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Tackling Drugs With The Power Of Theatre

elevate is a unique 2-week work experience project run by Forest Forge Theatre Company in Ringwood, now in its tenth year, which sees students from across the New Forest in Years 10, 11 and 12 devise an issue-based piece of theatre and then tour it back to their schools. Every year the project tackles a topical and pressing issue, and this year the focus fell on the issue of drugs. This summer the local schools who participated were Burgate, Arnewood, Ringwood, Noadswood, as well as Cantell in Southampton for the first time in the project’s history. The students are tasked with devising, rehearsing, designing, and performing an entirely original and engaging play. The students then perform to their schools in the hope that the performance, and its message, resonates with their peers. This is all accomplished in just two weeks! Each year elevate strives to convey to young people that they have a choice about what they do or do not do. The project delivered this message, as well as a wealth of information about the short- and long-term effects of drug use, to around 1800 young people just before they began their 6-week summer holiday. Recent police reports show that drug crime in smaller and more rural areas is on the rise, and so the delivery of this programme which aims to educate but not admonish, could not be more important. 

The project was devised by the Theatre’s Creative Learning Director, Lucy Phillips. In preparation for the project, Lucy conducts research with young people, collects local and national information, and also researches true life stories and cases. This all then serves as inspiration and content for the play.

Each day the cast are given different tasks to create scenes, which are then weaved together to make 45 minutes of storytelling. This method of production ensures that the script and performance belong to the students themselves, which serves to engender a sense of pride and accomplishment among the cast. One participant remarked, that they ‘expected a small and orderly show’ but that ‘making it [themselves] was amazing’. elevate enables students to learn about all aspects of theatre from a professional theatre company - from lighting, sound and set design, to stage management and performance techniques – therefore opening their eyes to the variety of employment opportunities within the arts. Students are also able to develop and practice skills such as teamwork, co-operation, flexibility, compromise and creative thinking – all vital and transferable skills. Equally important is that the project allows students to foster new friendships with likeminded people, who they might otherwise never meet. And all the while, the students are being armed with an awareness of the issues surrounding drug use.

The cast of young people are able to express themselves and test their limits, all in a safe and supportive environment.  One student remarked that ‘[they] didn’t expect how much it would change [them] as a person’ and another that ‘[they] learnt how to work well with people you wouldn’t always work with, and how to work quickly and effectively’. Such remarks are testament to the success of the project. In the past, the project has tackled other important and topical issues such as body-image, politics and sexuality. Next year, the plan is to look at young people’s mental health, to possibly include exploration of issues such as bullying, online activity and coping strategies. The aim will once again be to use theatre as a tool to educate and empower students. Forest Forge Theatre is grateful that the New Forest District Council Initiative Safer New Forest supported this project.

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