Youth Theatre and Dance In the heart of the community…
Monday 26 March 2018
Youth Theatre and Dance In the heart of the community…..
I’m Allie Spencer and I’m the Creative Learning Manager at the Regent Theatre and Victoria Hall (ATG) in Hanley, Stoke on Trent.
The Regent Drama Academy performing “Exodus”, November 2017 , Photo by Emily R Fray
I am passionate about creating opportunities for young people and Stoke Creative Learning currently have four youth theatres, two youth dance companies and a technical youth theatre , all coming under the banner of The Regent Performing Arts Academy. Two of these youth theatres are community ones, and free of charge to anyone wanting to attend.
I have been in post since July 2017 and my vision is to provide free youth theatres and youth dance companies right across the city. I want young people of all ages who are interested in drama to be able to access a youth theatre nearby, regardless of their family financial situation or background. With the staff of the Regent theatre and Victoria hall behind me we have now started this exciting adventure.
Bentilee Youth Theatre
Bentilee Youth Theatre Photo by Associated Luminosity March 2018
Bentilee is an enormous housing estate situated between two of Stoke’s six towns.
Partnering with a local church, Stoke Creative Learning have set up a community youth theatre. Meeting at St Stephen’s church, which is at the centre of the community, beside the neighbourhood centre which houses the doctors, dentists, CAB alongside many other groups, the youth theatre is for children aged 9 -12 living or going to school in Bentilee. The group is supported by the local primary school and currently between 10 and 15 children attend regularly.
Bentilee Youth Theatre is free to attend. The children do an hour of drama and then have a main meal (also free) which helps parents as the poverty levels on the estate are high.
This group is giving The Regent Theatre and Victoria hall a real presence on the estate as well as contributing to the children’s performance skills and confidence levels. The church are giving us the building and a staff worker for free. They are also paying for, and cooking, the food for the children. It’s great to be partnering with an organisation that has the community as its central focus.
Bentilee Youth Theatre has just finished its first term and performed publicly for the first time this week.
Hanley Youth Theatre (The Four O’Clock club)
Hanley Youth Theatre: Photo by Associated Luminosity March 2018
This is the second of our new community youth theatres. Also fondly known as “the four o’clock club” It meets at the Victoria hall every Monday at 4pm for an hour and is for children aged 9 – 12 living or attending school in Hanley and the immediate area surrounding it. This group is also free to attend and is deliberately designed to reach young people and their families who would not otherwise be able to engage with theatre due to cost and/or family background. The group has also just had its first term after a launch in local schools in January. Parents and grandparents who drop their children off are offered a free tea or coffee in the café bar and the children and siblings are offered juice while waiting for the group to start. The young people who come are lively, enthusiastic, committed to the group and loved performing on the stage for the first time this week. They spent the rest of the evening sitting in the front of the dress circle cheering everyone else on and off the stage.
Currently there is no funding for either of these groups and we continue to look for a permanent sponsor. Once we have found one we intend to roll these community youth theatres out across the city so there is one in each area.
Celebrating young people’s performance
Junior Drama Academy, Photo by Associated Luminosity March 2018
Why do we do it? We ask ourselves this constantly during stressful final rehearsals where kids are missing and /or ill, other haven’t learnt lines, others have forgotten permission slips and costumes, parents need to pick them up early or drop them off late… the list is endless… But still we plough on because in the end the young person’s experience performing on the stage is life-changing and we know that – we just need to actually get them up on the stage in the first place!!
Victoria Hall performance evening
Dance Academy in rehearsal on the Regent Theatre stage. Photo by Allie Spencer January 2018
On 20 March Stoke Creative Learning held a performance evening at the Victoria Hall where all our Creative Learning groups performed, including our eight week old Hanley and Bentilee youth theatres, our Tech Academy ran the show, and we held bucket collections at the end of the evening to raise money for the community youth theatres.
The Victoria Hall is a beautiful concert hall in the centre of Hanley with seating on three sides, and three levels – stalls, dress and upper circle. A popular venue with orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic, choirs and music services the acoustics are fantastic and the venue has a warm welcoming feeling.
The Regent Drama Academy (youth theatre) focused on the theme of “Stoke” looking at Stoke over the last 100 years, exploring stories, poems and devising drama that celebrated Stoke as a city. This is now the basis of a drama and dance piece that we will take to the Festival of European Youth Theatre in July, hosted by Birmingham Rep.
All groups performed to whoops and cheers from friends, family and other performers. Our new adult group also performed for the first time and the evening was opened by our youth dance company – The Regent Dance Academy.
Providing performance opportunities on the Regent Stage
The Regent Dance Academy - Photo by Associated Luminosity March 2018
Every year Stoke Creative Learning host an enormous dance festival, known as “0 Dance” that lasts for five nights and welcomes 50 dance companies. The Dance Academy open the festival each night with their own piece, choreographed by Caroline Sherratt. This year the theme was fairy tales The Senior and Junior Dance Academy focused on the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast exploring mental health in a ten minute contemporary dance piece..
O Dance is a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with other performing arts groups in the area and to open the Regent Theatre stage to 1500 performers who would never otherwise get a chance to perform on such a huge stage in a 1600 seater theatre.
Last November Stoke Creative Learning hosted a drama festival for local schools and youth theatres on the Regent stage. This was a chance to build establish and build relationships with schools and to reconnect with local youth theatres. It also gave young people the Regent Theatre stage for the evening. Themes included the refugee crisis, justice, crime and Grimms tales. It was wonderful opening our doors to new audience members.
Our venues are totally to committed to young people and giving them the opportunities to gain confidence, find themselves as young people and to shine as performers, technies or directors/choreographers. There is nothing more exciting than building being filled with the buzz of young people.
We are looking forward to hosting our first RYTF within the next year and can’t wait to welcome you to Stoke.
Our brand new Tech Academy, teching their way through their first performance evening. March 2018 Photo by Allie Spencer