Culture is shifting societies consciousness; it’s expanding and growing and there’s no stopping that. It’s a process of nature.”