‘Letting Them In’

Paul Birch 2010 (2)Last week I got this privilege of speaking at the prestigious Rose Theatre, Kingston, Riding Lights having been asked to contribute to their Letting Them In conference. The day was the launch event the Rose Theatre’s Let Me In festival of work by, for and about people with learning difficulties – it’s wonderful to see other theatres engaged in this work too. Here’s what the blurb said…

‘A day to hear from some of the experts, including a practical workshop to explore communication issues with particular focus on voice to support those working with children and young adults in the special educational needs population.’

I was there helping delivering a workshop led by RL Board member and Summer Theatre School tutor Yvonne Morley, along with the skilled Speech and Language Therapist Francesca Rose. This is the fifth workshop Yvonne and the Voice Care Network has developed – the whole series of five aims to help teachers and support staff use their voices effectively in the classroom. Yvonne and I have co-deliverd these workshops across North Yorkshire and we have had a hugely positive response from participants. The workshop at the Rose was no exception and participants gave us some fantastic feedback.


Alongside the workshop, the speakers at the day were Stephen Unwin (Artistic Director of The Rose), Emma Cravitz (Educational Psychologist) Alison Ryan (Policy Advisor ATL) and myself.

I spoke on our own dynamic work with young people with Special Educational Needs though our award-winning Acting Up youth theatre. It seems to me that, under the artistic direction of Kelvin Goodspeed, Acting Up is not simply an accessible place but also a challenging one. The young people who attend discover not only a welcoming atmosphere but are asked to rise to many creative challenges. It is risky, but the sense of ensemble, achievement and empowerment is palpable when you witness a performance by these talented young actors. Only this morning I received an email from a parent which said:

‘…thank you for Acting Up, it has been a marvellous opportunity for my son (names have been removed) . As you are probably aware, he has severe speech and language delay along with his Autism. In his most recent assessment by the Speech Therapist she says on several occasions that my son has made more progress with all areas of speech and communication than expected for his previous ability. I am sure that Acting Up has been a major contributory factor to this unexpected progress and I wanted to share this with you.’

Legends-of-York-PosterThis came after the first performance of Acting Up’s latest show Legends Of York which I had the pleasure of seeing last Wednesday night. It was a bumpy first night but filled with many delights. The cast became horses and there was a live joust as part of the devised tale of King Arthur’s visit to York, a moving and empathetic de-bunking of York’s famous ghost Story of ‘The Grey Lady’ and the demanding adaptation of Elizabethan tract ‘The Black Dog of Newgate’ complete with lengthy speeches written in complex language.

Kelvin and his team asked a huge amount of the cast who delivered some brilliant moments of theatre. There is another performance tonight – so if you want to be entertained, moved and have a good night at the theatre just ‘Let yourself in…’

Paul Birch