Martin is a dramatist based at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre where he is Producer for Citizens Learning. The Citizens Learning team are committed to enhancing the lives of all kinds and ages of people in Glasgow and beyond; producing theatre for children and young people, community productions and delivering a pioneering range of creative participatory projects for varied communities and in the education sector.
We talk to him about his latest play, The Kids Are Alt Right, what his inspiration was and about the themes that the play explores.
Q. What was your inspiration for writing The Kids Are Alt Right?
A. I was asked to write The Kids Are Alt Right in light of the rise in all forms of damaging far-right social media and the threat this poses to young people in particular. When I was growing up it was easy to identify this kind of hate propaganda but now it’s more sophisticated, candy coated and sometimes deviously subtle. It was important to me to show this in the play. That’s what inspired me to create The Pretty Sisters and the Tartan Rebel. These characters push the same far-right agenda online but in markedly different ways. We live in a world that seems to be swinging to the far-right faster than global temperatures are rising. Recent lone wolf atrocities are a tangible example of this. I hope the play is a good tool for teachers (and parents) to discuss the divisive ideologies at work in the play openly with young people and to explore what they feel about similar social media posts or videos they have seen in their own lives.
My inspiration for the main characters came from lots of conversations with teenagers about the alt right and what they understood it to be. I also spoke to them about loyalty and friendship. What would they do to help a friend who was off the rails and what it would take to make them walk away from a friendship. It really hit home to me how loyal teenagers are to their friends. So I knew that dramatically it was important to have elements of betrayal and feelings of betrayal in the story.
Q. How do the characters’ relationships with their parents affect their behaviour in the play?
A. The parents in the play are powerless in many ways. It was important for me that the audience sees this. Its core to what the play is about. If adults don’t engage with young people and their lives in a meaningful and understanding way there’s no hope of being a positive influence in their lives. Young human beings are genetically programmed to rebel. It’s part of their journey to independence, independent thought and self-sufficiency as adults. The divisive ideologies on the net prey on this natural and healthy rebellion young people have to go through. The play has been written to be enjoyable and gripping to see or read but it’s also been written to be discussed. What could have Britney’s mum or her teacher Miss Blaine have done differently to stop the awful chain of events at the end of the play?
Q. How does social media and the internet impact the students?
A. It sends them into a spiral of events that tears the girls’ friendship apart beyond repair and deeply damages the future of four characters. A good question to discuss with students that read the play is who is guilty in the story and who is a victim. Is it the online instigators of Britney and Quinn’s actions? Are Britney and Quinn also victims as well as perpetrators?
Q. What are the other key influences on the characters’ actions?
A. The Pretty Sisters and the Tartan Rebel are the key influences on the characters wrong actions and bad decisions – the play’s been written to focus in on this so it’s really clear that these social media figures are the strongest influences in Britney and Quinn’s lives. The good actions and kind actions (however misplaced) in the story come from loyalty and a sense of care.
There are two knives in the play. Neither of these knives are carried to deliberately harm anyone but the carrying of these knives ultimately hurts everyone. Young people live in a world now where carrying a knife is seen as normal. I wanted the play to shine a spotlight on this horrible phenomenon. This attitude towards knives needs to be discussed openly and safely in class – I hope this play helps teachers and students to broach the subject without it feeling like a stale lecture.
Q. Was Quinn a victim of his surroundings?
A. It’s fair to say Quinn’s life and understanding of the world has been stunted by his family’s circumstances. Poverty is a terrible and curable affliction in twenty-first century Britain. Britain is a rich country – with some small changes in the way it’s administered we could provide more hope and opportunities for young people like Quinn. He’s misguided and easily influenced but he’s morally good at his core – I hope everyone sees that when they read the play. Young men like Quinn are the key target of the alt right.
Q. How do feel this play will relate with young people?
A. As the play is based on research with young people, I’m pretty sure other young people across the county will connect with the characters and the story. I’ve consciously used humour throughout the play as it helps all young people engage with a story. Lots of the name calling and slagging off that happens between the characters comes directly from discussions I had with young people. I hadn’t heard of “donkey fungus” before I spoke to some pupils of Lanark Grammar in South Lanarkshire!
Q. What themes do you think the play covers that teachers could use in the classroom?
A. The play covers big themes:
– Action and consequence
– Racism and hate crime
– Knife crime
– Dangerous online influences and fake facts
– Friendship and betrayal
– Citizenship and what that means in our everyday lives
– Empathy and lack of it
Q. What are some of the discussion points you feel the play could raise amongst students?
A. I’ve covered most of these above but the one discussion point that really lit up every conversation I had with young people when researching the play was when we discussed what friendship meant to them. What they were willing to do to protect a friend who has done something wrong. This was a great way into the other potential discussion points listed in the themes in question seven.
Q. Tell us more about Citizen’s Theatre and the work they do?
A. It’s great to be part of the Learning Team at the Citizens Theatre. We work with thousands of people every year. Many of them come from socially or culturally excluded groups. We do a lot of work in prisons and with ex-offenders. The character Quinn in the play draws on some of the men we have worked with who didn’t have a great start in life and who have made bad decisions that they really regret.
Q. What’s one thing we should know about you?
A. I’m really interested in language. How we use language to be cruel, to be kind, to get what we want or avoid what we don’t want. Plays are powerful because they are spoken. Words made the human race and unfortunately might be what brings us to our knees.
The Kids R Alt Right is part of the Methuen Drama Plays for Young People series. Find out more and purchase your copy here.