Open Theatre has received three years of National Portfolio Organisation funding from the Arts Council to expand their work with young people with learning disabilities.


Young people across the West Midlands region will benefit from more artistic opportunities in schools, community settings and support for artistic careers within the theatre profession.



12,000 young people with learning disabilities in the West Midlands are set to benefit from more opportunities to participate and develop in the arts over the next three years. The Arts Council has chosen to increase its funding for this group of young people by awarding Open Theatre with a further 3 years of National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funding. This funding is a recognition of the creativity of the wide range of young people and emerging artists with learning disabilities we work with. It will enable us to expand our workshop programme, projects and production work regionally, nationally and internationally.

We create new and innovative art with, for and by emerging artists with learning disabilities and supporting their access into careers in the arts through bespoke training opportunities alongside industry professionals. As well as working with arts organisations and professionals from the UK, young people in the company benefit from working with international artists, which in turn provide more diverse artistic experiences. We support other arts organisations to open their doors to working with a wider range of young people with learning disabilities and challenge the industry to make theatre more accessible for all. 

For 30 years Open Theatre, has been Doing Difference Differently. Using our non-verbal, physical theatre practice to challenge the limited perceptions  of what young people with learning disabilities can achieve creatively and culturally. Our most recently produced show WANTOK was an outdoor, interactive theatre show in collaboration with professional artists from Papua New Guinea and Australia for the Commonwealth 2022 Festival. 

WANTOK saw Open Theatre emerging artists performing in a professional, accessible, touring production, reaching audiences in outdoor venues across Birmingham. The development of the show included working with 6 SEN schools across the West Midlands and running workshops that included 150 young people from those schools. To learn more about our recent productions visit our Events & Performances page. 

Young children pointing and smiling in front of performers in bird costumes

Open Theatre director Richard Hayhow says; “We’re delighted with the uplift in funding and continued NPO status we’ve received from the Arts Council. It allows us to continue the work we have been doing with young people across the West Midlands not just for the last four years, but the last thirty. This funding will not only allow us to support our young people and emerging artists, but will enable us to continue to work in partnership with other artists and organisations. Partnership work is at the heart of what we do as a company and provides richer and more diverse opportunities for the young people. We’re equally excited to see the significant increase in representation of disability arts within the national portfolio organisations now supported by the Arts Council.”

Peter Knott, Area Director for Arts Council England said: “We want creative communities in every corner of the country to have the opportunity to thrive, which is why we’re delighted to be increasing our investment in the Open Theatre Company over the next three years. Through their [emerging artists programme] for young people with learning disabilities they support the development of artists … and it’ll be great to see more people getting a chance to experience theatre and arts across the West Midlands.”