Hello everyone and welcome to our December edition blog!
This blog will be a little different because we are going to be celebrating what a wonderful year we have had here at Open Theatre despite the setbacks of Covid-19.
Even with a global pandemic, we all kept very busy. Even though our face to face groups could not run all the time, we still met over Zoom and Teams to be creative together.
One of our projects was Social Work Week – where we gathered a group of young people with learning disabilities to creatively share their experiences with social work. This was then showcased at a live digital event in March 2021.
We then had our first ever online Scratch Night which was a huge success. Over thirty people logged in to the call and our very own Ashley Tolley did a wonderful job of presenting. Everyone was dancing by the end of the evening and the night was proof of what a positive impact drama has on the lives of all who engage with Open Theatre.
We then had Digital Doorways 1.0 and 2.0 – Filming with Open MAC, OOAK and some Friday Group participants to create the film: ‘Lonely Audiences’ to explore what we have and haven’t managed to achieve in lockdown. Alex and Sean also created a Friday Group documentary!
Then suddenly at the end of April, the lockdown was finally lifted and we were all relieved to get back to creating together in person. We had been meeting each other in parks and on doorsteps during the nice weather but nothing beats face to face interaction when you are creative.
We were ecstatic to be able to begin our work on UnCOVer/DisCOVer – a large-scale, multifaceted schools and public engagement project on the theme of rivers and water with 8 Coventry special schools and colleges running from Jan 2021-May 2022. Three key aspects of the project are Water, Water Everywhere, Frogs and Suchlike and River City Detectives. The final showcase event for Water Water everywhere will be in May 2022.
We had our Outdoor Immersive – Beyond the Trees in July and we worked with a cast of learning disabled performers to create and pilot an outdoor immersive performance trail through Martineau Gardens. The event was a huge success and everyone enjoyed being together and performing again.
We also had the opening of the Daimler Powerhouse Building at the end of August. The Daimler Powerhouse will in many ways be our Coventry base. There was a Press launch and a giant Moon in the back of the building as the piece was about the moon. It was all very thrilling stuff.
As the warmer weather came back and we went into our September term. We were thrilled to start our groups up again: Friday Group, Open Mac and One of a Kind. Juke and Lake – were also excited to perform together again whilst at a residency with Level Arts – Mel and Marlien worked with Jake and Luke for 5 days at Level Arts Centre in the Peak District and they stayed in a cottage for the week to create great work together.
Another pair who were keen to begin working together again was Tom and Rob. After their premiere in March 2020 (just before lockdown) they were eager to get back together and start dancing again. Tom N Rob also developed The Amazing Spying Iron Spider Kickbutt Rangers, a fun superhero film that can be found on our YouTube channel.
In October, our very own Richard Hayhow had his chapter published in the book inclusivity and equality in performance training. The chapter was called ‘Toward equity and agency in a word dominated world’. We hope that this chapter will improve knowledge of how to be accessible when delivering arts training programmes. Similarly, emerging artist Madeleine Levy published her book, ‘When I grow up I want to be a cat – Surviving the education system with Asperger’s’ which involved some interviews with Open Theatre members about their time in school. Madeleine hopes that her book will help others who have Asperger’s and or are on the Autism spectrum and that it will remind them that they are not alone in this world.
We couldn’t give descriptions of every project else this article would be pages long but Other projects included Frogs and Such Like, Frog Cycle, Get Happy, Little Amal, River City Detectives, Ronnie and Johnny, Space to Explore,Te Ata Hou, Unbounded and Unspoken Values. Whilst all of this was going on we even had Play Create which were weekly sessions in Malvern with adults with learning disabilities and Practitioner Training which was multiple training events with external groups and partners to support the learning and development of our staff.
As you can see Lockdown did not stop Open Theatre from running and creating great work. We hope that this article has given you hope as you can see that even the most adverse negative of events cannot stop work being created at Open Theatre. Even though we were sad in the beginning when some of our tours and projects were cancelled, we quickly realised a new way of working, and can now reach audiences who could not go to the theatre before due to cost or accessibility issues. We hope we never lose this way of working and engaging with new audiences. We hope that you never lose faith and that you have a fantastic Christmas however you choose to spend it.
From all of us here at Open Theatre, stay safe, protect each other, look out for one another and have a very merry Christmas.
-Written by Madeleine Levy