Drama has become a regular activity for Exeter’s young people in care who have joined forces with students from the University of Exeter to stage a play in Austin, Texas. Stetsons and cowboy boots are at the ready as Exeter’s creative gang of performers head to the United States.
This life changing experience will be the first time that the theatre company ‘Perfectly Mixed Up’ travel and perform outside of Devon. Throughout the week long stay the company will perform their show, More than the Sum, and run two workshops with young people in care in Austin, Texas. ‘Perfectly Mixed Up’ are guests of the University of Texas at Austin who have an exchange programme with the Drama department at University of Exeter.
Young care leavers face similar challenges to anyone leaving home for the first time, but without the safety net that family or community networks provide. This has a powerful impact on making and sustaining positive connections in society. Devon County Council were seeking solutions to this serious issue and the University of Exeter’s Drama Department were able to respond by using creative processes in drama to address some of the areas of concern.
A small group of young ‘care leavers’ work alongside MA drama students in an integrated theatre company, where the creative contribution of each member is valued. Exploring what community means to young people in care, and looking at how to reach out to the community they want to be a part of, forms the basis of the group’s theatre workshops. They meet each week to work on ideas collaboratively and illustrate a commitment to the group by turning up and working together. The drama workshops are regularly held each Wednesday afternoon. Regardless of whether there is chaos elsewhere in the young people’s lives they can be assured of the consistency of the theatre company.
Emma Payne, an MA student from the University of Exeter, explained:“Through the experience of being within a thriving small community, the young people learn to build trust, develop their confidence, communicate effectively and sustain positive relationships. Many young people in or just leaving care, have rollercoaster lives where people come in and out of their lives all too frequently making what we consider as basic communication skills redundant. Being part of a theatre company like this is about working together; it’s a commitment and a team effort where each person’s contribution is valid – this and the aspirational environment in which we work.”
The theatre company consists of 7 members; a mix of care leavers and MA Drama students.
Shannon Price, one of the young care leavers, said “When I am with Perfectly Mixed Up I can be myself. It is a support network for me and I feel valued. If I hadn’t got the theatre group I would feel quite down. I focus my negative thoughts into giving a great performance and that makes me feel better in myself. I am really excited about going to America!
The University has developed a supportive relationship with Devon County Council working alongside Ian Stewart-Watson, the Operation Manager of the Permanence and Transition Service. Fiona Macbeth, University of Exeter Drama lecturer said:”Through applied drama we can address important issues for staff working with young people in care. We can explore questions that young people are asking, using innovative ways to address complex issues around both the experience of being ‘looked after’ and leaving care.”
Funding for ‘Perfectly Mixed Up’ has included finance from Devon County Council, Universities of Exeter and Texas, local charity Mark Marshall and a significant donation from American philanthropists. Devon County Councillor Andrea Davis, responsible for children in care, said:“This is a fantastic opportunity for these young people, and an experience I’m sure they will never forget. The self confidence the young people develop being involved in innovative and creative activities will benefit them for a long time to come.”
The inclusive theatre company fly to the USA on Monday 25 March.
*Source: University of Exeter