Unicorn Theatre reports fall in visits from school groups

The Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to producing work for young people, has reported a six per cent drop in school group visits during the period from August 2014 to June 2015 compared to the previous year. The theatre has also experienced an increase in cancellations from school groups.

Unicorn’s learning associate Catherine Greenwood said in response to the figures: ‘We are hearing from some teachers and head teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the time out of the classroom. With schools facing cuts to budgets in the next financial year, and with the government recently announcing plans to make the Ebacc compulsory in all schools, this situation will only get worse.’

Unicorn Theatre's production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

Unicorn Theatre’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

The Warwick Report, published in February this year, found that young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life. Greenwood thinks there is a ‘serious danger’ that the current climate will create a ‘two-tier system:  those schools who choose to make the arts available to their students and those who don’t.’ Greenwood believes that letting such a system take hold would be ‘failing many young people’.

‘We need schools, head teachers and governing bodies to actively redress this imbalance if we are to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to theatre. A visit to the theatre can provide schools with a rich context for learning across the curriculum – which many teachers take advantage of, and we have first-hand experience showing that it improves literacy and learning among less-able students in particular.’

Winners of The Mousetraps 2015 announced

The awards

The 2015 awards for The Mousetraps

The fourth annual edition of theatre awards ‘The Mousetraps’ took place on 22 March at the Charing Cross Theatre. The Mousetraps, voted for by young theatregoers aged 15 to 23, are organised by Mousetrap Theatre Projects: a theatre education charity widening access to performance for young people with limited means and support or special needs.

The awards honoured West End favourites such as Wicked, presented with the prize for show I’d sell my soul to be in; Billy Elliot, winning fascinating storyline; STOMP, picking up most dazzling choreography; and Les Misérables, named musical that blew my mind.

Other theatre favourites such as War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time also came away with prizes, for best play and best design respectively. The Scottsboro Boys was presented with the award for best ensemble and The Book of Mormon won the title for show that split my sides.

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Martin Freeman accepting his award for best male performer at The Mousetraps (Credit: @ZareenWalker)

The Mousetraps’ acting awards went to two major stage and screen stars: Gemma Arterton, who was named best female performer for her lead role in Made in Dagenham, and Martin Freeman, who collected his title for best male performer for Richard III in person.

The ceremony, compered by members of Mousetrap’s Youth Forum, was opened by actor Samuel J Holmes. The presentation of awards was accompanied by performances from young people, featuring street dance, performance poetry, musical improvisation and Shakespearean monologues.

To see more from the 2015 Mousetraps, check out the Twitter hashtag #MousetrapAwards. For more information about Mousetrap Theatre Projects, visit www.mousetrap.org.uk.

Theatre figures recognised in 2015 New Year honours list

Kristin Scott Thomas, pictured Electra (Credit: Johan Persson)

The 2015 New Year honours list has recognised a range of individuals holding performing, artistic and administrative roles in the theatre and stage sector.

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who starred in The Old Vic’s Electra last year, has been made a dame for her services to drama. Stage and screen actors Sheridan Smith and James Corden have both been awarded OBEs. Actress and writer Meera Syal, most recently seen performing in the National Theatre’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, has been awarded a CBE for services to drama and literature.

Paul Kerryson (Credit: Paul Adams)

Leicester Theatre Trust’s Paul Kerryson (Credit: Paul Adams)

Artistic director of Leicester Theatre Trust Paul Kerryson, also outgoing artistic director of Leicester’s Curve, has been awarded an MBE for his services to theatre in Leicester. Also being honoured with an MBE is Graeme Phillips, Liverpool’s Unity Theatre artistic director who is stepping down from the role after more than three decades; he is being recognised for his services to the arts in Liverpool. Founder and artistic director of Northern Broadsides Barrie Rutter has also been awarded for his services to drama with an OBE.

