The Greater Shantallow Community Arts project (GSCA) is using theatre to challenge and debate issues faced by local teenagers through an innovative youth education project entitled ‘Choices.’
A number of sixth year St. Brigid’s, Carnhill students are currently completing a course of Positive Action Theatre with GSCA.
During the six week course the teens will address social issues, from Internet safety to online bullying.
Maurice Richmond of GSCA said: “We are seeking to address a series of key issues and problems that directly affect the lives of young people. We are particularly interested in reducing anti-social behaviour, as well as providing pupils with the information required to make better life choices.
“These are awareness programmes and every pupil has an opportunity to discuss the issues touched on. They all contribute to the discussion but do so as characters in a drama workshop, not as themselves.”
St. Brigid’s teacher, Shauna Sharkey, said: “This is part of the enrichment program that our pupils complete outside of school.
“We feel pupils can learn more and are more willing to learn, when not in the classroom or a formal setting. In these exercises the pupils watch short movies and can then develop the characters and their storylines as they see fit.
“They act out the issues without an audience and in doing so can formulate their own responses to whichever challenges they are addressing.
“The hope is that they learn more that way, that they become more self aware. There is no showcase, no acting classes, it is about providing a problem solving aspect to their education.”
Described as “challenging, absorbing and effective,” the structured workshops range from topics on suicide, self-harm, drugs, alcohol and Internet dangers.
These are followed by open discussions and role playing designed to encourage alternative responses and exploration of the themes by the young people involved.
The course is held in the youth facility at Studio 2, Skeoge Industrial Estate. The community arts space is run by GSCA and comprises of a two story industrial unit with a dance and drama studio as well as an animation unit, music practice room, carnival space and recording studio.
The unit is also undergoing renovation work which will see the facility double in size this year.
Arts facilitator, Felicity McCall remarked of the project: “It is refreshing how remarkably honest they are in this setting.
“They are very up front about their own habits and lifestyle choices.
“Though there is a degree of anonymity in this setting which helps, the pupils really take ownership of the project and create their own programme through informed choices.”
If the pupils are open and honest, argues writer Mrs. McCall: “It is time educationalists were too.
“There is no doubt that Derry has an underage drinking culture and social networking is very much part of the lifestyle of teenagers today, it is incumbent on us to help young people make the right choices when it comes to such matters.
“While the young people might not always make the conventionally politically correct choice, at least they are aware of the risks. They know how to protect themselves and it is good to have a debate with them.
“I find the real debate starts after the drama workshops. The teachers report many a colourful conversation on the bus back to school following the workshops.”
Choices participants Tori McCauley and Megan Dunne both “loved” the course. The St. Brigid’s sixth form pupils agreed it had led them to make changes in their own lifestyles.
“I enjoyed it very much,” said Tori; “I went straight home and deactivated my old Bebo account as I was more aware of on line predators. Even though I hadn’t used that social networking site for ages I thought it was still putting me at risk. I would consider myself very aware now.
“I also really enjoyed the class on suicide awareness and how to look out for family and friends who are at risk.”
Megan loved the “drama element to the courses even though I was very shy.
“I suppose the best part of it was the alcohol awareness training. I would watch what I drink now and not have too much as I realise that it puts me much more at risk of being attacked.”
Greater Shantallow community Arts Choice programme is funded by Children In Need, The Public Health Agency’s Clear Project, The Northern Ireland Suicide Prevention Strategy.
If you would like to find out more or would like to enrol on any of the choices programme contact GSCA on 02871 357443.