Interview: Workie Ticket Theatre Company

I interviewed Artistic Director and Founder of Workie Ticket Theatre Company, JoJo Kirtley.

Who are Workie Ticket?

I write and produce plays, facilitate workshops, write the funding bids, do finance and admin… and I’m also a mam to three little workie tickets of my own!

Workie Ticket is a female-led, North Tyneside-based theatre company. We provide a platform for women to have their say through drama and amplify unheard voices and stories. We’ve become a bit of a collective over the years. I think you find your people- after a while in the North East, you know who you’d like to work with. That doesn’t mean we are a closed group though, I hate that. We’re always open to working with like-minded individuals who have a good sense of humour! Something I very much think you need these days. 

We mainly work with survivors of abuse and retell their stories but we’ve been branching out and working with a lot of men’s groups and educating them on how to be better allies.

How did Workie Ticket come about?

We were five in November. I founded WT in 2017 after I moved from Manchester back to Newcastle. I was struggling to find work. There was a lot of closed doors.  A lot of “who are yous” and I felt so isolated. I remember saying to my partner, I’m just going to start my own theatre company and take it as it comes, work around the kids and my teaching job. I decided to employ others like me who had been out of the industry for some reason or other -maybe because of childcare, having a baby, caring for a sick relative or who had suffered from ill health.

I wanted to create more opportunities for the misfits of the North East.  I wanted to prove that you could run a company that was close to your values and beliefs which is why we are a feminist organisation.

We try to be as accessible as possible and diverse. We still have a lot to learn and do on that front. I know that. 

Why is it important that the region has Workie Ticket ?

WT offer a huge lot of warmth and love in our work. I do believe what we do is activism as we want to make real changes to social issues whether that’s through our training, on a stage, in a workshop, through collaboration etc. I recognise that a lot of theatre companies do the same, -might even do it better than us or they have better resources and that’s ok.

But, I think there is room for everyone in the Toon. It’s a huge region with lots of action needed to make it better. We’re all important and contribute to the whole Culture of the North East.

You cover a variety of serious issues, how do you do this through theatre?

Ethically, we have a responsibility to give something back especially if we are retelling very personal stories of abuse. So this may be through supporting mental health, actively listening to our participants wants and needs, teaching performance skills, building up confidence and self-esteem.  We use lots of different processes to empower the women we work with and we don’t forget the actors or directors either.

Always we promote self-care and check in with our groups and staff. We build friendships and we genuinely care. Sometimes we work with a psychologist, if we have funding. We also concentrate on creating safe spaces and anonymising our work by creating characters. It’s verbatim theatre but often with a twist.

Our focus is more around building good solid relationships and that often takes time. It helps that these serious issues are also personal. A lot of us are survivors and truly believe that we can make real social changes through our work.

We also have a lot of after care. We deliver ‘Drama for Wellbeing’ sessions. Also we like cake and a brew. That’s important. And listening to music. That helps. There’s always room for Fleetwood Mac, somewhere…everywhere.

Who is Workie Ticket for? What  audiences do you/are you hoping to attract?

Everyone and anyone. I’ve always wanted to create theatre for a working class audience but that could be anyone these days.  I guess most of our audience are women.  For some reason that really pisses off male reviewers  like when we get a standing ovation, we don’t deserve it because it’s an audience full of women and mainly women who we have worked with. 

Well, I value that. I’m not in this game to please misogynists. When we work with different groups, we always find new audiences from female veterans to our new podcast audience.

The theatre industry can be hard – I don’t feel like we quite fit in that World because we don’t continually produce theatre in traditional theatre spaces so I know that’s looked down on

And then in the women’s charities/organisation world we aren’t taken seriously because it’s ‘Drama’. So we kind of float in the middle. But in a lot of ways that’s good because we reach different people from all walks of life. I love it when someone says…my husband came to see your play and he loved it!

Tell me about your future projects and campaigns?

