New Youth Theatre for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing young people takes flight

In an exciting first for Wales, Taking Flight Theatre Company have announced that thanks to support from BBC Children in Need, the Ashley Family Foundation and Wales Millennium Centre, they have opened the first youth theatre in Wales specifically catering for D/deaf and hard of hearing young people.

The project has been developed in response to feedback from young people who had seen Taking Flight’s professional theatre work. With its emphasis on being inclusive both in regards to casting and audience experience, people frequently asked the company if there was any way that they could start a youth theatre to nurture young D/deaf and hard of hearing talent. In 2015 Taking Flight ran two Deaf-led summer schools and the feedback was that 100% of participants wanted to be able to attend a youth theatre regularly.

In January 2018, the company ran taster sessions at WMC which drew children from Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and Machynlleth. Again, 100% of children and families wanted ongoing provision. As a result of this enthusiasm, Elise Davison and Beth House, who started Taking Flight in 2008, decided to apply to BBC Children In Need to see if they could attract funding to create something really special.

Creative Producer, Beth explains:

“The youth theatre is such an important and exciting development. We are regularly contacted by families desperate for this project to start. We have been talking to young people for so long about a youth theatre, it is brilliant to finally be able to put the plans into action.

We have so much feedback gathered during previous projects that will used in planning sessions. We also have a Youth Advisory group; young Deaf and disabled people aged 14+ who input into all of our outreach with young people.

The course content will be designed by the leader alongside input from participants – focussing on areas they want to develop through creative consultation with group; empowering them to take control & steer the project as it develops.

We meet once a week at The Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay at various times (dependant on age group) and all sessions are led by both Deaf and hearing staff, in BSL and English. Each week we’ll be playing games, making new friends, gaining confidence, learning new skills, being silly and having lots of laughs! The brilliant thing is that the sessions are free as the youth theatre is funded by BBC Children in Need and the Ashley Family Foundation.

We have high expectations, working towards sharing events- with the young people working both as performers and in backstage/ technical roles. Deaf creative industry professionals will be brought in to run specific sessions such as Visual Vernacular for performance, physical comedy, puppetry. Each summer and Easter there will be a weeks’ “residency” (non- residential) for the older groups where participants will receive intensive training with sharings at the end of the week. We will also run field trips for older participants to theatre events run by leading lights in Deaf theatre such as Deafinitely Theatre & The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble that will inspire and motivate our young participants. It’s exciting stuff”.

Taking Flight make bold, unusual theatre productions that place D/deaf and disabled performers centre stage. Their work tours Wales and beyond and they often find themselves in geographically isolated or rural places, performing in woodlands, castle grounds, community centres or shopping arcades as well as traditional theatre venues & schools. 

The youth theatre launch comes at a very busy time for the company, who have completed two successful tours of England with their critically acclaimed productions ‘peeling’ and ‘You’ve Got Dragons’ as well as expanding their work in the area of Access Consultancy.

Artistic Director and company co-founder Elise Davison explains:

“Having developed our own practice over 10 years, we’ve become the “go to” organisation in Wales for advice, information or inspiration on integrating access & working with inclusive casts. We’ve worked alongside & supported companies like Likely Story, The Atrium, Bath Spa University, Cascade Dance Theatre, University of Wales Trinity St David’s and Mess up the Mess.

Alongside our recent performance of Kaite O’Reilly’s critically acclaimed play ‘peeling’ at TheaterFestival Grenzenlos Kulture in Mainz; I was asked to take part in an industry ‘speed dating’ event where people from throughout the theatre industry in Germany could ask me questions and learn about Taking Flight’s journey, gaining advice on how our practices can be incorporated and adapted to fit their organisations. I’m glad to say it wasn’t as scary as it sounds! I am really proud to be able to tell the world about what we have been doing in our little part of Wales”.

You’ve Got Dragons actress Stephanie Back, who is Deaf, is the group leader for Taking Flight Youth Theatre, she is supported by an assistant, Anna, who is hearing. Stephanie welcomed the new initiative:

“A Deaf Youth Theatre in Wales can only provide a wealth of opportunities and benefits for all involved. It was through theatre that I found my own Deaf identity, I found how I wanted to communicate to the world and I found the strength to fight for who I was as a Deaf woman to be accepted in society today. It brings young D/deaf people together, reduces isolation and teaches invaluable theatre skills which are otherwise not readily accessible to the D/deaf youth of today”.

Davison continues:

“We so rarely see a true representation of society on stage – Taking Flight have worked tirelessly to challenge this under representation. For over 10 yrs we have been placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage.  We have been frustrated by the lack of positive role models on our stages, especially in Wales and have worked hard to change this.Taking Flight Youth Theatre will be developing and investing in the talent of the future. We can’t wait to get started!”

Taking Flight Youth Theatre sessions are held at Wales Millennium Centre on Saturdays during term time. To book a place with Taking Flight Youth Theatre, or for further information, email beth@takingflighttheatre.co.uk

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