All the world’s a stage, especially for children

Posted on: 21 Sept 2018
Posted by: Helen Clapham

Helen Clapham, director of external relations at The Grammar School at Leeds, discusses the school's partnership with a theatre - bringing children together, across the community, to benefit from the arts.

Your first visit to the theatre is something that you never forget, like when you learn to ride a bicycle without stabilisers - a mixture of excitement and trepidation and not quite sure what is going to happen.

Like many children my introduction to the theatre was thanks to the pantomime, and I vividly recall wearing my ‘Sunday best’ to go and see Babes in the Woods. As soon as the curtain unveiled the set and the conductor flourished his baton I was transported to another world, captivated by the characters, costumes and relishing the call and response of the actors.

This was the start of what has now become a family tradition to see the pantomime at our local theatre in Harrogate: an annual joy which has improved with age and one that my teenage daughter looks forward to with the same excitement and trepidation I did over 40 years ago. She relishes the opportunity to spend a couple of hours away from the distractions of Snapchat, WhatsApp and various other forms of 21st century paraphernalia, to immerse herself in an art form which can trace its history back hundreds of years.

A survey by the Globe Theatre found over half of teenagers have never been to the theatre. Young people are missing out on this wonderful experience and losing out on so much more; the chance to discover a love of the theatre, or even, a potential career. At a time when funding of the arts is being reduced it has never been more important to enable young people to witness first-hand the wonders of the theatre and also experience the thrill of appearing on stage.

Through the desire to introduce as many children as possible from our area to the magic of theatre, we launched our partnership with Harrogate Theatre five years ago. A partnership between an independent school and a theatre might initially seem rather surprising, however, we have much in common as we are both trying to enrich and improve the lives and experiences of young people. As a school we are committed to providing opportunities for children and young people way beyond our school gates.

Through our partnership we have funded Harrogate Theatre to deliver after-school drama workshops in a number of state primary schools, enabling nine and 10 year olds to write their own script, manage a production and stage their grand performance at Harrogate Theatre. It’s been wonderful to see the transformation in the children. They may start the programme barely able to speak out loud as they are so self-conscious, but by the end are able to recite a paragraph of prose in a real theatre in front of an audience just six weeks later.

Inspired by the success of our primary school work we have extended our partnership with Harrogate Theatre to include working with looked after children through the Child Friendly Leeds initiative. These children are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Their needs are often complex and sometimes challenging and working with them has to be carefully and sensitively managed, from identifying a suitable venue, selecting the right staff and choosing a relevant production. Careful planning is crucial, as is taking a lead from the professionals and carers who dedicate their time to doing everything they can to improve the lives of these children.

The children slowly begin to grow in confidence - and volume - before the bravo performance of a child-created, directed and delivered show in front of a proud and very emotional audience.

Everyone is exhausted by the whole experience but delighted that children who had previously struggled to speak out loud have found their voice. Often the children cannot stop talking about their first experience of performing! Surely this is an opportunity that every child should have?

About Helen Clapham

Helen Clapham is director of external relations at The Grammar School at Leeds.