Sharing the love of theatre

Sharing the love of theatre

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BY: Guest Writer
19 Oct 2020

This week we hear from Julia O Keefe, Learning Co-ordinator, Alhambra Theatre and Esther Wilkey, ESOL Lecturer from Bradford College, about a unique Arts Award project working with young people for whom English is a second language.


We were very pleased to secure funding for the project which allowed us to embark on our exciting journey with Arts Award. We have been working with students from Bradford College who have English as a Second Language, for the past three years.

We initially supported students to achieve their Bronze Arts Awards, which they loved doing and sailed through. They learnt so much on the way which led to increasing their confidence in speaking English. Next, they moved onto Silver Arts Award and then this year some of them even progressed to achieve Gold Arts Award.

We facilitate the awards by inviting participants to choose two shows from our yearly programme. The shows they have seen range from our wonderful pantomime to Matthew Bourne’s ballets and Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) productions. As part of the awards students have even been involved in performing with the RSC in their production of Romeo and Juliet. Once they have made their choices, I go into their college to deliver a workshop. The workshops are based on active rehearsal room techniques and allow the students to discover the story and context of the show by working like an actor or dancer. Their teacher and I then share the rest of the Arts Award delivery, with me providing any practical support they need from the theatre.

IMG_1496With Gold, it was wonderful to see how the participants’ leadership skills blossomed and how they took a real interest in becoming part of the conversation in arts creation. Continuing to deliver during lockdown was an added test as we had to invent new ways of connecting, but happily everyone rose to the challenge and I think it made students even more determined to complete!

Young people have loved the experience from start to finish, one student said after watching our panto for the first time, “I wish I could see it every day!” The project helped to continue building vital skills like confidence, listening and debating, leading workshops, and empathy. It has been such a fantastic group to work with, each of them showing strengths we might not otherwise have known were there.

Over to Esther…

Esther: I have been teaching English to refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in Bradford College for the past seven years. Each one of my classes has had a mixed cohort, some are extremely traumatised, some are living alone, and those with family members are carers and translators for parents or siblings. All of my students need to mix with native English students to improve their language, but it is difficult for them to make these connections. I was invited to help my class work towards the Bronze Art Award with support from Alhambra Theatre. Four years on, as my students go from strength to strength, I cannot put into words the many positives that have come from their participation in the Arts Award programme, not only because of the language development, but also because it has helped them to mix with native English speakers, build a feeling of unity, and has actually removed some of the language barriers and pressure from our English lessons.

IMG_0956Real progress

Alhambra Theatre suggested tracking student success in their academic studies in relation to their participation in the Arts Award programme. Something that I had not expected was the way that these students have developed self-assurance that has accelerated their problem-solving skills, resilience and determination to succeed. Students who recently achieved their Gold Arts Award have not only developed their own arts practice but, as part of their leadership development, they found ways to reach out to Muslim girls in their community and deliver dance lessons during a lockdown that could lead to feelings of depression and isolation. They then used public forums to advocate for participation in the arts that can support Muslim girls’ development. They believe that attending theatre performances and participating in workshops has exposed them to unique and varied experiences that have enhanced their learning and appreciation of British values and culture. It has made them eager to promote the arts within their own ethnic minority community.

IMG_1918As I have continued to teach subsequent ESOL classes, the staff at Alhambra Theatre have continued to support the student learning through offering workshops and audience participation that has excited and engaged even the most difficult learners. When I was at school, art was the subject that you took if you were good at drawing. I wasn’t, so art wasn’t an option for me. I now know that there is a world of creativity and adventure waiting to be unlocked, and our fortunate students can do this through participation in the Arts Award. I may have missed out in the past, but I am now lucky enough to access this learning as I deliver it to my students. Win, win!

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