The Royal Shakespeare Company, nestled in the picturesque town of Stratford Upon Avon, home to William Shakespeare one of the most renowned writers. It see’s hordes of tourists walk its streets, but also now, young people of PYF treading its theatre boards and exploring exclusive back stage areas.
The Positive Youth Foundation first became involved with The RSC when they were putting together their new exhibition “The Plays The Thing” in the Swan Theatre, exploring the heritage of 100 years of theatre making. Five young people from Coventry were invited to engage in a programme that looked at the collections of props and costumes that belong to The RSC archives. The young people then took part in the national Kids In Museums – Teen Takeover Day, becoming the curators of the exhibition. Welcoming visitors, imparting information learnt through the process and completing evaluation questionnaires for The RSC. It was such a success, with mutual enjoyment on both sides that PYF were invited back to take part in their youth engagement programme – reIMAGINE. Our young people were also given the pleasure of speaking at the opening of the new permanent exhibition and were applauded for their confidence!
For us at Positive Youth Foundation, the opportunity to offer a chance to broadening young people’s experiences in a new location and to work with the renowned Royal Shakespeare Company was a no-brainer! Monday evenings then became a trip out to engage in reIMAGINE: Heritage. A programme that helped young people explore the heritage of the theatre, the history and the backstage magic that makes Shakespearean plays come alive on stage.
The programme, being focussed around heritage and not drama performances, meant that the young people were really pushed out of their comfort zones and encouraged to learn new things, delving into times gone by. The sessions enabled us to meet staff that work within the company, recognising all of the different roles needed to work within a theatre. This included an exclusive session delivered by a current RSC professional actor, Joseph Shire, who spoke to us about being confidence in speaking in public, in order to boost the groups self-assurance for the upcoming event that they were leading on! The programme itself was based around the creation of an event for the public, to be held on over the weekend of celebrations commemorating Shakespeare’s birthday.
The group of 12 young people, a mix between those from Coventry and those who live locally to Stratford-Upon-Avon began to find common ground with each other. At first, the noticeable difference came in the way that individuals spoke of their local areas, but quickly being compensated for by the humour and charismatic personalities within the cohort.
A session that all the young people, during the evaluation, raved about was visiting the top secret, exclusive location of The RSC Archives. Being home to historic costumes and props, worn and held by successful, famous actors including a real life Oscar Award and a historic sword used to knight an actor in the theatre. Not only did we see these artefacts, we were able to hold them, (with special gloves of course!) and learn about their history, choosing which of the object we liked the most to display at the celebration event.
The young people were involved in every moment and detail of the showcase event and designed craft activities for the younger audiences. When the day came, with families invited and information rehearsed the young people were centre stage. The group embraced the Swan Wing space at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, greeting the public and showcasing the objects they had chosen detailing their history to passers-by.
A full days’ worth of working as curators for The RSC with their new found friends, was really a sight to be proud of.
In the spirit of partnership working, we are now into our second cycle of reIMAGINE, this time with a new group of young people, we are focussed around Sound. Exploring the impact music and Sound FX have on performances and trying our hand at creating our own effects, ready to play in the Swan Theatre.
With huge thanks to The Royal Shakespeare Company, the wonderful staff and facilitators and of course, the young people, we are excited for the future of PYF and The RSC!
To leave you in the words of William Shakespeare himself;
“I can no other answer make but, thanks, and thanks and ever thanks.” – Twelfth Night.