Developing theatre around the world

Chickenshed’s senior creative producer Dave Carey on how the Southgate arts charity is helping to develop inclusive theatre models in different countries

Young people from Chickenshed meet their peers at Shed Helsinki in Finland
Young people from Chickenshed meet their peers at Shed Helsinki in Finland

Chickenshed has been working internationally for many years, sometimes in one-off projects such as working with a rural girls school in Shijiazhuang, China, and sometimes working with organisations to develop their own inclusive theatre models such as Chickenshed New York and Shed Helsinki.

All of these projects not only help us develop our practice and spread our ethos far and wide, they also give many of our young people the opportunity to meet and work alongside their peers from other cultures and countries.

In January a group of our first-year foundation degree students took part in a two-week exchange with young people from one of our ‘Shed Link’ partners in Finland, Shed Helsinki. This was the second such exchange trip and gave us the chance to really develop how our young people can engage internationally about inclusion in different cultural settings.

During week one, young people from Helsinki travelled to our Southgate base to explore and create a short performance piece based around topics and issues that interested them – cultural differences, food, education systems, music, youth culture. From Monday to Friday we workshopped ideas, wrote songs, developed scenes and generally worked at a high and intense speed to develop a show that we could tour.

Within this week were also team-building trips to Hollywood Bowl and a scratch performance of the piece at Finnish Church, Rotherhithe. This gave us the chance to connect directly with the Finnish Embassy here in London and further strengthen the ties between our organisations.

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No sooner was the week here in London over before we were boarding a flight to Helsinki to take the fruits of our work on a tour of schools across Finland. We travelled to the cities of Turku and Tampere before returning to Helsinki to perform in schools and the theatre. Along the way we took in cultural visits that really inspired our young people.

This initiative gives an experience of life in another country and shows how inclusion – whatever the issues – remains a central part of all our work and approaches.

For the young people from both communities it became a journey of friendship and collaboration that really allowed them to explore in-depth how the two groups approach theatre-making. In the words of one participant: “It really let me see how you can have inclusion all around the world.”

No sooner had I returned from Finland when my colleagues Matthew Lyons and Sarah Driver were boarding a plane to Bangladesh. Matthew and Sarah were invited to contribute to TheatreEx’s production of SwarnBoal that was in development by The British Council and Sudip Chakroborthy, associate professor of theatre and performance studies at University of Dhaka, for the Women of the World (Wow) event in Bangladesh held in February. This ongoing collaboration between Chickenshed and Dr Chakroborthy has been developed over nearly 20 years since we first met as part of the Contacting the World Festival at Contact Theatre, Manchester, in 2004!

It was a fascinating trip and an amazing experience working with so many young theatre and music artists to support the development of their production and we look forward to many more years of collaborative work.

Find out more about Chickenshed’s outreach work:
Visit chickenshed.org.uk/set-up-a-shed

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