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(en) Organise #58 - Inside the Yellow House A libertarian approach to disaffected youth in Liverpool

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 15 May 2003 07:57:23 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

Curfew orders on disaffected youth? A
new generation of Kray Twins? `Feral'
children roaming the streets? And who
but some right-wing hack could coin
such a phrase to describe fellow
human beings? Listening to the media,
anyone could be forgiven for thinking
that all hope has been abandoned and
working-class youth are the bane of
cosy, middle England.
Nothing could be further from the
truth and there are things going on in
Liverpool that give the lie to the lurid
bourgeois accusations of lawless young
desperadoes hanging around every
street corner just waiting to relieve
passers-by of their credit cards,
Rolexes, jewellery and mobiles.
It's undoubtedly true that
capitalism has the power to create
monsters in every community. The
remarkable thing is that so few of us
take this road despite the enormous,
coercive pressures of consumer-driven
society breeding a crude selfishness in
practically every one of our actions,
from the earliest stages of infancy.
They won't admit it, but avarice is a
condition alien to the huge majority of
humankind the world over and
especially so in young people. Young
people possess a fondness for each
other unparalleled in other groups,
they love working hard and having fun
together with their peers. Caring,
sharing, harmonising and fostering a
natural empathy are strongly rooted in
the young. The Yellow House theatre
group is living proof of that.
Very personal visions
Yellow House is a unique youth
organisation created and set up in the
mid-80s by a local man with vision and
an undaunted faith in Liverpool's
working-class youth ­ George McKane.
Yellow House is named after Dutch
painter Vincent Van Gogh's house in
Arles, where the door was always kept
open. For Yellow House, read open
house ­ open specifically to working-
class kids.
George feels instinctively that art is
not the prerogative or product of the
middle and upper-classes but could be
more passionately expressed and
appreciated by the working class
themselves ­ art that is an expression
of their daily experiences of hardship
and the emotions that scraping a living
from the crumbs from the capitalist's
table create. "For me, daily life is the
act, the common reality, the domain of
falsehood and convention. The purpose
of theatre should not be to describe life
but to be a space where a life process
takes place. Theatre should be where
the `actors and the audience' make
mutual contact, leading to the
discovery of the fullness of human
The Yellow House is principally a
theatre group open to all young people
of Liverpool regardless of background,
race or financial status. George
believes passionately that the talent
and the urge to be creative that is part
of every human life does not depend
on wealth or social connection for
development. The theory behind this
Theatre of Exposure is quite simple:
"We are teaching the young people not
to act, but to be themselves in a given
situation. We are training ­ asking ­
the young people to take off their
masks and to be themselves; their real
selves. The training is actually getting
them to act as their real selves; the
real self that is buried beneath the
image that they have, or their
environment has created for them."
Yellow House undertakes to nurture
this creativity simply because it is
there and not because money or
position are the key to releasing it. It
is something from which the working
class in this country has largely been
excluded, even in so-called `free'
schools like Summerhill, whose
students are invariably taken from the
families of wealth or status. Not so at
Yellow House.
Just as money is not needed to walk
through the Yellow House door, neither
is the work of the group structured
around anything to do with hierarchy,
station in life, precociousness, `sex-
appeal' or any of the other fatuous
presumptions the middle and ruling
class claim for their kind. What Yellow
House aims to offer is a safe and
respecting environment not only to
work in, but to be seen and to be
heard without being judged, to enable
each to explore their own self, free
from external assumptions being
drawn from accent, physique,
mannerisms, language, an extrovert
nature or whatever. Articulation of
what each carries inside is more
fundamentally important than
following any social pattern derived
from class, cliques, in-crowds or élites.
Who you really are is what counts, not
who you know or what your people do
for a living.
Working-class lives
There is absolutely nothing run-of-the-
mill or superficial about Yellow House
theatre group. Every action leads to a
young, working-class person gaining in
