Interview: Andre Skeete talks new show Rising and the impact of Cardboard Citizens on his life

The star of Cardboard Citizens’ latest play hopes the production can make a positive change and revealed how the theatre company helped him develop as a person and an actor.

Andre Skeete is currently starring in Cardboard Citizens’ production of Rising by Femi Keeling, which charts the common tale of an offender leaving prison and struggling to adapt to the outside world.

The production will be touring hostels, prisons and day centres throughout London during November, and each performance ends with a forum that enables the audience to discuss the play’s themes and suggest new policies and ideas to improve the rehabilitation of offenders.

Andre said: “You can hear them making noise and talking and they really got involved. They really relate to the character of Terence who has just come out of prison and is trying to sort out his life, and they know people like my character Gavin.

“They know people or are like Gavin so they can really relate to these characters.”

“It’s really important to show it in a way that is real to them and not condescending to them. They know that the writers have heard these stories or been through this.

“They believe it, they know it’s real and they get to talk about it in the forum at the end. They hopefully think about it and it can help change their lives and maybe they can join Cardboard Citizens when they get out.”

Cardboard Citizens itself is an organisation that works with many people both coming from homelessness and from the judicial system.

For more than 25 years, Cardboard Citizens has been using theatre to make a positive difference in society, addressing real social issues and campaigning for change.

Andre himself spent several years living in hostels and has performed on and off with Cardboard Citizens for the past 12 years.

He believes the work of Cardboard Citizens has been vital to helping many people rebuild their lives.

He added: “They’ve changed my life basically. They have helped me develop my acting through workshops, did my first tour with them, helped me develop my improvisation, I have learnt a lot from them and even life skills.

“I’ve seen people move on to jobs in all sorts of fields, not just theatre.  People get jobs, they move on and get jobs. I’ve seen some really good stuff and seen people’s lives improve.

‘It would be nice if they didn’t have to exist and they didn’t have to be doing this stuff but we are here and this is the reality which is a shame. We just need more help and hopefully we can get some more stuff done.”

Andre was 25 when he decided to leave his family home and find a home of his own. He couldn’t get a home through the council, and instead entered the hotel system. He passed through several organisations over the next few years.

“It’s really scary, it can happen to anyone for any particular reason. Somebody working can just lose their job and end up on the streets.

“I was reading about a homeless man who died outside a police station I think. They said he lost his job, from that he had a breakdown of his relationship from that he was homeless for years and years. It’s hard to get help and it’s a scary thing. It can just happen to anyone and it is hard to get help in these situations.”

As part of the launch of the Mayor of London’s Winter Homelessness Fundraising Campaign, Citizens will perform Rising at London’s City Hall on Tuesday 27 November at 7.00pm. It will be livestreamed to the public for free, from www.cardboardcitizens.org.uk/RisingLive and from the City of London website www.london.gov.uk.  Viewers can comment and contribute to the debate from the Cardboard Citizens website, and by tweeting using the hashtag #CitzRising

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