Alumni join forces to raise awareness of radicalisation

Synergy Theatre

Two BCU graduates have joined forces to create a theatre production and digital toolkit to help people spot the early signs of radicalisation.

Billie Lewery, who graduated earlier this year with a degree in Applied Theatre (Community and Education), worked alongside Chloe Broxton, who completed her degree in Criminology, Policing, and Investigation in 2018.

The duo appeared on BBC One’s Crimewatch last week to discuss the project.

The live performance piece was written, produced, and acted by seven Applied Theatre students and explored important topics like vulnerability, radicalisation and how to get help.

Synergy Theatre is an adaptation of an existing Counter Terrorism training package, which uses students’ own interpretations of radicalisation. The group of students launched Synergy Theatre with two performances to their classmates and secondary school students, as well as Counter Terrorism Policing partners.

The performances took place at the Lab in the Conservatoire earlier this year and included breaks for discussion which encouraged the audience to explore different ideas and discuss Sam’s behaviours.

The performance centres on Sam, a young vulnerable individual who is being radicalised online. Sam’s story navigates through changes in behaviour and identifies some of the early indictors that those closest can look out for.

Synergy Theatre

Billie, who now works as a freelance drama practitioner and performer, played the role of Sam in the performance.

She said: “As a student of Applied Theatre, I am always delighted when theatre is prioritised as a way of connecting with people and exploring difficult subject matters, such as that explored in Synergy Theatre.

“We worked with Chloe and her colleague Matt for several months, beginning with research into a selection of real-life case studies involving individuals who have been radicalised in a similar way to the protagonist in our production.

“We then had several weeks collaborative devising where we developed our production into the final piece of drama we have now. While being involved from the very beginning of the creation process, along with a handful of other Applied Theatre students, I also played the protagonist Sam, a 17-year-old male who slowly becomes radicalised by an online ‘friend’, known to Sam as Moon Man.

“The performance was followed by a hot seating exercise, where the audience could talk to characters and ask them questions to further understand the character. Being in the hot seat as Sam, it was really encouraging to hear how much of the performance they had digested, and every key aspect of the product was picked up on. It was a great way to troubleshoot whether the important information would be recognised or not, and it was.

“I absolutely love how this project has been recognised as one worth sharing on the BBC, and how theatre is being given the opportunity to be seen as a valuable exploration and education tool.”

The project has now been produced into a free digital toolkit which will be available online for download, aimed for but not exclusively to schools and colleges, as well as parents, guardians, and youth organisations.

Chloe, who now works as a Prevent Officer for Counter Terrorism Policing West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “Overall, the initial feedback we received from students and professional partners was extremely positive.

“We received additional comments from the school after the initial performance mentioning that Synergy Theatre had sparked important discussions within the classroom led by the children, which is exactly what we wanted so it was an exciting premier to the production.

“To be interviewed and have our work shown on Crimewatch was incredible and I’m so thrilled that all the hard work that the students have put into this project has been recognised and shared on national television.”

The duo have great advice for current students hoping to collaborate with others.

Billie said: “My advice to current students would be simply to talk to people and take every opportunity you can. You would be surprised how different paths can cross and collaborate; I would never have expected Applied Theatre and Criminology and Policing to work together but we have and very successfully too.”

Chloe also has advice to share with current Criminology and Policing students.

She said: “Be open to engaging with departments you would not expect to work with and ways in which you can. There will always be someone who you can talk to if you want to create a collaboration, you just have to look, and who knows what exciting products you may make.”

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