Opening UpMon 7 Sep 2020
It’s always a powerful moment when we’re able to see our Youth and Community Company members stand on our main stage. But when the curtain rose to reveal the company of Opening Up (our summer sharing of work) it felt all the more potent. Maybe it was the fact they were the first people to perform on that stage since the theatre was closed in March; or maybe it was due to seeing them socially distanced and still wearing masks; or maybe it was that the journey to get there for the young people had been littered with challenges – all of which they overcame.
Back in March we made the decision to take our regular Youth Company sessions online, in reaction to the lockdown due to Covid-19. With 68 company members we launched into this new frontier. The initial sessions focused around ‘checking-in’, ensuring that they were ok and providing a chance for them to reconnect with fellow company members and friends. It reminded us all of the important pastoral function we provide – giving young people a space to connect with other like-minded people. We saw some of our most vulnerable young people thrive in the new format and an honesty and openness which is to be admired in any young person.
However, we also knew that the companies were first and foremost about being creative. How do you create something within this new setting? We crafted exercises for the companies to both document their lockdown but also to discover their own take on this specific moment in time. Each young person became individual artists, developing a creative response which could be poetry, movement, speech or film (to name a few). Sharing this work online could have been a wonderful end to the ‘virtual term’ but theatre is about coming together and everyone yearned to be back together in person.
We cautiously stepped back into the theatre building, with company members joining us over the summer to bring their work to life. The new normal was strange; questions asked, temperatures checked and social distancing across the building – we were back in the building but it wasn’t back to any sort of normal that we recognised. The Youth Company’s resilience and maturity to this new way of working was staggering, they launched themselves into it and understood exactly the need to ensure the safety of company members and staff. As one young person remarked; “it’s just brilliant to see everyone again… and not on a screen!”.
As the sharing took shape, we knew it was as much about breathing life back into the theatre building as it was a chance for the young people to tell us about their lockdown experience. The work culminated with inviting friends and family to take a journey around the building, coming across performances in offices, dressing rooms and kitchens. Alongside the sharing, the theatre forecourt was alive with music and theatre with company members and their families staying to experience the activity for our Love Your Theatre Weekend. The Marlowe was filled with voices and spectacle once more, it reminded us all of the power of coming together.
As we all move out of the immediate aftermath of lockdown the challenge to keep young people creative will intensify. It is easy to be lured into the thought that things are returning to normal, but as schools face increasing pressures to ’catch-up’, arts subjects will be pushed out of timetables. Young people will have new challenges to meet the expectations of higher workloads, increasing anxiety and testing their resilience. Opportunities to be creative both inside and outside of education will be for many harder to access, and it’s the role of theatres to keep young people and our community inspired and supported to live a creative life.
Associate Director (Learning & Participation)