Angela Michaels, Half Moon Young People's Theatre (Spotlight Project)

Angela MichaelsWhat is your project about? How long has it been running?
Half Moon Young People’s Theatre run a variety of projects in the community throughout the year, mainly with schools, colleges and children’s centres. From our centre in Limehouse we also run 7 Youth Theatres, in which young people explore their creativity and engage in process drama as well as acquire performance skills. This will increase to 9 at the end of October as we are beginning 2 new groups for under 5’s and their parents / carers! The Youth Theatre has been running since 1994 and has an inclusive policy to meet the needs of the young people whom it serves.

Describe your role on the project?
As Associate Director I recruit tutors for the Youth Theatre and run planning and, evaluation sessions as well as organising training and skill-share days. I have implemented a ‘tracking’ system so that tutors can track and evaluate the progress of the young people. This helps the tutors and therefore Half Moon understand the needs of the young people and this alongside session observations allow me an overview of how the youth theatre is functioning and what the needs of both the young people and the tutors are.

What is the aim of your project?
The Youth Theatre runs as a space where it is safe for young people to explore their creativity and also meet other young people from Tower Hamlets who may come from a very different socio-economic or cultural background from their own. Therefore it serves to extend young people’s understanding and practise of drama techniques and performance in a fun and lively setting, as well as fostering community cohesion. It offers a space where it is possible for young people to play as well as look at issues affecting their lives through the medium of drama. 

How are children and young people involved in your project?
The children and young people sign up on a termly basis for the group that is in their age band.  They are involved in setting up an agreement on how they would like the group to operate and for creating the work that they will share with an audience at the end of each term. Members are also involved in the Youth Theatre Forum that feeds back to organisation on how the groups are operating and on hopes and expectations for the future. Half Moon also consults with its older Youth Theatre members in the research and development of it’s 13+ professional productions, creating a focus group that may also come into rehearsals on a consultative basis.

What has been the key outcomes/ learning from the project so far?
Key outcomes are really concerned with the personal development in confidence and self-esteem of the young people. Also, by having a fully inclusive policy, those with disabilities have the same opportunities to engage in drama in a mainstream setting, whilst getting any extra support that is required (such as transport to get to our venue or an access worker who supports them as required in the session). This inclusive approach has also fostered a warmth and understanding among the Youth Theatre at large that we all have different needs and this is something they take with them into the wider community. In addition, ‘hard’ outcomes are that there are those who look for work-experience opportunities here, work front-of house on our visiting professional productions and a few have taken up acting training and gone on to be professional actors. The learning for the organisation is that young people will always make positive personal gains as well as support each other to learn where they are given space to explore, have a good framework and consistent support from adults who enable them to find their voice.

What are the key success factors of the project?
The key success factor must be in maintaining a team of highly skilled tutors who are motivated to work for the organisation and who can maintain high creative standards and foster a sense of well-being in the groups they facilitate. Continuing professional development is offered without charge to all tutors, including access workers. In addition, new tutors who may need to acquire more skills/confidence, are placed to work alongside Lead tutors, so their skills acquisition and development as tutors in on-going. Planning and evaluation with tutors is an essential aspect of the work. Plans are filed on the Half Moon database, so although these are fluid (as this is creative work and the direction may change!), it means that if a tutor is absent for any reason that it is easy for the cover tutor to follow their line of enquiry. Half Moon also pays all staff and offers them the opportunity to work across several projects. Tutors also have a voice in the development of the Youth Theatre Programme and are encouraged to initiate their ideas, where there is scope to do so.

In addition, as far as the young people are concerned success can also be measured by the pride and joy on the faces of the young people when they have just finished a sharing / performance in front of friends and family. The support the young people show for each other and the personal gains that are made in terms of self-esteem as well as the fact that many young people go right through the Youth Theatre from the lowest age band to the top and then come back to us to apply to join our  pool of tutors after they have left for work or university!  Another great success of the project is the staffing, by paying professional tutors who work across our entire portfolio of work we bring together a vast range of skills and experience.

What have been the key benefits of the project to young people?
These benefits are probably implicit in the previous two responses, but I would also add: - a chance to socialise with other young people, build up a ‘bank’ of positive experiences and to acquire a sense of agency in their lives.

What barriers have you experienced when setting up and delivering the project and how were they overcome?
The setting up of the Youth Theatre happened many years ago, but barriers currently would be in reaching all sectors of our community (especially in cultures where drama may not hold much value) and in finding a balance in the groups to provide material that meets such a variety of need. Another issue that we constantly face is finding funding for this successful existing activity, which sadly is not as attractive to funders as ‘new / innovative’ projects.

In your opinion, what has been the most significant thing about this project in terms of engaging children and young people to participate in decision-making / have their say?
Our Youth Theatre Forum.

If you could give your top tip to anyone who wants to develop a project in this area what would it be?
Provide safe, clear boundaries within which the group has a voice and a sense of ownership. And never forget it’s their group and they give up their time (among the myriad of things that are on offer) to come to it!

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB