Art with heart

Helping children overcome trauma through creative expression

Sarah Evans, Creative Director of Art with Heart and writer of award winning, nationally touring play Secret Diaries, talks to Bullying UK about how her experience of being bullied and how it has informed her life and work.

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At school I remember stepping in to defend a friend who was being targeted for being black. He told me afterwards how rare it is that someone steps in to defend you, I remember wondering why; why wouldn’t someone help when they see someone being attacked? Later on in my life learnt that bullying is not always as clear as that. 

When I was 18 I met a girl who became a close friend. I was very open about being bisexual and happy with who I am. She asked me lots of questions and eventually confided in me that she was gay. As we became closer friends, a mutual friend of ours started to push me away, and things changed. 

It started with jibes, snide comments, but then it escalated. At its height, when other people were in the room she was lovely to me, laughing with me and then when they left the room she’d change. I remember her once saying to me that my girlfriend at the time “will dump you soon because she’ll realise that nobody could ever love you”. It stuck in my throat for about three years. I started to believe all the things she was saying because I kept telling myself that she was my friend, so maybe she was right and that people put up with me because they felt sorry for me. She never hit me, she didn’t raise her voice, and it was all in calm, hushed, passive aggressive tones that dented away at me. She started telling our friends that I’d said and done things that I hadn’t and over a year they started distancing themselves from me. 

I confided in a mutual friend and she understood, she’d seen that something wasn’t quite right. It felt good to know that it wasn’t just in my head. When my girlfriend did break up with me (over a year later) I could hear my bully’s voice telling me that I was unlovable. It took me a long time to shake it off. Nobody stepped in, nobody stopped her, and I had to be strong, confide in people and believe in myself to find strength. Once I did, I realised how weak she was and how strong I had become. 

I think that experience has absolutely informed my work. At that time I felt lost, alone and like I was an outsider. Growing up, Hayley, the protagonist in Secret Diaries searches for that sense of belonging in so many different ways. She searches for the truth. I want all young people to feel that they belong in the world and that whatever the form, whoever the bully, you aren’t alone. We all have the right to stand tall; physically, emotionally and psychologically. 

Trying to find who we are and where our place in the world is, is something we all strive to know our whole lives, I want to start those conversations not only with young people but with adults too, which is why we are touring performances for the general public age 14+ and school and college only performances with workshops. 

I’ve worked in The Arts, Education, Theatre and Youth Work all my life, and founded Art with Heart to make new work which supports women and young people into the arts and responds to a need for change and conversation. 

I wrote Secret Diaries after working in an LGBT youth centre and hearing some awful stories about how young people were being treated and bullied for their sexuality. A friend also offered me her diaries from her teenage years and once I’d read them (it took me 3 months) I realised I needed to write a story about coming of age, coming out and figuring out who you are. 

I hope Secret Diaries starts conversations that help everyone know that there is a place for us all, we just have to get to know each other, respect each other and treat everyone as equals. When we see bullying we cannot be a bystander, we cannot be complicit. It sounds so simple, yet is so hard to do, and is something that we all have to remind ourselves of each and every day.

Secret Diaries is touring nationally 26th Feb – 2nd April 2015 with both versions available. 

  • Ipswich: New Wolsey Theatre - Thurs 26th February 2pm* & 7.45pm and Fri 27th February 11am*
  • Bury: The Met - Wed 4th March 11am*
  • Harrogate: Harrogate Theatre - Fri 6th March 2pm* & 7.45pm
  • Bath: the egg, Theatre Royal - Thurs 12th March 7pm* and Fri 13th March 1pm* & 7pm*
  • Scarborough: Stephen Joseph Theatre - Wed 18th March 7.45pm
  • Wolverhampton: Arena Theatre - Fri 20th March 1pm* & 7.30pm
  • London: Harrow Arts Centre - Wed 25th March 7.30pm
  • Doncaster: Cast - Thurs 26th March 7.45pm
  • Salford: The Lowry - Thurs 2nd April 1pm* & 8pm

Ticket links through www.artwithheart.org.uk/current/ and direct from venues.

*Indicates a Youth Performance with free Workshop open only to school pupils and their teachers. All other performances are open to general audiences and young people age 14+. School/College/ Youth Groups will also receive a free Education Support Pack. 

British Sign Language (BSL) performances available.


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