This is an extract from an interview with the writer of The Listeners, Mojisola Adebayo, discussing where the idea for the show came from, and how she approached turning ideas about listening into a performance for young people.
So what was the starting point for the show when you joined the project?
It was quite open - the impulse was to make something around young people and mental health, and possibly talk about suicide. But obviously there were big questions about the ethics of doing that, and about how deep to go. We were quite tentative about what the piece would look like, and how to make it accessible, fun, and also sustainable over a long rehearsal period.
The idea of focusing on listening came about through a day long conversation between Yasmin, myself and Helen from the Samaritans, where Helen really crystallised what the Samaritans do, which is listening. I’d known a little about the Samaritans, but I didn’t realise that they don’t give advice directly, or try to stop people committing suicide by saying ‘don’t do that, there’s another way’, or ‘your family will be upset’ and any of those other clichés that I had in my head about how they might counsel somebody. But really, they see their role as to just listen, and to enable people to talk about some of the most taboo subjects, like wanting to commit suicide.
They really believe in the power of listening: they really believe that if somebody is on the brink of hurting themselves or killing themselves, that listening to them is a way of bringing that person to another place, without imposing advice or anything trite: just listening.
So I spent most of that day with the three of us listening to Helen and Yasmin, and thinking about that, and then I started thinking about – knowing this would be a cast of young people – how has listening changed? Is listening any different for young people at the moment? And how might technology have changed the ways we all listen and communicate?
And I was wary about getting on a bandwagon: you know, ‘Facebook is bad’, ‘Texting is terrible’, ‘We should all talk to each other’ – but it’s not so much that, I was just really curious about how all of this new technology might have changed how we communicate on a personal level. And how has that particularly changed for young people. What kind of listening do they do? How do they listen through text messages? How do you listen through Facebook? Through a tweet? Is it listening, and have we forfeited or lost that skill?