*** DEBUG END ***

Their exits and their entrances

04 January 2013

Shakespeare's plays are being used to improve the prospects of London pupils. Honour Bayes reports

Merely players: a Shakespeare workshop

Merely players: a Shakespeare workshop

A NEW drama company that seeks to transform students' lives in London schools is being launched this month. Besides performing, the young company members will organise workshops and discussions.

"A lot of education companies use actors in their 20s and 30s, pretending to be young people at risk" says Paul Forster, education director of the company, Intermission Theatre In Education (ITIE). "We've got [real] young people at risk, or who were at risk, going through this transformation that others can immediately connect to."

ITIE is the education arm of Intermission Youth Theatre (IYT), which has a long history of working with marginalised young people. IYT, in turn, grew out of the Revd Rob Gillion's artistic faith community Intermission, based at St Saviour's, Knightsbridge.

"When I was the Bishop of Kensington's Officer of Evangelism, I was asked to come and look at St Saviour's. When I got here, it was a shell. So we sold half to a developer, and with the money we put this together."

The name "Intermission", Fr Gillion says, "reminds you that we need a space in a busy city to just be. So this church should be an oasis. Also, because I was an actor and theatre director, and Janine [his wife] is an actress, we have a passion for theatre. We thought that to combine theatre and the church would be an exciting idea."

Intermission, now officially a Fresh Expression of church, has been at St Saviour's since 2001. It is a community of Christian performers, writers, and artists, committed to deepening their understanding of God through involvement in the arts and media. The building has been renovated to include a kitchen and lounge area. It has a chapel and a worship space, which doubles as a performance space. Since its formation, Janine Gillion has worked there full-time, while Fr Gillion became Rector of Holy Trinity, Sloane Street.

The youth theatre, IYT, was formed in 2008, managed by Mrs Gillion. "We thought: we've got such talent around: why don't we create our own professional theatre company?" Mr Gillion says. "And that's when Darren came into the mix."

Darren Raymond, the artistic director of IYT, first met Fr Gillion at a conference about the part played by poetry in prison. Mr Raymond had served a prison sentence, and while in prison had begun training with the London Shakespeare Workout Prison Project.

After taking a production of Othello to St Saviour's, he began working with Fr Gillion, and was offered the post of artistic director of IYT.

"Shakespeare and drama had such an impact in my life," Mr Raymond says. "Then, ultimately, I came to realise that Christ had the main impact in my life, and he worked through these avenues to engage me, and to bring me close to him. I wanted to replicate that for these young people."

IYT works with marginalised young people, and mixes young offenders and young people at risk. It uses Shakespeare plays to help the actors unlock contemporary issues, and possibly set them on a new path.

Mr Raymond begins by holding workshops on the chosen play. These run for several months before he introduces the actual text - using improvisation to create a hybrid of Shakespeare's language and that of the company.

Dandave Roache, a company member, believes that this encourages a sense of ownership. "The opportunity to improvise that Darren gives us is a huge responsibility."

Reworking and retitling the plays is a way of putting these young people alongside a writer who is traditionally seen as difficult and boring.

"Julius Caesar [Wasted] is the ultimate knife crime, and Romeo and Juliet [Verona Road] speaks about gang culture," Mr Gillion says. "In our last show, Othello [Ring of Envy], we transported the action to a boxing ring, and focused on social media, jealousy, and how all these rumours can get spread around and cause disaster for these young people."

THE object of IYT is to transform its young actor's futures, preventing them from following the temptations that often end with a prison sentence. It is a spiritual mission as well as social one, Mr Raymond says. "What a lot of the Church is interested in is how many of these young people are in the congregation. . . . The fact that they come here every day is church."

Many of the young people find faith during their tenure at IYT. "They see that everyone who is helping them is a Christian," Mrs Gillion says, "and that seems to lead to positive questions." Mr Roache believes that this stems from the leaders' ethos, which demands that people take responsibility for their own actions. "They've kept me close for so long, and I grew to it," he says. "It's not forced."

Eight months ago, Mr Forster was brought in to develop this work further. "Audiences kept saying we had to take [the shows] into schools," Mrs Gillion says. The formation of ITIE gives the young IYT actors a chance to work in a professional sphere, leading all the workshops and feedback sessions, and acting in positions of leadership with their peers.

FIVE of the IYT actors now have agents, another three are obtaining agents, and three have joined the BRIT theatre school. But this is not the main aim. Mr Forster believes that the social transformation that IYT enacts in marginalised young people's lives is ITIE's strongest asset. "IYT teaches them so much that is positive," he says. "It's not just acting, but time-keeping, and organising your own life."

He believes that these life skills are what make programmes such as ITIE invaluable. "It's about confidence-building. . . A lot of the themes in Shakespeare can actually help you through your adult life."

Mr Roache sees it as a chance to share what they have learned. "We're going to be going out and passing our knowledge down to them, as it was passed to us - it's a fantastic opportunity."

On 24 January, ITIE will hold a launch to showcase its techniques to schools, youth-offending teams, the police, local councillors, and policy-makers. www.iyt.org.uk

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)