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20 years of helping hands

The Scene & Heard mentoring project is 20 years old. Jane Clinton learns how writing plays can boost youngsters’ self-confidence

20 June, 2019 — By Jane Clinton

Scene & Heard youngsters being seen and heard

WHAT have a rotten banana, a microwave oven and a gorilla in a clown costume got in common?

Quite a lot as it happens, as they are just a few of the characters in plays written by children in Somers Town who are part of the Scene & Heard mentoring project, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

The strange and the surreal; the commonplace and the extraordinary; the tragic and the comic sit side by side in these wonderful plays that are all the children’s work.

Everything and anything is fair game for the Scene & Heard treatment. The plays can offer a startling insight into the preoccupations of the children: from the loss of a loved one to a reference to what is in the news.

Founded in 1999 by Kate Coleman and Sophie Boyack, Scene & Heard partners the children with volunteer theatre professionals.

In all, Scene & Heard, which is a charity, has more than 400 dedicated volunteers on its books including professional actors, writers, directors, composers and prop-makers.

The children usually begin with Scene & Heard at the age of nine and are referred to the course by the local primary schools. They attend courses until 16 and from the very first course they become member playwrights.

But as CEO and artistic director Roz Paul says: “Once a member playwright always a member playwright.”

“It is very much like family and we work very hard to help children and families stay with us,” she adds.

There is also a very strong emphasis on siblings joining Scene & Heard to have a long-term positive effect on the whole family.

When children join they take the playmaking one course. They attend weekly classes for nine weeks, then a writing weekend where they meet and interview the professional actors who will perform their plays.

The production values are extremely high and it is a testament to the work of the children, the volunteers and the actors that the shows are always heavily oversubscribed with waiting lists.

There are no fees and even the performances of the plays are free to attend – although there are buckets at the end of the shows if people feel they can make a donation.

Scene & Heard is based at Theatro Technis near Mornington Crescent and is hugely cherished both locally and beyond. The charity is in close contact with local schools and has regular, very structured feedback from them, the children and the families.

Member playwrights return to work with the charity and are encouraged to do work experience as part of the charity’s programme.

The door, says Roz, is always open.

The Scene & Heard patrons make a starry list including Hugh Bonneville, Damien Lewis and Dame Hilary Mantel, who have all witnessed its magic.

The positive effect on the children attending the courses is profound.

“We get feedback from schools saying it has really helped with the children’s confidence, self-esteem, literacy and well-being,” says Roz.

“We want the children to see that commitment, and seeing things through to the end can offer rich rewards.”

One member playwright said of his play: “I didn’t think I could do something like that. It was amazing.”

Roz says: “Raising aspiration is at the heart of what we do. We are helping the children build life skills, including perseverance and resilience.”

Later this year a collection of some memorable lines from the shows will be collected in an anniversary book.

In the meantime there are more plays to write and rehearse for the July tranche of performances.

Roz continues: “At the end of the performance of each play the child playwright takes a bow. It is the most magical thing to witness. They stand that bit taller. That great sense of achievement, that moment, will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”

For more information on Scene & Heard and to see films on their work go to www.sceneandheard.org/films
Scene & Heard’s next production, Beyond the Teens – The Grown Up Plays, runs from July 11-14. Booking in advance is essential, call 020 7388 9008 or 9009 or email tickets@sceneandheard.org

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