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Beyonce Rises to It!

‘Why Beyonce is a Powerful Role Model for Young Women Today’ explains Justine Themen, Director of RISE, B2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Mon March 13-Sat March 18 

Some of the Midlands’ brightest young acting talent, aged 9 to 25, are this week staging new all-female production RISE, exploring what it’s like to be a young woman growing up in the 21st century It’s devised and performed by the Belgrade Young Company in collaboration with playwright Liz Mytton and Director Justine Themen.

5 Q&A’s with Director Justine Themen:

The Belgrade’s Associate Director Justine Themen

1. RISE follows a group of young women, on road trip to a Beyoncé concert. Do you think Beyoncé is a positive role model for young people today?

Beyoncé has an extraordinary significance for the young women in the Company, and for young women around the world.  She talks about the challenges women face, and is a powerful figure.  I wouldn’t want to undermine her importance.  However, I am also challenged by some of Beyoncé’s work, and concerned that it reinforces sexualised stereotypes of women.  I also think that there is something inherently challenging in the kind of ‘followership’ that runs alongside celebrity status.  I am interested in supporting young women to build their own confidence, voice and identity – positive role models can support this process, but they shouldn’t replace it.

2. Tell us the story behind RISE

RISE is the story group of young women whose drive is being eroded by the drip-drip of the everyday acts of sexism that they encounter – whether boys harassing them in the park, teachers underestimating them at school or mothers being mistreated by violent partners at home.  A Beyoncé concert, however, presents a new kind of solution – a female icon who is standing up for the rights of women, and singing about the issues that they find challenging.

3. What’s the inspiration for this production?

Two things really.  Firstly the extraordinary energy and potential of the young women that are emerging from our youth groups at the moment.  I wanted to bring some of that to the stage.  And secondly, I have a daughter of my own, who is now 14, and starting to explore and own and assess the world in her own right, starting to make her own decisions about who she wants to be.  As a parent, I had a real sense of wonder at who she was becoming and intrigue about where she would choose to go.  So overall, I was inspired by the sense of young women’s potential.

4. Following your production of Red Snapper with an all-female cast led by BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee, Cathy Tyson this will be your second show at the Belgrade Theatre featuring an all-girl cast. Is this something that’s important to you?

I’m excited by hearing a range of voices on our stages – watching both stories that resemble my own and stories that feel very different from my own, helps me to better understand myself and the world that I live in. Unfortunately, the dominant voice continues to be the voice of the white middle-class male. All of the work that I make seeks to offer a counterbalance – so yes, it’s important to me to make work that redresses this balance, and one way to do that (though not the only way I do) is with an all-female cast.

5. What are you most looking forward to about bringing this production to the stage?

Sharing the vibrancy, energy and humour of the young women I’ve been working with with an audience.  They are so funny, so beautiful, so various in their energies, and I want people to see this, and feel that they can’t bear the idea that all this youthful potential is compromised by a society that still fails to give young women’s voices equal weight. I want people to take a collective responsibility for the young women growing up in our world, and support them to become everything they’re capable of becoming.

RISE runs from Mon March 13- Sat March 18. Tickets are free but with a request for donations to support the work of the Belgrade Community & Education Company. belgrade.co.uk/event/rise

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