On Thursday afternoon I was in London to take part in the first meeting of the advisory group for a new research project, ‘Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Space’. This three-year project, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme, will look at the contributions amateur dramatics makes to constructing communities and the role of the arts in non metropolitan spaces. Helen Nicholson, Nadine Holdsworth and Jane Milling (who we previously worked with on the Grassroots Arts Connected Communities project) are leading the new study. They feel the amateur theatre scene has not been sufficiently researched, and they are interested in telling an untold story. Amateur theatre groups act as valuable social barometers of communities over time and make an important contribution to the creation and continuity of communities. I look forward to contributing to the research project and seeing the results of this study.
On Wednesday Daniel, Hamish and I were at the Arts Council of Wales in Cardiff to meet Diane Hebb and Jackie Brown. We talked about the Voluntary Arts Wales departmental plan, the thinking behind the new Voluntary Arts Strategic Plan 2014-17, the work the Arts Council of Wales is funding to develop the take-up of our Running Your Group online information services in Wales and the funding ACW has just granted to support the creation of a website for the Summer of Stories 2014 initiative developed by the Storytelling in Wales group. We also discussed the Epic Awards scheme and Voluntary Arts Week and how we might develop these further in Wales. Diane emphasised that ACW recognises the valuable role Voluntary Arts Wales plays in relation to the amateur and voluntary arts sector.
On Tuesday evening I was in the Garden Lobby at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to attend the Age Scotland Awards. Age Scotland Chief Executive, Brian Sloan, explained that Tuesday was chosen for the awards ceremony as it was International Older People’s Day as well as being the first day of the 2014 Luminate Festival – Scotland’s Creative Ageing Festival which Age Scotland runs in partnership with Creative Scotland and The Baring Foundation (see: www.luminatescotland.org). The Age Scotland Awards honour people and organisations working for and with older people in Scotland and include awards for campaigning, partnership working and ‘volunteer of the year’. I was delighted to see the final award, for ‘Member Group of the Year’, presented to an arts organisation. Citadel Arts Group specialises in developing plays from the memories of old people. This excellent group performed at the Voluntary Arts Scotland parliamentary reception at the Scottish Parliament last year. The Age Scotland Awards ceremony was moving and inspiring – a great celebration of older people (see: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/get-involved/age-scotland-awards-2013/).
Last Saturday I was at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon for the beginning of the Director’s Weekend – the first event in our new RSC Open Stages project. Directors from nearly 100 amateur theatre groups across the UK had assembled in Stratford for a weekend of workshops, skill-sharing and discussions with staff from the Royal Shakespeare Company and our other professional theatre partners. I spoke at the start of the weekend about the role Voluntary Arts played in developing the original Open Stages project and its importance in helping to raise the profile of the amateur arts and bring the professional and amateur theatre sectors closer together.
I then sat in on some of the initial workshops (on voice & text – with Michael Corbridge, RSC Voice practitioner; and movement – with Struan Leslie, RSC Head of Movement) which shared approaches and techniques that the Directors could use in their amateur groups as they develop the productions that will be showcased through the new Open Stages project.
At lunchtime I spoke to the Directors about our Running Your Group online information services (www.runningyourgroup.org), our Epic Awards scheme (which is open for entries until 30 November, see: www.epicawards.co.uk) and Voluntary Arts Week (which will take place from 9 – 18 May 2014, see: www.voluntaryartsweek.org).