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Lives changed by theatre

Last week I  revisited two examples of theatre changing the lives of young people. Everyone in this industry – and those who directly or indirectly manages funding for such organisations – really should get into these places to marvel at what theatre can achieve.

First I went to Chickenshed to see their latest production – the very enjoyable Mr Stink. “Inclusivity” is an easy word but it’s rarely practised quite as fully as it is at Chickenshed which runs classes and activities for children and young people of ALL (and they mean all) abilities. Some members have Downs Syndrome, some cerebral palsy, some have illnesses, some have personality or behavioural issues and many have none of these things. They are just young people wanting to do drama. It’s fabulously, admirably and exemplarily diverse.

There’s a cradle-to-grave aspect to Chickenshed too. Several of the adults in the Mr Stink cast have been members since childhood. Having worked through Chickenshed’s BTEC and degree programmes they are now on the staff helping to deliver what Chickenshed calls “Theatre Changing Lives”. Some of the children the organisation works with would probably have difficulty fitting in elsewhere but here they are having a whale of a time, growing as people, learning a huge amount and taking part in high quality quasi professional theatre. As always after visiting, I was on a high all the way home.

A couple of days later found me at Intermission Theatre, based at St Saviour’s Church in Knightsbridge to interview artistic director Darren Raymond for a magazine article. Intermission works with 25 young people a year, drawn from all over London. Darren doesn’t want them “categorised” and he’s right. Let’s just say they lack opportunities in their own neighbourhoods and may be at risk of getting into trouble with the law.

As Intermission members they take part in drama workshops and stage plays based on Shakespeare which Darren adapts and directs. The most recent was Ring of Envy which is a version of Othello using a rather wonderful blend of street language and Shakespeare. I saw and enjoyed it the same night as Mark Rylance who is an enthusiastic patron. The organisation is now in its 10th year and Darren has lots of success stories of young people who’ve gone on to make a success of their lives after finding a sense of purpose and worth at Intermission.

The biggest success story is arguably Darren himself who discovered Shakespeare while serving a long sentence (he actually did three years) in Brixton Prison for possession of Class A drugs with intent to deal and money laundering. He was 19 at the beginning of his sentence. Thanks to London Shakespeare Workshop  – yet another example of how theatre can change lives –  he ended up playing Othello in a prison production as well as on tour after his release. Then he was invited to start Intermission Theatre and the rest is history. Today he’s a practising Christian, husband and father of three daughters.

QED. Drama is transformational. Would Arts Council England, the DfE and any Big Businesses with a sponsorship budget like me to act as a consultant?

 

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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