Call Out! youth theatre
Acting Up! is a youth theatre for teenagers with additional learning needs, run by a dedicated team of theatre practitioners and volunteers at Riding Lights Theatre Company. Its membership is well-established, including many experienced young actors. The group performs two productions a year
Two years before commencing my current research, I had worked as a volunteer supporting three young men attending Acting Up!, and so was known to the staff and many of the young people. I rejoined as volunteer practitioner and storyteller in January 2014, which fitted well with the lead practitioner’s choice of ‘myth’ as the focus of the next two terms’ devising process. The other practitioners had worked before with myth, but usually as part of a ‘storymaking’ process, thus my input as an oral storyteller would represent something unusual for the group.
The devising process took up all of the Spring term, leading to the writing of a script for rehearsal during the Summer term. My role, as well as assistant facilitator and observer, was to ‘seed’ the young people’s own storytelling, introduce storytelling games to their repertoire, and support them in developing their storytelling skills.
Early in the devising process, I told the ‘meaty’ myth of Llew Llaw Gyffes (from the Mabinogion) over two weeks. It was interesting to contrast their improvisation work based on this story with the ‘blank slate’ mythmaking exercise, ‘The Island of Banulah’, which another practitioner had led with them; the two starting points elicited different strengths in different young people.
I developed specific adaptations to my storytelling style to make the detailed turns of myth more accessible to those with more significant learning difficulties, and observed the different points of purchase on the myth which young people grasped in order to communicate aspects of their own personal experience.
The practitioners then asked the young people themselves to bring their favourite myths to tell to the group over the coming weeks. Many of these retellings showed a profound and personal engagement with particular myths, familiar to the young people through literature, film, school plays or computer games. The group’s interpretations of these myths through drama provided the raw material for the original play they devised and performed in July.
The process is documented in full in the catalogue document included as a ‘story of practice’.
Endings and Learnings
The devised play, ‘Mythic’, centred on oral storytelling and its hold on a small community. Its atmosphere was of weighty significance and intricacy, each character’s name specifically chosen to communicate something of the actor’s own engagement with the stories we were using.
I found myself unable to leave the group just yet and stayed on for another term as a volunteer. I was able to give something back in the form of the catalogue document, which doubled as a report to Acting Up!’s funders, potential funders and stakeholders.
'Telling tales with teenagers: stories from the front line', Tales Beyond Borders symposium, University of Leeds, 23 April 2015