The Boys Project by Nabhaan Rizwan

Nabhaan Rizwan was one of 10 boys who took part in the project.

So this Boys Project thing started a while back, maybe Spring 2016, and just last week we performed at the Royal Court, so it’s been quite the journey. So let’s fill you in.

The Boys Project is the brainchild of Bryony Kimmings. Its aim: To amplify the voice of young working class men around Britain, through art. We had bootcamp days in a different cities. Birmingham. Manchester. Leeds. Cardiff. London.

The days were loaded; each day had both a political theme e.g. The economy, or the justice system as well as a different art form e.g. physical theatre, poetry etc. in which the political theme was incorporated.

So in essence we were given the tools to create political art. Which I think is a curious term. The whole ‘certain time and place’ argument.

I guess for a lot of people, blatantly ‘political art’ often springs to mind, and is great and impactful when executed correctly, but I really had the chance to do more than just scratch the surface here. Workshops were once a month, so I had time to learn, see and experience all the things we discussed.

And that made me look at all my favourite political art in a different way. The common thread seems to be, they all say the system is fucked without saying ‘the system is fucked’. In art you call the shots, it’s all about how it’s done and you are the architect of that. You make the choices, and if they’re interesting, different choices, the political message tends to be more poignant. Take Mos Def’s ‘New World Water’ for instance. The song opens with an advert for tap water, our narrator sarcastically singing the slogan ‘That cool refreshing drink..’ It’s funny. But it hits home. That’s why a lot of people reckon comedy is the most political art form. As long as it’s funny, you can push the envelope. What’s the adage, ‘It’s funny because it’s true…’

Anyway, I digress.

After a wee hiatus, the Royal Court took over the project and all us city boys were shipped off to a kind of mansion for artsy folk in rural old Stroud. Marvellous. Some really cool humans joined us, artists like Mr. Gee, Sabrina Mahfouz and Hamish Pirie. The week’s madness was conducted by OG’s Chris Sonnex and Romana Flello. One Pierpaolo Inga (or ‘Pop’ as he’s conveniently nicknamed) filmed pretty much the whole thing and put out a documentary about us. It’s pretty neat.

We created, created, created. Our main stimulus was the question: Why do we love the oppressor and hate the oppressed? At the end of the week, we conjured up what was to be the framework of our show. If I took away anything from that week, it was Mr. Gee’s mantra, ‘Feed the art’. If you call yourself an artist, you’re stuck with a lifelong curse, your art; a monster that is always hungry, but never full. Feed the art.

After some weeks to work on our individual pieces, we reassembled a week at the Court. We mashed together, refined, cut out some stuff, added some stuff. You know how it goes. But there it was. Our show: The Undergrowth. A big stupendous hodgepodge of visual art, poetry, rapping, playwriting and acting. At the Royal Court. And as Chris so eloquently put it, ‘You guys fucking belong here.”

So yeah, some journey. Where to next? Well, I’m sure we will work together individually, and help with each other’s artistic endeavours. As for the show, hopefully this blog makes some headway and we get to tour it all over the UK and the world and become superstars.

After being in those workshops, trying to work out the temperature of a room with so much testosterone, a lot has happened. The political climate continues to be ever so generous with providing us with stimuli. But we’ve all changed too.

For me, the Boys Project has changed, irrevocably, the way I write and think. And for that, I am forever indebted to everyone involved.

Read producer Chris Sonnex’s blog on  the project here.

Photo: The Boys Project on their Hawkwood College residency by Loving Lotus Productions