self-esteem and self-confidence. No
performance is ever scripted, nor is
there a reliance on elaborate sets or
gaudy costumes. The players are
entirely themselves, most often
making statements about growing up
in inner-city Liverpool through the
mediums of poetry and music.
Repeatedly the title of each production
speaks of the youngster's aspirations:
`Peace Breaks Out', `Reclaiming the
City', `Looking for Freedom', `Between
Two Worlds'.
Allowed the opportunity to think
about the state of the world on their
own terms, it's what youth wants for
the future that comes across loud and
clear. These kids don't want war,
exploitation, restraint, violence. It's
adult society that does this to them,
destroys all their best convictions,
refuses them the right to build the
kind of world they desire, directs them
down the useless road of consumerist
greed, where the essence of being
fully human, wholly alive and
constructively engaged with the world
is lost, perhaps forever. This is a fate
that is not going to befall anyone
passing through the doors of the
Yellow House.
To give a flavour of what Yellow
House represents, take this.
Responding to a typically
conversational remark about the
opening performance of a newly-
rehearsed production, its founder and
inspiration, George McKane, was
asked if he thought that the team
were "up and ready for the evening's
show". George replied that while the
performance in front of the audience
had its place in the scheme of things,
it would not be the most important
aspect by far. And he would be right.
The most important aspect of the
process, from beginning to end, had
been the working alliance, the mutual
camaraderie that cemented it all
together, the blood, the sweat, the
tears that the group had shed in
support of one another behind the
scenes. The thousand and one things
that we, the audience, didn't see and
very probably wouldn't even think of.
Like much that goes on in this
taken-for-granted society, it was a
question that had been asked from the
consumer's point of view. It is how
capitalism encourages us to think ­
lazily ­ without paying too much
attention to detail and without
anything but the most cursory
examination of the pleasure we draw
from the labour of others. It's the
same when we buy clothes from Nike
or Gap. What we focus on as
consumers is the end product,
completely oblivious to the long hours,
gruelling conditions, the misery of
compulsion that low-paid workers put
into creating our comforts. It isn't
done intentionally; it's just that we
have become blind to many things. We
just don't see it. Consumer capitalism
doesn't want us to see it. This is what
George has put his finger on: it isn't
what the public eventually sees that
matters; it is the effort that goes to
producing the finished article that has
In the 15 years that George has
been facilitating Yellow House, both it
and its reputation have grown and
grown. As is the case with any
working-class initiative, George has
had to fight hard for everything that
has been achieved by Yellow House. A
not-for-profit, non-commercial
venture, Yellow House has had to
struggle for funds to stay afloat. People
have helped.
George has also found the
additional emotional strength he
needed to maintain his dream-turned-
reality through his partner, Gosia, a
native of Poland who has helped
spread Yellow House's work across
Europe and beyond, to Gdansk,
Warsaw, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Koln,
Palermo in Sicily, France, Tallin in
Estonia, Ghana and other parts of
Africa. The entire initiative has been
working-class from start to finish. No
`names', no mile-wide grinning
celebrities, no corporate sponsors.
Nothing but working-class passion and
commitment from two very
determined working-class people
alongside their Liverpool working-class
students, who have shared in and built
the dream. "A throwaway theatre, a
theatre which won't go down in
bourgeois history, but which is useful,
like a newspaper article, a debate on
political action. Theatre to burn when
its purpose has been served. We are
proud of our past, our history, our
origins, we look to them but we are
always moving forward."
We end this article with the
poignant words of one of those student
performers who enthralled a Liverpool
audience with their work, `To Dream
in Colour': "I had never been involved
in a performance like this before and
was surprised at how natural it all
seemed. It was really great how young
people came together and created
something together. I particularly like
the fact that we all felt equal and that
people who had been involved with
Yellow House for a long time valued
and listened to everyone's opinion".
Yellow House. In Liverpool. Freedom to
be who we are.
For more information on Yellow
House try yellowhouse@
btinternet.com or the website

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