This week, Theatretrain Founder and Artistic Director, Kevin Dowsett, shares his thoughts on the power of the theatre and its ability to help young people reach a state of catharsis at a time when we all need a way to escape:
There is no doubt that the pandemic changed the lives of many of our young people. Like the rest of us some dealt with it better than others. Young Minds – one of the charities we support – made the point that young people need help right now to build the resilience they will need to overcome life’s obstacles.
This isn’t a scientifically proven survey, but we have noticed some trends in young people in our classes. Some seem to give up more easily. Some seem to lack some energy – it’s like their get-up-and-go has got up and gone. Some are worried that schools are putting them under pressure to ‘catch-up’ the lost months of schooling. This has caused some to drop out during examinations.
But on the positive side many young people seem to have taken it all in their stride – they’ve thought – it is what it is, and I have just got to get on with it. Of course, here I am going to bang the drum of the performing arts and how they can help.
We see our classes as a place of refuge for young people
We take great care to make the atmosphere in each class supportive and we shake things up a bit, so friends are encouraged to work with others so that cliques are less likely to form. Judgement of others is simply not allowed. When everyone feels part of the team they are more likely to drop their guard and be open with others about how they feel. Also, our work is able to focus on situations and issues that are relevant to them. So , if you like, it becomes a platform for them. If you are singing about being under pressure (like the song by Queen) then your own experience of being under pressure will play a part in how you connect with the song. You develop a personal connection with what you sing . Then you sing it with more understanding and can communicate your feelings to an audience – even an imaginary one.
What’s great about that is they share their feelings and project them together
As they are a group their collective power is more than their individual power and it becomes more effective. More telling. It’s a bigger release of feelings. As far as I know no one has tried to measure this response but in the theatre it has a very long history. The Ancient Greeks understood that by acting out a tragedy (think Romeo and Juliet) the audience (and presumably the performers) would have deep feelings aroused and by seeing and feeling the events performed they would begin to feel pity and by purged or cleansed by the experience.
I have always believed that this experience is seen in many of our young people after a great class and certainly after a performance. They are energised – their eyes sparkle – something has been switched on. It’s a wonderful force for good in their lives. And they can return to the same place easily. For me you don’t have to achieve it through tragedy, you can also reach it through laughter.
To find strong feelings inside yourself, being in a group and a teacher helping you let it all go is surely better than having a meltdown isn’t it?