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Stage designer Es Devlin (Credit: David Ellis)

Design talents of the theatre world have also been acknowledged in this year’s honours: stage designer Es Devlin – whose recent work includes I Can’t Sing! at the Palladium, American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre and the 2014 Olivier Award-winning Chimerica – has been presented with an OBE for services to stage and set design; and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s associate designer Tom Piper has been awarded an MBE for services to theatre, and as well as for services to First World War commemorations, for his part in the poppies installation at the Tower of London.

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VAULT Festival announces ‘mini’ festival for under 11s

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Pirates of the Carabina will perform extracts of their show Flown as part of the inaugural Mini VAULT (Credit: Cryingoutloud.org)

This year’s VAULT Festival – opening on 28 January for six weeks of performances, events and workshops at Leake Street’s tunnels in London Waterloo – will include an inaugural Mini VAULT festival for under 11s, with three weekends of underground shows, events and free activities for families.

Highlights of Mini VAULT will include Comedy Club 4 Kids, in which stand-up comedians and sketch artists perform their work for children aged six and above and their families; British and international circus performers Pirates of the Carabina performing excerpts of their show Flown; all-female performance company Figs in Wigs bring their performance Show Off, showcasing their mix of theatre, comedy and dance for children aged eight+; and Greenlight Theatre will present their interactive children’s show for ages three and up, Albee Vector the Sound Collector. As well as performances, Mini VAULT will also run a range of workshops.

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All-female performance group Figs with Wigs bring Show Off to 2015’s Mini VAULT (Credit: Christa Holka)

The main VAULT Festival programme has plenty to offer adult attendees. IdeasTap will host a selection of their free spa sessions each Saturday of the festival. The first sessions taking place on 31 January will be ‘A Beginners Guide to Writing For The Stage’ and ‘How To Take A Show To Edinburgh’; on 7 February, Snapdragon Productions will offer their advice on ‘Setting Up a Theatre Company’, and the Rhum and Clay Theatre Company will run sessions on ‘Creating Theatre Without Words’ (28 February) and ‘An Introduction to Le Coq’ (21 February). All of the IdeasTap sessions are free, but booking is required as spaces are limited.

VAULT has a range of workshops on offer for 2015’s festival, including live performance arts and entertainment company Artful Badger’s session on ‘wall-running’,  Scaffold State Theatre Company’s guide to  adapting an ancient drama into a modern text in 30 minutes, and a workshop in improvising and devising for performance led by Needless Alley Collective.

Also taking place throughout the festival will be discussions as part of ‘VAULT Panels: Join the debate’. On 8 February, ‘The Big Arts Debate’ will take place, looking at ‘Cultural policy and the future for UK theatre and the arts’. Other highlights in the Panels programme include ‘Elephant in the room: What is the social responsibility of The Arts?’ (20 February) and ‘The Female Force Forum: The Future for Women in Theatre’ (7 March). The Panels discussions are free to attend, but require booking.

VAULT Festival runs from 28 January to 8 March; Mini VAULT runs on the weekends of 7–8 February, 21–22 February and 7–8 March. For more details, visit www.vaultfestival.com.

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Almeida Theatre takes Our Town performances and project into London schools

The Almeida Theatre is taking the full production of one of its latest shows, Our Town, into two London secondary schools this November, reaching 500 students.

Our Town 1-715 Laura Elsworthy, David Walmsley and Jessica Lester by Marc Brenner

Laura Elsworthy, David Walmsley and Jessica Lester in Our Town (Credit: Marc Brenner)

The cast of the current run at the Almeida will perform at Dormers Wells High School in Ealing on 10 November and Cleeve Park School in Bexley on 17 November for students. Neither of the London boroughs housing the schools, Ealing and Bexley, has a professional theatre. Students attending performances will take part in pre-show workshops.

The performances will make up part of a wider six-week programme entitled ‘Your Town’, which will involve students telling stories of their own towns of Southall and Sidcup through exploring the idea of community and creating video content.

Almeida’s artistic director Rupert Goold said of the project: ‘The work that Almeida Projects does with schools and young people is enormously inspiring, and I am so glad that we are able to continue to find exciting ways to bring our work to more young people across London.’

