Stage Beyond may be it’s in its 16th year of existence, but it shows no signs of slowing down.
The Theatre Company for adults with learning difficulties now has almost 40 members from across the north west, and has big plans for 2019.
Speaking about the company and its upcoming plans, Dee Conaghan, company manager, said Stage Beyond develops “high quality artistic skills.”
“We don’t shy away from difficult material, we do Shakespeare, we were out on the streets doing Shakespeare on the streets during Halloween.
“We do really tricky subjects, because we believe that given the right kind of tools, everyone has the ability to shine.
Everybody has a talent, it’s about finding that person’s talent.
“It might not be standing up doing a monologue, but that person could be wonderful at movement.
“It’s about finding people’s talents, sometimes that can take a while.”
Earlier this year the company brought the magical story Gulliver’s Travels to the stage in the Millennium Forum, with the assistance of award winning director Conal Morrison.
“Conal was doing something in the Forum and I asked him to come and see the company.
“He walked in one day and he sat, and he was only going to stay 10 minutes, and he stayed three hours.
“He got up and he said I don’t know how I’m going to manage this but I want to work with this company.
“Once they get people in the door, they’re an incredible, enthusiastic bunch of incredibly talented people,” said Dee.
She added that the company members “take joy in other people’s triumphs.”
“For people who are excluded, they are the most inclusive. It’s the small things that make the difference.
“We worked with someone who came from a rural area, and she had to be brought in every day by her mother in a taxi, which was obviously really expensive.
“We spent about six months working with her, getting on the bus, handing the money over. She now travels independently, and we did that all through drama.
“It has to be of high quality.
“These people are highly trained, we get people in to do the shows hat area working in the industry, that are producing plays professionally, that are recognised on the world wide stage.”
The company worked with actor Dan Gordon of Give My Head Peace fame, for several weeks from September until October.
“He said he would come and do one workshop with us, and he came and worked from September until the end of October. For nothing.
“But that’s them, that’s the draw.
“It’s about developing artistic skills, but on the flip side of it , it’s about developing people’s confidence, it’s developing their social skills.
“People with learning difficulties suffer great sense of isolation, high instances of depression and lonliness.
“A lot of the company members would talk about the great friends that they make.
“It’s about learning life skills. It’s a safe place to learn life skills,” she said.
“We all have things to learn in this with the company, it’s a real kind of family, and very nurturing environment for us all.
“It’s a company that you walk into and it just sort of envelopes you and makes you laugh and really incredibly supportive.
“It really doesn’t feel like work. The company are just a joy to be around.
“It’s lovely to see people transform,” said Dee.
2019 is already shaping up to be very busy for the local theatre company, as they are involved in events for World Disability Day, and also a project involving young people and mental health.
“We are also then working towards our big show in June.
“We have already started and we have Ronan Carr as the direction,” she said.
The show will focus on old stories from St. Columb’s Hall in its heyday, and the company have already started work on gathering ideas.
“We will do reminiscing workshops in old peoples homes to gather stories. We’ve already had a lot of funny stories, and there will be lots of funny moments.
“It will in the Millenium Forum on a Sunday night, and it will will be about memories and experiences. Whatever we do comes from the company. It’s all very much led by Stage Beyond, and I think the best projects are organic and come from the company,” added Dee.
Stage Beyond has also been awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for ‘Leapfrogging the Walls.’
This project will involve researching games and past times enjoyed by the people of Derry from 400 years ago, when the walls were built, up to the early 20th century.
Dee said: “The research will involve Stage Beyond members visiting Museums in the city and talking to historians.
“It will also involve our members speaking to older people in the community about the types of games and pastimes they enjoyed when they were children.
“Stage Beyond will then host days of street games on the Walls throughout the summer of 2019 as part of the 400 year celebration of the Walls.
“We also intend visiting schools and encouraging pupils to try out the different games played in Derry over the past 400 years.
“So it will be a very busy year for us.”
Stage Beyond runs in the Millennium Forum every Monday and Tuesday.
The company has almost 40 members and it is continuing to grow.
“It’s wonderful being in the Millennium Forum - where else should we be? We’re not in some room in the back of beyond, we’re right here in the space.
“It’s great when there’s shows coming on and the company members have a chance to chat to actors that are coming through.
“From the minute you walk in the door to you leave. Everybody has a talent, it’s just about finding it. Having the time to find it, and taking the time to find it.
“There’s nothing quite as rewarding as seeing somebody, whether it is getting on that bus, or saying I can now say hello to people.
“It just blows you away.
“It’s those small triumphs that make you realise it’s very powerful and important,” she added.
For more information, visit http://www.stagebeyond.com/