My name is Rachel McMurray and I am currently completing an MA in applied theatre. For my Applied Theatre placement I joined Bolton Octagon Theatre on their project ‘The Company’. The Company is a Bruntwood funded project which, over a 10 month period, brings together disadvantaged young people from the Bolton area to create a touring piece of theatre to be performed in local schools and community venues. The process was divided into three key development stages; the first being educational, the second rehearsal and the third performance. For the first stage of the project the young people were given weekly workshops in the various elements that together build a theatre performance. These included costume, stage management, business development, acting, lighting and sound, advertisement and more. This stage offered an opportunity for the young people to discover and explore the various elements that need to be considered in creating a theatre production.
The second stage involved the creation of the touring production. A sister project, Generate Project, brought together Bolton youths who wrote the script which was then performed by The Company. The pure fact that the script was written by young people also from the Bolton area brilliantly demonstrates the community atmosphere of The Octagon theatre. The theatre has made bold steps in ensuring there is commitment to including the community and young people in its walls. The piece was a music theatre piece where the young people were accompanying themselves as well as acting; quite a feat when working with 25 young people. The final stage was a tour of the production which is to be performed in various schools and community venues around Bolton.
My role could be best defined as The Company Assistant. My role in sessions often depended on the amount of other staff present as there is a significant team on the project. There is the lead facilitator, a support facilitator, a social worker, 2 to 3 volunteers, an acting director and a music director. This meant often there were a vast amount of staff present at one time resulting in my contribution often being focused on individuals through the rehearsals as the lead staff orchestrated the group.
The Company as a project aimed to socially engage the young people while simultaneously creating an aesthetically successful piece of theatre to be performed to the Bolton community. The project also offers an opportunity for the participants to achieve their silver arts award, a nationally accredited arts qualification.
One significant consideration that arose for me as a practitioner was how true is it that those who can do, can also teach? Does someone being qualified and experienced as an artist result in them being able and qualified to teach that art? These queries are primarily in relation to the first stage of the project where the visiting artists and theatre workers were brought in to run workshops with the young people. Although these practitioners were extremely experienced in their art, several were inexperienced in running workshops for young people from difficult backgrounds. This often resulted in a lack of concentration from the young people as they were un-engaged, or even in some cases a lack of understanding or sensitivity on the artists behalf resulting in negative reactions from the young people. From this experience I would argue that either more training or briefing needed to be offered for visiting artists or that effectiveness of qualified facilitators should not be underestimated.
The project is an extremely dynamic one where the young people are involved in all aspects of theatre. I can only hope that the funding continues to allow Bolton Octagon to carry on their positive community work.