For more information on the ‘Your Town’ project, visit www.almeida.co.uk/education/schools-and-education/your-town.

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Over 1,000 young people attend TheatreCraft 2014

Vicky Featherstone with TheatreCraft volunteers (Credit: Helen Murray)

Vicky Featherstone with TheatreCraft volunteers (Credit: Helen Murray)

Teaching Drama visited TheatreCraft, the backstage theatre careers fair, on 17 October. The one-day event, aimed at young people aged 16-25, had more than 1,000 visitors in attendance at the Royal Opera House.

The event was opened with a speech from the Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone. She said it was ‘such an honour’ to address the visitors to TheatreCraft. She described it as ‘an amazing moment’ that young people had gathered to pursue and research careers in backstage theatre.

Featherstone said in her opening speech: ‘I truly believe theatre in its wider sense has something in it for absolutely everyone and TheatreCraft will allow you to explore this. There are so many possibilities. Today is an amazing opportunity to come together and learn about your future. Theatre is all about people and their shared experiences. British theatre needs you.’

The day itself offered participants the chance to take part in over 70 workshops on offer in everything from theatre marketing to wig making. Over 50 exhibitors were on hand to talk to in the marketplace, highlighting education and industry opportunities throughout the country in the backstage sector. There were also 39 industry experts available for one-to-one advice sessions.

If you missed out on this year’s event, keep up to date with developments for 2015’s TheatreCraft on their website, www.theatrecraft.org.

Tax relief for theatre begins in September

Chancellor_of_the_Exchequer_George_Osborne Credit Foreign and Commonwealth Office

George Osborne hopes the tax scheme will revive and support regional theatre (Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

This month the government initiative providing tax relief for theatre comes into effect. Touring productions can apply for 25% relief, and non-touring performance a 20% tax credit.

A tour of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia will be one of the first productions to benefit from the scheme; the tour, launching in January 2015, is a joint venture between English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton Productions.

George Osborne, speaking ahead of the initiative’s launch at Theatre Royal Brighton, said of the tax scheme: ‘Regional productions have sadly been in decline for many years, and that’s come and gone regardless of the Arts Council budget, but I hope this [tax initiative] will revive regional theatre and revive touring productions so that we have the great success of the West End, which has probably never been more successful than it is today, but we also have great successes around the regions.’

Richard Attenborough dies aged 90

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Actor and director Richard Attenborough has died at the age of 90. Born in Cambridge in 1923, Attenborough began acting aged 12 and made his professional stage debut aged 18. The RADA graduate was one of the original cast members of The Mousetrap at the Ambassadors in 1952. He also starred in stage productions of The Little Foxes at the Piccadilly Theatre, Arthur Laurents’ The Way Back and 1952 comedy Sweet Madness.

Attenborough was a respected screen actor, appearing in more than 70 films with a breakthrough role as Pinkie in 1947’s Brighton Rock, a role he had previously performed on stage at The Garrick Theatre, and starring in other cinematic milestones such as The Great Escape, Doctor Dolittle and Jurassic Park. Behind the camera, Attenborough became an award-winning director, with his film Gandhi winning eight Oscars in 1982.

Attenborough was appointed a CBE in 1967 and knighted in 1976, being made a life peer in 1993.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila Sim, whom he married in 1945, his daughter, Charlotte, and his son, Michael, theatre director and former artistic director of the Almeida Theatre.

Last chance for Latitude Festival – Starts this Friday

Claudine Nightingale reports on the theatre offerings at this weekend’s Latitude Festival

Arts of all genres are catered for at Latitude (Credit: Danny North)

Arts of all genres are catered for at Latitude (Credit: Danny North)

It’s that time of year again … school summer holidays, yes, but also festival season! If you’re wondering what to do with your weekend now there are no exam papers to mark, perhaps a trip to Latitude Festival in Suffolk is what you need to help you forget the past busy year. For those of you who aren’t really in the mood for a more conventional music festival – and I know you’re all passionate about theatre – Latitude is the perfect solution. As well as some great music acts, they have equally strong offerings in the field of theatre, poetry, comedy and film. Plus, if you’ve got your own children to entertain over the summer, this couldn’t be better; Latitude provides award-winning facilities and entertainment for children of all ages, ensuring that both you and they have a great weekend.

