It is becoming ever more important that we offer access to all and enable our community to benefit from the performing arts. Particular attention must be paid to children and young people who will be our future artists, future leaders, and future audiences. Every year, over the Christmas period, we see a myriad of families and schools descend on the Octagon for the annual pantomime, it has become the aim of the Arts Engagement team to explore how we can further enrich the experience of the performing arts for these young people.
During the pantomime run, we organised several careers talks with visiting school groups where pupils learnt about the operation of both venues. The talks offered young people a better understanding of all the people working behind the scenes whose job it is to create an enjoyable experience. We also invited Somerset Sight, a not for profit organisation supporting blind or visually impaired children and their families, to a Touch Tour of ‘Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs’. Prior to the show, the group of 60 were invited onto the stage to feel and explore the set, talk to cast members about their costumes, and hold props that would later appear in the show. The Touch Tour is just one way in which we can make visiting the theatre more accessible and engaging for blind or partially sighted audience members.
Additionally, over the Christmas period we displayed artwork from 10 secondary schools across Somerset. The exhibition gave a total of 30 talented young artists a platform and opportunity to display their work during our busiest season. We received great feedback from the public who were in admiration of the talent on display, many in disbelief that the artwork was that of students, we hope the opportunity will further encourage these young artists and inspire others.
Students of local Primary and Secondary schools were once again invited to Westlands Entertainment Venue to perform in ‘A Christmas Celebration’ on Sunday 15th December. In total, we had 3 school choirs taking to the stage, as well as 5 community groups all delighting audiences with a variety of Christmas classics. Our next opportunity for schools and community groups to come together and perform will be on the 23rd April for ‘A Festival of Song’, the evening will be a chance for us to celebrate local talent and offer access for all members of the community to perform on the Octagon stage.
In September, we partnered with Somerset County Council to deliver three ‘TalentEd Academies’ at the Octagon and Westlands, to provide young people interested in the arts with a high quality workplace experience. The TalentEd Academies offer participants an insight into a career in the arts and as an artist. The sessions have been designed with a focus on dance, each session is led by a local graduate dance artist who explains the reality of a career in the arts whilst teaching the students different styles of dance and the various job opportunities available from studying and practicing dance at a higher level.
We are constantly looking for ways in which we can expand our reach and encourage young people to seek enjoyment and accomplishment from the arts, whether that is performing on stage, exhibiting artwork in our gallery or participating in free workshops. The performing arts have the ability to change perceptions, inspire audiences and help grown an individual’s confidence and self-esteem.