I recently had a long conversation with a friend who asked me what was the difference between Up-Stage and other Youth theatre providers. It's a difficult question to answer for many reasons. I always make sure that we get across to our parents that we are independent. This is not to criticise the big franchises that offer a similar service. They have their place as much as we do. I just pride myself that we know every child very well. We know what they are confident about, what they are not confident about, and quite importantly, what they are not yet capable of. Larger franchises tend to have their content chosen for them, and their techniques dictated. This, of course, provides continuity, but I think our children deserve more than that. We have recently said goodbye to one of our students who joined us when she was 8 years old. We saw a small, shy child, flower into a confident performer, who is now pursuing a career in the performing arts. We don't take the credit for that, she does. What we do take the credit for is providing a caring, nurturing environment for young people to discover themselves. The sessions are precious to them. They want new people to feel welcome, but also want them to understand that the sessions are precious to them. I am so very proud of the sense of pride that they have in their groups. They create small families. As a result of this, I tend to write a lot of the plays that we perform. From comedy to tragedy, we ensure that the performers are given opportunities to think, create and develop within a framework specifically written for them. We do perform others work of course, and the variety also helps, but I believe that we are unique on the offer we have.
With the endless cuts and devaluation of the so-called "Soft" subjects in the education system, I suppose that I should be happy. Surely, well-established companies like Up-Stage will benefit from the obvious taste for drama? Well...no basically. Once the subject starts to disappear from the psyche, it can remain elsewhere. Drama should, and does, seep through into every subject, every day. The life skills and confidence it brings are essential. I have never heard of a scientist that doesn't use creative thought processes when working, and yet, the powers that be seem to be oblivious to this fact. If I might also address the idea of "Soft subjects". The arts brings in Billions of pounds to this country. That is clearly not the only benefit, but if, like this government seems to think, that you can only judge value financially, then it still "wins". The other values, the ones that every child I have worked with seems to understand fundamentally, are there for all to see. The tourism, the mental health benefits, the everyday skills of teamwork....this is just the tip of the iceberg. So no, I do not want to see drama disappear from Schools. I see what we do at Up-Stage as something that enhances that. In the meantime of course, we might be providing the only regular drama that children get. If that is the case, then so be it. However, I think we should all be fighting this. I know of one local school that has removed drama from its timetable. I worked in one that has now removed it as a regularly timetabled subject. This is an attack on culture, and one on those, many of whom can ill afford to pay for drama privately. We are working on many ideas to help this situation, but please, protest, complain and write to people.