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Community Engagement – Theatre in the Community

Up until last year, The Civic had only occasionally taken touring theatre companies into non-traditional venues, including village halls, libraries and sports clubs. Our Community Engagement activity gives us the opportunity to engage with many more people in the area for the first-time using theatre experiences, which are immediate and visceral.

Family Theatre

During the last twelve months, we have taken two theatre companies that specialise in family theatre out into two local communities, utilising two fantastic community spaces; Rockingham Community Centre in Hoyland Common, Barnsley and Skelmanthorpe Methodist Church Hall in Skelmanthorpe, Kirklees.

Across two days in November 2019, we delivered four community performances of Slime by The Herd Theatre from Hull, a production developed for 2 to 5-year olds, in both Hoyland, including Hoyland Common Primary, and in Skelmanthorpe. All public performances were ‘pay-what-you-decide’ and in total over 250 people engaged with the show.

In March 2020, we delivered four community performances of Bonhomme by What’s Coming Out of the Box Theatre Company. The production is part traditional story-telling theatre and part craft workshop and introduces philosophy to 5 – 8-year olds by asking the question, what makes a good person?

Working in the same areas, two primary schools in Skelmanthorpe and nearby Scissett engaged with the production. We also scheduled two performances which were open to the public but unfortunately, this second day seemed to have been drastically affected by the impending Covid-19 crisis.

In January, The Herd Theatre and Can’t sit Still Theatre took up residency at The Civic, developing new work and we helped them to engage a local school as part of their practice.

The Herd Theatre did some early stage R&D with Year 2 children from Shawlands Primary School for their production The Last Dinosaur, which will tour venues in November 2020 and is aimed at 5 to 8-year olds. Their aim was to find out how much children of that age knew about dinosaurs, extinction and climate change.

Can’t Sit Still previewed about twenty minutes of their production of Oh No, George! To Shawlands Primary School, who were then invited to offer critical feedback on what they saw and ask the company questions about the production and working in a theatre company.

Big Little Dance

Last year, The Civic had the good fortune to be selected as a partner venue for Little Big Dance, a major three-year national initiative created by South East Dance in partnership with DanceEast, Take Art and Yorkshire Dance. As part of the project, each partner venues selects an Early Years education partner. We decided to work with Birkwood Primary in Cudworth.

With the guidance of choreographers, producers and dramaturges who specialise in working with very young children, Little Big Dance will support eight dance artists to create works, with four scaled for production in regional venues. The artists will gain valuable skills by working in a variety of pre-school settings in areas of England with little or no access to the arts.

George Fellows was selected as the dancer that will engage with pupils from Birkwood Primary. He worked alongside Skye Reynolds (an early years dance specialist) and Birkwood’s two EYFS classes for the projects’ Research and Development workshops.

The resulting production will tour venues in November 2020 and the children from Birkwood will be invited to watch the production they helped inspire.

In Loco Parentis

In March, we offered the opportunity for a support group for teenagers living in ‘corporate care’ called The Care4Us Council, to experience a new piece of dance theatre called In Loco Parentis by Vincent Dance Company. The work was a hard-hitting piece of dance theatre inspired by real accounts of growing up in the care system. As well as experiencing the production, the group spent an evening with the company’s creative director and cast, where they talked about how the production was put together.

A follow up session was planned for April 1st, to get feedback from the teenagers about their experiences of The Civic, the company and the production, and develop further opportunities with them. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, this has been postponed.

Very Serious Theatre

Very Serious Theatre is a new professional theatre company based in Wombwell. Their primary aim is to create exciting and diverse contemporary theatre, inspired by real lives, whilst offering affordable tuition to local young people and opportunities for them to appear in professional performances alongside professional actors. They fill the void where local primary schools are unable to provide drama or theatrical experiences to their students.

Their first production, ‘Agnes’ in 2019 premiered at St Mary’s Church in Wombwell and reached over one hundred people from the local area – one of The Civic target postcode areas. They are currently developing a new production about women’s football.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, we will work in partnership with Very Serious Theatre in developing our mutual audiences, enabling them to work with us in our community theatre venues. We will give the company and their young members the opportunity to have behind the scenes tours of The Civic and to have occasional rehearsals here. In turn, we will act as a Box Office agent for Very Serious Theatre community shows and develop further opportunities for that audience to engage with The Civic’s family programme.

Cross the Sky Theatre Company

Cross the Sky is The Civic’s integrated Theatre Company. Led by three artists, it’s twelve members are all adults with learning disabilities or Autism. Every couple of years, the company write, develop and perform their own productions, inspired by their own experiences of living with disabilities. The company is part of our Community Engagement programme, with The Civic managing the company’s administration, marketing and fundraising.

Cross the Sky’s latest production Up in the Attic is inspired by personal experiences of autism and childhood memories of play, and tells the story of a man who goes on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance as he learns to let go of his childhood and to embrace his independent adult life and his place amongst in the rat race.

The company had a successful scratch performance in July, which resulted in securing funding from Great Place Wentworth & Elsecar to film trailers for the production at Wentworth Woodhouse and to develop props, costume and training for members.

In October, Cross the Sky were invited to take part in some TOP SECRET filming for a Channel 4 TV event, in which Kylie Minogue came to The Civic to meet Cross the Sky and sing with the group for the afternoon. The footage was included in a TV programme called Kylie’s Secret Night which was shown as part of the Christmas Day prime time TV schedule.

The premier performance of Up in the Attic took place at The Civic in February and was attended by over 260 people. Cross the Sky plan to tour Up in the Attic to regional theatre spaces and secondary academies with theatres. This will be supported by funding from BMBC Central Ward Alliance grants and Creative Minds. This activity is now postponed until late 2020.

What’s Next?

We plan to launch a new group called Civic Young Creatives, which offers young people ages 14 to 21 the chance to meet monthly and engage with professional theatre companies and artist led workshops.

We will also launch a new U3A Theatre group in late 2020, which will meet every two weeks at The Civic, watch productions and scratch performances, offering reviews for our blog and be critical partners in the redevelopment of The Civic and its community programme over the coming years.

*Our Community Engagement programme is fully funded by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation

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