Currently, we are raising funding for our Spacehive -’Walk the Line’ project. At the moment, we are 77 % there but we need 100 % as it’s an all or nothing campaign.  The ‘Walk The Line’ project consists of touring an interactive drama workshop across the North East which challenges the stereotypes of domestic abuse and explores the themes of the short play- I Walk The Line.  This play is based on real-life experiences of domestic violence and everyone involved with this project are survivors of abuse.  The play explores coercive control, financial, physical and emotional abuse but also looks at post-separation abuse.

The workshop will include discussion-based activities around empowering survivors and raising awareness of domestic abuse in our region. We are then planning a final project where we will invite the police, fire service, policy makers and politicians to listen to our ‘Walk the Line action plan so we can make real changes.

This is the link www.spacehive.com/workieticketwalktheline if anyone would like (and can!) pledge. It’s so tough at the moment so every little helps. Even a share!

We are hoping to expand our ‘Drama for Wellbeing’ programme into businesses. We delivered to All That Sass hairdressers in Forest Hall. More stuff like that would be lush.  Series 2 of our podcast is out in Feb 2023. We’d like to create more audio response plays and work with White Ribbon Uk again on engaging men and boys. Working with youth groups and schools is definitely on the agenda. An #AllMenCan film is something we are looking into so we can take our campaign into schools and youth groups.

There are lots of different bids in….so let’s see. Like a lot of other theatre companies, we are on a survival journey because of the cost of living crisis. If I had a choice I’d revive some of our old work like our female veteran play and work with Women’s Workshop in Amble more but at the moment we are taking each play as it comes.

Tell me about your podcast?

Ahhhh Womxn Up? Is our podcast…You can listen to it on all major podcast platforms. https://anchor.fm/womxnup

I am so proud of everyone who was involved in making it. We worked hard and it was very emotionally draining as we were living what we were making.

Series 2 of the podcast #AllMenCan is out in February 2023. We recorded it last weekend. This series is about ending violence and against women and girls but bringing men into the conversation, talking about how they can be better allies.

Series 1 – Womxn Up? was such an immense project. It was our response to the global pandemic which highlighted North-East women’s stories through a series of audio plays and real-life interviews. It was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We also made a film called ‘Her Primal Scream’ thanks to Comic Relief.  Within this project, we explored the impact the pandemic has had on women at home, work, in the community, on our mental health and on our bodies.

Our Womxn Up? Project consisted of  three, brand-new audio response plays all inspired by our research which were written, performed, directed and produced by women from the North East. We ended up winning two Community Archive awards (Voted the best National archive project 2022!) and we archived it all in the Feminist Library in London.

Where do you see the future of Workie Ticket? What is the legacy?

Heritage is important and so valuable especially to future generations….Over the last couple of years, I’ve lost someone very close to me, I survived a serious illness, I had a baby during the pandemic…AND  I’ve still managed to keep Workie Ticket going.

If nothing else, I’m fiercely determined and resilient.

I appreciate every day. If it all ends tomorrow, it wouldn’t be too bad because we’ve been archived so in hundreds of years time, in the matriarchal future, a load of feminists will look at our archived work and be like….wow they were busy, they were pushing boundaries…but mainly they cared.

How do you reach out to communities ?

I am usually part of the community! WT are a nice bunch and we’re friendly. That helps a lot. Being approachable and open.

We actively listen. I encourage my team to work together and support each other too. It’s the only way.

Behind the scenes, I am working away to collaborate and network within communities. Sometimes it takes a lot to get seen but I am willing to work hard at that too.

How can people get involved?

Follow us on social media, check out our website, donate to our Spacehive…if you’d like us to engage with a group you work with email me… workietickettheatre@gmail.com I am up for a collaboration. We also love working with volunteers.

@workietickettc www.workietickettheatre.com

Pledge! www.spacehive.com/workieticketwalktheline

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