From acting and music to lighting and marketing, putting on a theatre production takes a lot of people with different skills to draw it all together.
Students and staff at Livability’s Victoria Education Centre – a school for disabled young people in Poole – create an annual theatre production that grows in ambition and flair every year. Belinda Ellicott, Dance Teacher and Music Lead at Victoria, told us how the show has built up students’ confidence and helped friendships thrive.
‘Our “School Production” is open to all the students,’ explains Belinda. ‘Because of this, it really breaks down the barriers between the different ages and different groups. Our students all come from different backgrounds and it allows them all to come together and do something different.’
Livability’s Victoria Education Centre offers specialised, high quality care and therapy for young disabled people from 3-19 years old. All students have physical disabilities or complex medical conditions and many have additional needs including communication difficulties, learning difficulties and sensory impairments.
The school aims to be a centre where successful learning and high levels of achievement prepare children and young adults for fulfilling future lives and the annual show is a vital part of this goal.
A school performance driven by inclusion
Over the years, the school production has been transformed from a live show to a filmed performance. The film is then showcased to the whole school at the “World Premiere” at the end of the school year.
‘Because of the nature of our students, filming the production takes the pressure off them in terms of remembering lines and playing out entire scenes. It’s a lot more flexible and so makes the production much more inclusive.
‘It’s a valuable skill to be able to perform live but for those who might struggle with that this gives them the opportunity to be part of a production.’
‘Students still have the chance to take part in live performances. We hold a bi-annual school talent contest called “VEC’s Got Talent”. Our drama teacher also organises for students to take part in the Shakespeare Schools Festival where they can perform a shortened version of a play live in a theatre.’
Beauty and the Beast on location
In 2015, 20 out of the 90 students at the school took part in a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Friend of Livability – Lord Shaftesbury – invited the school to film the School Production at his ancestral home on the Shaftesbury estate in Dorset for two days.
‘We felt like we were on location!’ Belinda said. ‘We used the grounds and shot the famous ballroom scene in the library. We had room for our wardrobe rails with all our costumes lined up. We had an amazing time.’
‘While we were there, Lord Shaftesbury came and met all the students, which was really fantastic!’
The staff and teachers from right across the school get involved every year and even appear in some of the scenes. ‘We did ‘The Jungle Book’ in 2014,’ says Belinda. ‘We added a scene into the production that we hadn’t told the students about called “I’m a Teacher, Get Me Out of Here!” We got Simon Brown, Victoria’s head teacher, to take part in some “Bushtucker Trials”. When we premiered the film, the kids absolutely loved it!’
Gaining and sharing skills outside the classroom
‘We’re doing it a little differently this year – as far as possible we want the production to be completely student-led. Students who are working towards an Arts Award are going to form the production team,’ Belinda explains
With only a little help from staff and community partners, students will be taking the lead in producing scenery, costumes, music and publicity. Connor, a 17-year-old student who has already performed on stage at theatre festivals and on film and is studying for his Gold Arts Award, will be acting as the Director of this year’s production.
Playing a key role has hugely improved Connor’s self-confidence. ‘I get on better with staff as a result,’ he revealed. ‘Without it, I don’t know where I would be!’
Working with one of the drama teachers, Connor has his own unique take on the production, one that aligns closely with the ethos of the school: he wants every student to take part. ‘Connor wants to involve every single student at the school in the production, even if they aren’t able to be part of the after-school rehearsals,’ Belinda explains
Since taking on such a key part of the theatre production, Connor has been motivated to join a performance group outside of school because he now recognises it as a viable career.
‘It has opened people’s eyes to the different things they can instead of just being in their own bubble,’ Belinda explains. ‘Students are now much more aware of new opportunities.’