Lyric Theatre Scoops UK-wide Cultural Diversity Award

Pat and Plain project in partnership with the Ulster-Scots Agency. Pat and Plain is a school-based drama project now in its fourth year of delivery. Six new scripts have been commissioned from local writer Dan Gordon, each celebrating various elements of the cultural heritage of Northern Ireland including school life in the 1950’s (Sit There For The Present), the Belfast Blitz (A Lemonade Bottle For Clabberin’ Hitler) and Harland & Wolff shipyard (The Boat Factory). Each of the participating schools is given a production grant of £500 and supported by at least 30 hours of advice and practical assistance from professional theatre directors, facilitators and designers. Schools are encouraged to follow the model of a small theatre company, involving children in all aspects of the production. [caption id="attachment_23569" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="The new Lyric Theatre in Belfast has scooped a major UK-wide award. "][/caption] To date 30 schools have taken part: 1434 children have given 91 performances to an audience of 9845, guided and assisted by 201 adults, but the availability of the scripts ensures that the cultural diversity celebrated by the project can be extended to a much greater range of schools than were involved in the original project. Lyric Theatre Artistic Director Richard Croxford said, “To have one of our projects recognised as the best in the whole of the UK says a great deal about the quality of the Lyric’s education and outreach work. The Lyric does not  just put plays on stage. In addition to our weekly Theatre School classes at the Lyric, our Creative Learning programme takes drama-based projects into schools, youth and community groups. We work with hundreds of young people every year and this award is such lovely recognition after what has been an extremely busy time for the Lyric.” Noirin McKinney, Director of Arts Development, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said, “The Lyric has an excellent reputation for working with young people and thanks to public funding, that tradition is set to continue. As principal funder, the Arts Council supports the Lyric to work with local young people via its education and outreach projects. The Creative Learning programme hosts a range of workshops for young people, to enhance their skills and help create the stars of the future.” Each new Pat and Plain script is developed in conjunction with at least five individual schools and the final product is a published copy of the play, supplied with a CD of sound effects and originally composed music: a complete package which can then be accessed and produced, free of charge, in any school in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. In addition to promoting cultural diversity the project ensures that teachers with little knowledge of drama are encouraged to take part in the project and 100% of those involved have reported an increase in their skills base. The Ulster-Scots Agency commissioned the writing of the scripts and then approached the Lyric Theatre to provide the practical expertise to enable Key Stage 3 Primary School children to mount a full production of the play in their own school. The Agency aims to promote the study, conservation, development and use of Ulster-Scots as a living language, to encourage and develop the full range of its attendant culture; and to promote an understanding of the history of the Ulster-Scots. The plays utilise Ulster-Scots words and phrasing in the telling of the stories and contain a glossary to aid understanding. The subject matter of each play was selected because of its particular relevance to the Ulster-Scots community. Schools selected to participate in the project are distributed across Northern Ireland. In areas where the Ulster-Scots tradition is prevalent, the project has celebrated and endorsed the culture, and elsewhere has introduced it to those to whom it is unfamiliar. As part of an intercultural day organised by one school in Belfast, drama workshops were delivered using one of the Pat and Plain scripts. This formed part of the representation of Irish culture, amidst African drumming, Indian Sword Dancing and Filipino cooking demonstrations. The sister organisation of the Ulster-Scots Agency, responsible for the promotion of the Irish Language and based in Dublin, is Foras na Gaeilge. As part of last year’s project, they partnered with the Ulster Scots Agency and funded the translation of Kissing the Shuttle into Irish. An Irish-speaking school, Scoil an Droichid, was selected to perform the play, the project uniting two markedly diverse cultures and communities in central Belfast. Despite their coexistence in adjacent areas of the city, these pupils would have had little chance to share and explore their cultures and the mutual involvement in Pat & Plain provided a first step in bridging this gap In the year to June 2009, 23,500 people are estimated to have come to live in Northern Ireland. The Inclusion & Diversity Service of the Education Boards have supported ‘newcomer’ pupils in Literacy and Numeracy as part of the curriculum, but it has been challenging for these children to engage in cultural activities. Pat and Plain provided an ideal vehicle, where many children in the class were discovering together factual information and a new language, through drama. One school filmed the production and streamed it live on the internet. A significant number of the cast came from Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese communities and were able to contact friends and relatives at home telling them to watch their school play on internet television. Grandparents, who hadn’t seen their grandchildren for some time, were able to watch them perform live on their home computers. Through carefully planning and development, the involvement of the right partner organisations and participants and the creative use of modern technology, the Lyric Theatre’s Pat and Plain project managed to use its potentially divisive content to involve participants from across the communities of Northern Ireland, teaching them not of mutually exclusive backgrounds but of a shared past and culture.]]>