The rehearsals for ‘Murder at Uptown Abbey’ were in full swing at Derry’s Millennium Forum on Tuesday. Members of Stage Beyond - a Derry based drama group for adults who have learning difficulties - will perform the show at Letterkenny’s Regional Cultural Centre in the coming weeks.
With energy, enthusiasm and a dollop of very good humour the local actors will tread the boards in front of paying audiences, as they’ve done many times before. The group was initially started back in 2002 to cater for young adults with learning disabilities who had an interest in drama. Since then it’s been going strong with a core group of 18 members who share the same passion for life on stage.
This year, the group is celebrating its tenth birthday and Stage Beyond Manager Dee Conaghan says there’s no better way to mark the occasion than by drawing up an exciting programme of events to mark Derry’s year as City of Culture.
Preparing to take a leap into street theatre and working with respected Derry author Dave Duggan are just two of the highlights ahead of the Millennium Forum based group.
“Our ‘Shakespeare on the Streets’ programme will see us bringing to life some of Shakespeare’s work onto the local streets,” says Dee.
“We want to do something where we’re interrupting peoples’ daily lives and putting our own spin on the classic works of Shakespeare. We’re really excited about it and we’ve already performed it on the steps at St Columb’s Hall and we got an amazing response. We’re really excited about it and we think it’s the perfect way to lead us into 2013.
“It’s part funded by the City of Culture fund and we’re really just giving people a taster of what to expect from us next year.”
Thanks to what she describes as very loyal funders, Dee says Stage Beyond is delighted to still be able to offer something unique to its participants.
“There is so very little out there and we’ve seen how drama can have a real positive impact on adults who have learning disabilities. It’s a fantastic way for them to engage and develop as individuals and it can really assist them in working out things that they find difficult. As well as that, groups like ours address the isolation and loneliness that many of these young people feel and real friendships are formed here,” she says. Funded by the Arts Council, Children in Need and Lloyds TSB, the group are able to continue their work thanks to the vital support of these groups and in an era where a lack of funding is a subject constantly hitting the headlines, Dee believes its the group’s reputation which has seen their funding maintained.
“There aren’t many groups out there who do what we do and our funders are able to see the value in that. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our members we have real artistic integrity. We have a core group of facilitators and as a company we’ve also worked in local schools so our members have been out there acting as role models and helping other young people develop their confidence.
“We’re absolutely delighted to still be here doing what we do and we’re thrilled to be playing a part in the celebrations of 2013.”