"CTC has been a lifeline to my child this year" - Parent of CTC Participant, 2020
Cherwell Theatre Company (CTC) creates an environment where young people can be themselves, make new friends and feel a real sense of value. We work collaboratively with young people to bring their unique qualities and aspirations to life through inclusive community based theatre.
We were established in 2004 and are based in Banbury. Over 17 years we have delivered over 1,000 weekly sessions, worked with over 20 community organisations, presented 15 accessible family productions; 3 youth festivals; 2 Theatre in Education plays reaching 100,000+ children in schools across our district and many site-specific works devised with young people, in venues as diverse as a decommissioned nuclear bunker and a castle.
Last summer both our local community and AVIVA employees supported us to provide accessible opportunities online and with social distancing to keep young people connected throughout COVID-19: “Before we'd done any Zoom sessions it felt like a challenge but you've worked with us on how to do it and we have beat this challenge! It's been so much fun, we've been sociable, we've been productive, and it felt like it was impossible before we did it. We've really had a good time.”- Participant of online workshops.
MYTH II: Helping Cherwell Communities Celebrate this summer
In 2019 we piloted a community theatre project ‘MYTH’.
This interactive Greek Theatre play was designed by our Youth Steering Board (aged 11+) who wanted to create festival events to inspire and bring together communities.
Following collaborative devising sessions with a professional playwright, director, designer and 3 actor-facilitators from May-July, 35 young people aged 11-20 toured the production, which explored creation Myths through music, puppetry and physical theatre, taking in 2 new build housing estates, 2 parks, a Bicester youth centre and Banbury Market Place, bringing free festivals to audiences of 1,353 in August.
At each location our production was presented alongside performances and demonstrations from other local groups such as dance schools, the ‘Rusty Musicians’ groups for older people, local Brownies, cubs, businesses and members of each community who ran craft and activity stalls, raising money for Oxfordshire causes.
By making the events accessible for families with young children, free to attend and inclusive for each community we were able to reach a broad local audience. 55% of the 200 people surveyed at events were non theatre-goers, commenting: “You’ve engaged really well with the community” and “this is what our community needs”.
The project also had interesting ripple effects in our locality beyond the events or performances themselves. Residents Association Chair Marc Thielke of the Upper Heyford development described how their event brought their new community together: “People felt more comfortable [on our village green]. Those houses around it seem imposing, and we claimed the space. It gave us an excuse to make the developers take the fencing down- we took it over from the construction crew and made it fun, which we’ve been waiting a long time to do!”
Expanding the offer: An annual Cherwell Community Touring Initiative
Feedback from our young people, who took part in the project and lead the programme at CTC included: “I liked it that people who haven’t come to watch us before came to watch us. It’s made me a lot more confident because we had to perform to people I’ve never seen before. It’s the first time I’ve done that” and “It was really interesting to go to different places. I’ve never been to most of them before. You got to see different aspects of places close to home which you never normally see.”
As such, our young people have decided they’d like to produce “MYTH II: Bigger, Better and Funnier because we need it after a global pandemic” in August 2021, and ambitiously expand our annual community touring model. We will:
- Engage between 50-80 young people in the play’s development, performance and in technical theatre roles
- Reach audiences of over 2,000 local people, especially families in our District’s most disadvantaged areas to whom access to family services and live events have been limited during COVID-19
- Take the project into 4 new outdoor spaces to help communities rebuild links and celebrate safely together again, following a year of isolation and challenging restrictions
- Work more closely with local youth groups, residents’ associations and members of each community to give ownership/integrate them into the events themselves, and the associated activities
- Continue to work in partnership with our Local Authority and Oxfordshire Play Association to reach local audiences at 3 established events
An illustration of a scene from "MYTH' illustrated by participant Toby Stevens
Following our evaluation for the 2021 tour, we will work with our partners to explore this initiative’s development into 2022, extending outreach opportunities and giving communities an increased role in the planning and management of the project’s further life.
We've already secured funding for over 2/3 of our budget, but donations from our supporters and AVIVA employees will go towards providing 3 weeks of free hands-on learning in acting, puppetry, costumes and set design and stage management for young people, with professionals, increasing their sense of connection and well-being after a difficult and isolating year.
Please, give what you can!
Tristan Jackson-Pate, Artistic Director