Matthew Lyons, Head of Young Company reflects on the importance and benefits of reaching out to new theatre companies and audiences.

Back in 2004 Chickenshed’s Youth Theatre were involved in an international theatre project called Contacting the World. The fundamental aim of the festival was to unite six Youth Theatre’s from the UK with six international groups of young theatre makers to devise a piece of theatre together.

Chickenshed were paired with a group called Tarunya from Dhaka, Bangladesh and over the course of the year, members from both their Youth Theatre and ours shared ideas and practice through exchange visits and online communication. We began developing a new piece of work to be shared at Contact Theatre in Manchester during a weeklong festival with all of the other companies involved with Contacting the World.

During that week Youth Theatre members from Chickenshed had the opportunity to meet, engage and share their practice with young theatre makers from not only Bangladesh but Malaysia, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, India and all over the UK. It was an amazing project with one member of our Bangladeshi counterpart, Sudip Chakroborthy, who was particularly interested in UK theatre culture and how it was made in Britain, vowing to keep the contacts made during the project once we all went our separate ways.

Sudip now works in the Drama Department at the University of Dhaka and is currently studying an MA here in the UK. He has been in contact ever since the project ended, and this month got in touch to invite me to a workshop as part of the Season of Bangla Drama that he is running, in which members of the UK Bangladesh diaspora theatre community can meet to share ideas and discover new methodologies. Many were interested in how to expand their practice to the wider community and were excited to hear about the way we work with young people at Chickenshed. Watch this space on how this develops as visits are being planned over the next few months!

Contacts, wherever they are first formed, are so important for the development of Chickenshed Young Company. We are always looking for opportunities to bring new people in to see our work and to take our work out to new audiences. This month we took (L)able to the Battersea Arts Centre as part of the Occupy Festival where we performed alongside the Youth Theatre from Chickenshed Kensington & Chelsea (CKC). It was fantastic to get both branches of Chickenshed together, and although not quite as far as Bangladesh, it was an important step in getting the Young Company work out to other venues. It has resulted in greater confidence to take youth-led workshops focusing on the themes of (L)able, over to the Youth Theatre members at CKC and local schools, before bringing the show back to Chickenshed in July for further advancement. We will then be taking the developed piece out again to the International Youth Arts Festival in Kingston upon Thames.

(L)able being performed at Battersea Arts Centre

(L)able feels like a piece that is constantly growing, not only due to the external contacts being made, but also because of the internal relationships that are being developed. 

One (L)able cast member and creator told us:

I feel like it's given me the chance to develop as a person as well as a performer and creator. Listening to other people's stories and things they've been through has given me so much insight into things people face that I didn't think about before. I think this process has also really brought me and my sister much closer together. Having a space to talk about my experience growing up with her in an environment where it felt both safe but with a level of professionalism has made me realise how much it's affected me. I've found myself remembering more about my childhood that I think I'd either previously forgotten or suppressed. Hearing my words on stage being said by someone else has allowed me to listen to my experience from a different perspective and process it. I think it's acted as some kind of therapy where I've gained a greater understanding of my own feelings and acceptance of our relationship. It was amazing for me to see her truly included and valued and not just seen as ‘disabled’ but as a dancer and performer. Everyone in the cast was absolutely wonderful and by the end there was a real sense that we'd made a little family. There was such a feeling of love and tenderness both on and off stage and a sense of real true inclusion. It feels like there is a part of everyone and their story within the show.

As the creative discussions surrounding the progression of (L)able continue into the Easter break, attention now begins to turn towards our younger members and the Children’s Theatre involvement within the Young Company production Stig of the Dump. We haven’t had a huge amount of contact with them over this past month, and, with three rotas of over 100 performers in each cast, tickets already on sale and a whole rubbish dump still to make, we are very much looking forward to having them back in and continuing the work we have started.