I was invited by Jonzi D, creator of Sadlers Wells’ Breakin’ Convention join a collaboration with Redbridge Drama Centre. The commission was to devise and develop a spoken word and dance piece to tour schools and community centres in the Redbridge area to raise awareness around substance abuse and sexual exploitation in youth culture. The two more often than not come hand-in-hand leaving many young people vulnerable and disoriented. Education is always the key in order to empower young people to make sensible decisions about drug and alcohol consumption and the vibrant youth cultural today.
I initially met with Redbridge Young people Theatre company to discuss what was most important to them when it came to youth culture and tackling social issues such as sex and mind altering substances, and friendship figured as a high priority.
Support networks, loyalty, allegiances and informally adopted “Fam” seemed to be the key element of well-being for young people who knew which risks were rife in their spheres of social engagement. They combat hyper sexualisation, hyper masculinity, cyber bullying and ‘drag culture’ (insistent body and intellect shaming often through social media). In combination with education or employment pressures, family responsibility clashing with personal freedom and development, young people in their teens through to early twenties often fall prey to addictive substances whose potencies are intensified through dangerous concoctions and mixing in order to ‘fit in’ and/or appear cool and current.
I also met with Fusion NELFT – drugs and alcohol service for young people to get a clearer idea of the impact of these substances on the mental health and well-being of young bodies, minds and relationships in many other settings outside of the youth groups. Employment success was low and familiy tensions ran high as the substance drove rifts between users and their family members.
I was also surprised by some of the cultural sub-divisions in the demographics of substance used among young people.Focused on the Redbridge area, stats revealed problematic alcohol consumption was high amongst mainly white males and Asian females. Amongst white females, MDMA and Ketamine were the drug of preference, where as cocaine was of high usage amongst Asian males. All partook of marijuana but it was a predominant amongst African and African-Caribbean groups.
Criminalisation of youth presents very serious issues for young people who often find themselves misrepresented in the media. The negative stigma of drug possession and/or consumption is compounded by gender and race. The sexualisation of young women intensifies with drug use, and with mainstream narratives on rape culture the increased chances of sexual exploitation in exchange for drugs or risky encounters leave them open to sexual disease or molestation. The story was going to be a hard but an interesting challenging one to tell.
Yesterday it was all about the power moves and the sweat pants and hairspray. I have never seen so many mad hair do’s stuck to foreheads, flying off every which-a-way. Then there was the ants-in-yer-pants massive, jiggling bodies in tank tops or heavy cotton sweats. So many budding young dancers itching in their seats to up rock, body wave, head spin, you name it they’ve contorted their bodies to do it. Bass bin speakers in Sadlers wells were working hard, Makes me feel old. Not that told but old enough. Ken Swift’s 7 Gems made me relax. Old skool moves by b-boys and b-girls who just had hip hop in their bones and it flowed out of them effortless. Loved them. The highlight was a rendition of Korean military dictatorship history, told with humour, sensitivity, and some badass body popping and break dance. They made the big finale with the girls screaming and the boy woofing. If you haven’t been to Jonzi D’s Breakin’ Convention then you need to get there. Website address FYI – http://www.breakinconvention.com/