A new partnership has been formed between a touring production of West Side Story and youth charity Leap. To mark the launch of their partnership, West Side Story and Leap co-hosted a special workshop involving cast members from the show and young people from the London area.
This new production of West Side Story is running at Sadler’s Wells until 22 September, after which it will tour to regional venues across the UK until June 2014. Leap is a charity which provides training for young people and professionals to help them transform the issues of conflict in their lives.
This specific workshop looked at the themes of violence, gangs and race within the musical in relation to conflict. West Side Story’s choreographer and director, Joey McKneely, and two young trainers from Leap, Natasha Aldonza and Kareem Maizi, led the session.
The young people watched the cast perform the musical’s prologue – where the rivalry between the Jets and Sharks is first established. The participants were asked to feedback on the scene, pick out some of themes which had occurred and look at some of the parallels in real life. The cast then performed the scene containing a ‘rumble’ between the two gangs. This time, the Leap facilitators used the format of forum theatre, asking the participants to call out ‘freeze’ when there appeared to be a point where one of the lead characters, Riff, could do something differently to provide a different and more positive outcome from where he was currently heading.
The workshop brought up discussions of ego, violence, peer pressure, breaking the cycle of violence, consequences of actions and knife crime. The young people taking part were from Leap’s Quarrel Shop programme, a scheme for 16-21 year olds who are dealing with issues of conflict and looking to become youth/social workers.
The success of the launch workshop is expected to lead to further workshops throughout West Side Story’s tour around the UK.