Young people can work towards an Arts Award while at the festival (Credit: Steve Hunt for Culture Works East)

Young people can work towards an Arts Award while at the festival (Credit: Steve Hunt for Culture Works East)

For children, there is an Inbetweeners teen area, designed for young people aged 12 and over. There’s loads for children to get involved with, including working as a reporter for the festival, or even performing on stage in the tent. It is organised by Culture Works East, the company that have helped to facilitate the Arts Awards possibilities for children attending the festival (see the forthcoming issue of Parent Guide to Drama Education published free online in August 2014 to find out more).

It’s also really encouraging to see that Latitude have branched out this year to actively cater for school groups. Although the deadline has passed for this year, they have been offering discounted day tickets for the Friday of the festival for local schools, with a free teacher ticket for every ten students, to allow them to take part in the Arts Award scheme and other child-friendly events. Let’s hope this goes well and is developed in future years so that more students can take advantage of this opportunity.

Forced Entertainment's The Notebooks features at 2014's Latitude Festival (Credit: Tim Etchells)

Forced Entertainment’s The Notebooks features at 2014’s Latitude Festival (Credit: Tim Etchells)

Most importantly, of course, there’s loads on offer for you. As well as a host of acts and artists in other fields (literally and figuratively!), there are some big names in theatre appearing during the weekend: on Friday, Clean Break and Forced Entertainment will each be performing two different productions; the Royal Shakespeare Company are performing a brand-new show on Saturday and Sunday, directed by Erica Whyman; and there are many others worth watching out for, including the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre and the Royal Exchange Theatre.

There’s not much time left, but if you’re the spontaneous type then Latitude is the only place for culture vultures to be this weekend. Tickets are still available for camping, but you can also purchase day tickets for Friday, Saturday or Sunday if you just want to sample the experience. All the information you need is at www.latitudefestival.com. Maybe see you there …

Take children to London shows for free this August with Kids Week

Bodyguard workshop 2013 (photo credit Pamela Raith)

A workshop from The Bodyguard last summer (Credit: Pamela Raith)

The Society of London Theatre’s Kids Week returns this summer. The initiative offers free tickets to young people under the age of 16 to over 35 shows in London. Kids Week takes place throughout August (1–31) and is available to young people who are accompanied by a full-paying adult.

Shows on offer for those aged three to five and above are The Elephantom, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, What The Ladybird Heard, The 39 Steps, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, The Lion King, Hetty Feather, Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain Part 2, MAMMA MIA!, Matilda The Musical, The Pajama Game, Stomp, Thriller Live, Top Hat, Wicked and many others.

For slightly older audiences, there’s also plenty of London favourites, from shows for those needing parental guidance through to audiences of young people aged 15+: Billy Elliot The Musical, The Bodyguard, The Commitments, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, The Importance Of Being Earnest, Jeeves And Wooster In Perfect Nonsense, The Mousetrap, Shakespeare In Love, War Horse,The Woman In Black, Avenue Q, Ghost Stories,Jersey Boys, Let The Right One In and Once.

The month-long scheme also offers a vast selection of free activities and events for young people to participate in: fans of The Elephantom can make their own Elephantom at a practical craft-based workshop; talk to the cast and creative team of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at a post-show Q&A session; learn more about the theatre of Shakespeare’s era in a workshop with Shakespeare In Love‘s associate director; and discover how The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time translated from page to stage.   

All tickets, on sale now, for Kids Week shows and activities are subject to availability. For information on how to book tickets for shows and workshops, as well as more information about all the offerings this August, visit www.kidsweek.co.uk.