Everyone is a beneficiary

This is part two of Victoria and Jade’s story…

A young girl comes over to our sofas, sits on the floor by the heater and rests her head in her arms on the low table. “And what do we call it Toni?” asks Jade, by way of including her in our conversation.

“Juicy Theatre,” says Toni with a tired smile, then gets up and heads back to the café.

Apparently the first Saturday morning session wasn’t that well attended, just Victoria’s daughter and her friends. But then word got round and numbers picked up. Once they entered the Challenge competition they had a little kick start cash and could afford to publicise it more.

“Who does what?” I ask. “How do you split it between you?”

“I’ve always been a bit shy,” says Victoria, “and I’ve got a bit more self conscious as I’ve got older. For me this project has been about getting involved and learning new skills… I’m really loving it.”

What’s easy to miss about these projects is the effect it has on those running them. On paper Juicy Theatre is about what it can do for a young person’s self esteem and yet every one of the Neighbourhood Challenge competition entrants – whether or not they were a winner – has commented on its confidence-boasting effect on them as individuals. As Andrew said to me last night, everyone at The Edge is a beneficiary.

Jade is telling me how their theatre group is different. “Rather than working through the script of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, say, we might start by talking with the young people about what’s been happening in the world. When they showed Gaddafi’s killing on TV one of the girls said she found that very distressing and so we talked about it, got into characters and worked on a few improvised scenes. That was a really good session, wasn’t it?”

“And we’ve also looked at the struggle of indigenous South American tribes threatened by those huge hydro-electric dams,” says Victoria, “as well as the riots last summer, natural disasters, all sorts.”

“So it’s not just drama, it’s about world events?”

“It’s about giving these young people an outlet, a way of expressing themselves, and you can just watch them grow week by week. One young lad, about 12, came on the first day and he was shaking…”

“… hiding behind his mum…”

“… and within two weeks he had created his own character…”

“… he was a Russian hit man and he was absolutely excellent…”

“… he shone…”

“… and last week he brought us each a box of chocolates and a card telling us how much he’d grown in confidence.”

“His mum said…”

“He comes in really happy now.”

“… he’s even started volunteering where she works.”

During the Challenge Jade and Victoria booked themselves places on a training course in London with a guru of theatre workshops. For Jade it was an opportunity to extend her professional training and hear first hand from an inspirational practitioner. For her sister that day was more personal: “It really catapulted me out of my comfort zone,” recalls Victoria. “I went through all sorts of emotions that day.”

Over the months of the Challenge Jade and Victoria have added another session, another angle. Now there’s an intergenerational workshop which is about sharing memories through ‘image theatre’. Someone recalls an image, a photograph they remember or a real one someone brings along, and the group works together to create a still image of it, with all the characters. The participants for that session range from a two-year-old to a 72-year-old although, “the older lady just wanted to just sit and watch.”

“So tomorrow evening you’ll be presented with your big NESTA cheque, what are your plans?”

“We want to take it to the next level,” says Victoria. “We want to do more workshops and festivals. We already have some bookings.”

“We’re planning to take the young people on a trip to London to see The Woman in Black,” says Jade. “It’s supposed to be fantastic. The money would also pay for transport to an amphitheatre I know in a country park near Totnes. We could go once a month, out in the forest, and work towards a performance.”

“And fast forward five years. Have you thought about that?”

“Yes,” says Victoria. “Hopefully we’d both be able to give up work and this would be our job, full time.”

“Is there enough work around for that?”

“Oh yes,” continues Victoria. “We know people who’ve done it, run peripatetic theatre workshops, and made a living from it.”

“But we’d like to keep Brixham as our base, our baby,” says Jade.

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