Young Creative Frankie Robson discusses her work on a community project supporting Crongton Knights
As part of our collective commitment to reaching out to and collaborating with young people, Pilot Theatre, the Belgrade Theatre, York Theatre Royal, Derby Theatre and the Mercury Theatre Colchester have been working with a number of Young Creatives on projects supporting our recent co-productions, Noughts and Crosses and Crongton Knights.
Here, Young Creative Frankie Robson tells us more about the community engagement project she led alongside Crongton Knights at the Belgrade.
Hellloooooo, my name is Frankie and I’m a third-year theatre student at Warwick University! I thoroughly enjoy engaging new communities in theatre, especially groups of people that wouldn’t normally like or enjoy it.
In fact, I enjoy it so much I decided to create Journey Theatre Company, to give myself the creative authority to respond theatrically to issues raised by vulnerable communities. This gave me an outlet where I could work to create a platform to voice things which often go unheard. Journey have so far created two shows: our first exploring the stories of Alzheimer’s patients and their families, and our second successful show, Root, addressing the homeless crisis in Leamington Spa, with the help of a charity called The Way Ahead Project. We’re hoping to take Root to the Edinburgh Fringe eventually, so keep your eyes peeled!
Recently I was given a great opportunity to get involved with the Belgrade Theatre and Pilot Theatre, working as their ‘Young Creative’ on Crongton Knights. If you didn’t get to see the show in Coventry, you really missed out, and should definitely catch it another time if you can. My job as a Young Creative was to consider how we might engage a new community with the show and its powerful themes of violence, comradeship, trust and fear, to name just a few.
Who I worked with
The Young Creative programme run by Pilot Theatre and mentored by the Belgrade Theatre gave me the opportunity to create my own audience development or community engagement programme around their show, Crongton Knights. While the Belgrade Theatre offered me the support I needed to undertake my project, it was completely up to me what I wanted to do and deliver.
After shadowing Belgrade staff from different departments on a few projects, I quickly got an idea of how the different departments operate, how they might be able to support me and how I could support their vision, too.
First, I had to choose who to work with, and it really didn’t take me long to realise that I wanted to work with The Way Ahead Project again, a charity supporting people who have experienced homelessness and addiction in Leamington Spa. The project has many aims: to help take vulnerable people off the streets; to provide support for people struggling with addiction; and to provide people with care packages, food and hot drinks. They are amazing.
The themes of Crongton Knights were so relatable and relevant to charity’s core values. The Way Ahead Project are like one big family, and believe me when I say their energy is insane! They are truly beautiful people.
I wanted to think of a way to get them into the the Belgrade and make them feel comfortable so that they could enjoy the show and the experience. Little did I realise at that point how incredible the end result would be.
What I did
Of course, you can’t just expect to walk into a project with your workshop concept in mind and expect everyone to listen to you and jump on board straight away. It takes a lot of trust and at the start, there were definitely a few people looking at me thinking, “Who is this weird lady coming in here talking about a show about a bunch of kids?”
Everyone’s head looked the other way at first, but you have to remember that these are people who don’t get to see a lot of theatre. It’s a new space for them and theatres, with their huge auditoriums and weird chairs, can be super scary if you’re not used to them.
But, after a long time hyping up Crongton Knights, showing people videos, and even taking in a copy of the book that inspired the show, I finally got a few people saying yes. Phew! I breathed a sigh of relief.
In the end it took off, and you can see in the photo of us all that people really started to trust me and trust the building. It was a really beautiful moment.
Before the show, I took a big canvas in to the project and spoke about the themes of Crongton Knights. I wanted us to use it to create something physical that would be memorable for the group.
We did have an issue with this canvas, mind you! I nearly had to SAW IT IN HALF to fit it in my car. Luckily, the Belgrade’s Embedded Community Producer Krysztina decided it was a far better idea for an Uber to follow me with my canvas as a passenger. Thanks again, K!
When the canvas finally reached its destination, it proved to be worth the fare. The group really capitalised on the idea of friendship and sticking together no matter what, just like the characters in Crongton Knights.
They decided to represent this by painting some flats, with each window in each flat having a different story. It was amazing, and such a special session where we all bonded – helped along by me taking in a few snacks too to keep us all going!
The following day we all headed over to the Belgrade to watch the show. Even after the work we’d done, on the day, I still heard a lot of, “I ay’ going to Cov!” and, “I don’t want to go no more,” but it was nothing a little gentle persuasion couldn’t help! They were all so excited, and I have never been so moved to watch their faces throughout the show.
The impact for them
The nerves that some members of the group had originally had completely vanished, and this is down to the support and energy of Belgrade staff. Immediately, Krysztina ran over to introduce herself, and the group experienced something that they unfortunately don’t experience often enough: they were spoken to, listened to and heard.
One of the guys enjoyed it so much that he asked me if it was okay for him to stand up at the end of the show, and of course I said, “100% yes!” It was incredible that he came to that thought organically, with no idea about “standing ovations” – the show just made him want to stand.
I think this says everything about the impact of this project. It drew a massive line between a show and a community that NEEDED to see it: it broke comfort zones, locational barriers, social barriers around age, race, gender and wealth and connected everyone just by being human and being present.
At the end, the project leader told me they would love to come and see more shows at the Belgrade and maintain a well-established connection between their project and the theatre.
The impact for me
I was blown away. Although I had experienced challenges:
- I was working with a vulnerable community which meant I didn’t even know if they would all turn up to catch the taxi. They had different lives with different structures, which meant that things could easily hold them back from coming to watch the show.
- It was so new for them; even the steward checking tickets at the door was something so out of the ordinary.
- Engaging them with theatre; they didn’t think theatre had a space for them, or could talk to them or about them. There’s a preconception that theatre only speaks to a certain few.
But despite all that, I was surprised about how easily I could help change those preconceptions and importantly, stand with them in voicing their concerns and continuing to champion theatre for and with them.
Once we were all sat down in B2, I felt a sense of calm wash over everyone. We knew we were all together and this was going to be special moment. And it certainly was. I love thinking about this day, and will never forget the way it made me feel.
I plan to do many more projects like this, and it certainly allowed me to see that theatre work in the community is where I belong. My theatre company is currently working on a show about body image called Pearshaped, and I hope to incorporate some of the themes of our show into workshops for local youth groups!
BUT, I am also interested in how we can all work toward making theatre accessible for even more communities and poking my head in at the Belgrade every now and then! I really am looking forward to the future of theatre, especially at the Belgrade, a place that works tirelessly to give back to communities, successfully programming and creating work that speaks to people beyond our normal audiences and beyond the auditorium.
The future of theatre is looking really vibrant, especially in this current climate, where we will all emerge from the lockdown with more energy to push the boundaries than ever before. Who knows what’s coming next?