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Behind the scenes @ Queen's

04 June 2020

Behind the Scenes of London Theatre of the Year with James, Head of Learning and Participation

May 2020 in the Learning and Participation Department… a month of bank holidays and glorious sun.

Everything has changed, and that requires time to adjust. As a community we are re-addressing our values – who we value and who values us. The arts can help us interrogate the world around us, holding the power to ignite moments of joy even amongst difficult circumstances. We don’t know when or what ‘normality’ will return, so we have found a resilience in the now. I’ve taken time to step back and reflect, to not get swept up in the speed and intensity of ‘normal life’ and to value my own space and company. Working from home has been an unusual experience – in the world of learning and participation, your own home is not somewhere you ordinarily have the luxury to work from. I’m loving the commute, but the novelty of conference calls and Zoom meetings wore off pretty quickly (although I have enjoyed the discovery of Zoom virtual backgrounds!).

According to the diary, the last few months should have seen lots of summer events alongside our regular programme of activities at the theatre and in the community; The Marxist in Heaven by our Young Company, National Theatre Connections and First Feat Dance festivals have all been postponed, along with the start of rehearsals for our brand-new youth musical Never Never. Instead, the month of May has seen us in a whirlwind of re-scheduling activities and developing new projects. It also marked my eight-year anniversary of working for QTH.

Whilst in lockdown, we’ve been staying engaged with our community by evolving our new digital activity and taking some existing projects online.

So far, we’ve seen our first six weeks of two brand new projects – weekly digital workshops that you can take part in from the comfort of your own home. Choreographer and Movement Director Sundeep Saini and local musician and Musical Director Andrew Linham have been entertaining us from their living rooms with seated dance workshops and musical theatre sing-a-longs. Whilst digital access can be a limiting factor for some, we have ensured these sessions are as accessible as possible and hosted them for free on Youtube and Facebook. (If you missed out, you can still catch up on the first six weeks: Facebook and YouTube).

Working with the theatre company LUNG and Havering’s Virtual School, we’ve succeeded in taking our True Stars project online. True Stars is a youth group for looked after children living in Havering and Essex with weekly virtual meet-ups, workshops and creative homework tasks. This programme has been running since September and felt particularly important to us to find a way of continuing the contact and support provided during this period.

Last week we hosted a Zoom social with our young company. It was really energising to hear from them and an important reminder of the impact our work has. They are missing the theatre and each other but were in good spirits as they shared their experiences of lockdown with each other.

Reflecting on this time, we’ve launched a call out to audiences so that we can share our collective stories in a special new project! We plan to place our audiences’ experiences centre stage for what will be the most important project we’ll make this year. If you haven’t shared your lockdown story with us yet (there’s still time!) you can do so here. 

Meanwhile, at the theatre it’s been all hands-on deck, as the small team still working prepare the building for everyone’s eventual return. We’ve been designing new seating for the foyer, tidying and cleaning our backstage areas, exploring better accessibility for D/deaf and disabled users, testing new audio loops and choosing which colour to paint our new green room (green?). Our 18-25 year old Changemakers programme has also been planning a new script reading library and are waiting, tools at the ready, to be able to safely meet in person and assemble the new flat-packed shelves and seating units.

Ultimately, theatre is a collaborative form of storytelling. I’ve missed our incredible team of staff and freelancers that invest so much of themselves in the work we deliver, but I’ve also enjoyed collaborating with colleagues across departments who I don’t usually get to work with (helped I’m sure by the weekly Zoom socials involving quizzes, cake and fancy dress!).

Most of all, I miss being with all our participants, young people and their families and the members of our wider theatre community. Their energy, excitement, and passion are the beating heart of the organisation and the theatre feels unusually restless as it awaits your return.

James Watson – Head of Learning and Participation

News just in! As we reach the last few days of the month, we have been successful in receiving funding from Clarion Futures to deliver a further six weeks of digital content. A big thank you to the team at Clarion Futures, for whom we deliver several funded projects throughout the year, for continuing to support our work and community once again. Check out our Facebook page and follow us to stay connected!

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