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Why Is The Sky Blue at Southwark Playhouse. Oscar Bennett Photo by Marc Brenner

“If you put a smart phone in a child’s hand you’re putting porn in a child’s hand”

12 May 2018 Sian Brett

In July 2017 the government announced a policy on compulsory age checks for people accessing pornographic websites, which will be rolled out by the end of the year in an attempt to stop the amount of young people ‘stumbling upon’ porn which studies have shown damages their relationships with sex and intimacy. Enter Why is the Sky Blue? (Or How to Make Slime) co-written and directed by Abbey Wright, a verbatim play that gives young people themselves a voice, as they talk about the affect easily accessible porn has on them. We chatted to Abbey about why this was such an important issue.

London Calling: The play examines the role of pornography on young people’s lives – what pushed you to want to talk about this topic in particular?
Abbey Wright: I’ve never been massively keen on pornography as a young person myself. But the key thing that gave me the idea was that when I first came to London about ten years ago in my early twenties, I worked with young offenders. I did that full time for 18 months and I noticed the extent to which pornography was shaping the way that they thought about themselves and the way they made relationships, and I thought that was a really sad thing. That was ten years ago, it’s escalated enormously since then, but even at that time I thought it was sad and it stayed with me. I’m a theatre maker and that’s my medium for exploring things so I wanted to find a way of really genuinely trying to affect the national conversation on the subject.

 Why Is The Sky Blue at Southwark Playhouse. Zachary Hing. Photo by Marc Brenner

LC: The verbatim process can be a challenging one, did you feel a duty to be careful with other people’s words and to portray certain people in certain ways?
AW: Definitely, the conversations we’ve had with the kids have been such rich pickings, you could make about 20 or 30 plays. The way they describe their own feelings is just so wonderful that of course you want to treat that with respect. To be honest they’re so insightful and funny and tender that you’d have to actively be disrespectful to them to present them in any way that wasn’t respectful, because the things they say are so wise.
 
LC: Going into a verbatim project you might have an idea of what to expect, but you’re at the mercy of what people say – was there anything that surprised you?
AW: I was doing this research over a period of about eight months and I spoke to thousands of kids. Initially I was very surprised by how early young children are seeing pornography, you’re talking very young primary school age. When you go into centres, teachers and parents do tend to know that these tiny little children are seeing quite violent stuff, and I was just surprised that that wasn’t higher up the agenda nationally.
 
Some things didn’t so much surprised me, but really struck me and really stayed with me. For example there was a group of seven-year-old Muslim boys I met in Edinburgh and they really desperately wanted to talk about pornography, they were obviously very confused about it and had a lot of things to say. They described pornography in a way that I’ll always remember, they said; ‘there’s a naked picture and she’s trying to run away and it’s not her fault, and someone’s taking a picture and she doesn’t want it, and she’s wearing nail polish and her nails are all scratchy but it’s not her fault and she doesn’t want to be naked.’ These are such complicated sentiments, but described in such a simple way. How early kids are sexting surprised me. It’s very common to be sexting in year 7 or 8. You ask ‘what percentage of kids are sexting in your school’ and they say 50%. I knew it was something that happened but I thought it was more like one person who makes a bit of a mistake, I didn’t know it was so much a part of their language. And primary school sexting as well which is extraordinary.

 Why Is The Sky Blue at Southwark Playhouse. Millie Thew. Photo by Marc Brenner

LC: Do you think the issue being discussed here an inherently millennial one?
AW: In some sense. It’s interesting, because in the show we have kids from the ages of 6 to 22 and they all reflect on each other’s experiences. For the 22 year olds, the experience that the 6 year olds have now is like a different world, so there are sort of mini generations within the show. Even the 10 year olds look back on the 6 year olds and can’t believe how much they know and have seen. And obviously what’s changed massively is the internet and kids having smartphones. When I was doing my research one of the kids said to me that if you put a smart phone in a child’s hand you’re putting porn in a child’s hand, so don’t put a smart phone in their hand unless you’re prepared to have a conversation with them about pornography. And you ask primary kids now what age they got a smart phone or a tablet and they’ll say two or one, so in that sense it is millennial, yes.
 
Another sense where I would identify that there’s a problem is in the violence and disturbing nature of the imagery that the children are seeing, and that kind of imagery being so available. Generally, for little kids they’re not going looking for it – it’s uninvited and I think that is a millennial problem. For parents it’s very difficult to protect their children - the idea that a parental block works is complete nonsense. I had another kid who said to me ‘if you want to get around a parental block, google ‘how to get around a parental block’. These kids are learning coding, how to code websites and games. They know so much more about how to use the internet than we do. So it is millennial in that sense but also kids have always been curious and that’s not really new.
 
LC: It’s an intriguing title, how did you come to Why is the Sky Blue?
AW: ‘Why is the sky blue?’ is one of the most popularly asked questions into Google by children. There was a strange study on it - apparently little children ask their parents something like 250 questions a day, but they’re now asking Google these questions. ‘Why is the sky blue’ had always been a popular question for children to ask whether they’re asking their parents or a search engine – along with ‘how to make slime.’

Why is the Sky Blue? is at Southwark Playhouse until 19 May.
 
 
 
 
 
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