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20 years of community theatre

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The Citizens Theatre is marking two decades of supporting the community to create shows

A Glasgow institution is celebrating two decades of hosting shows created by the community.

The Citizens Theatre will this month celebrate 20 years of community theatre. The Citizens is known internationally for its work in this field and has engaged with hundreds of participants over the last two decades.

Founded in 1999 by Guy Hollands, Citizens learning associate director, the first community company production at the Citizens was Driving Out The Devil, a series of short plays by Bertolt Brecht.

The theatre has gone on to produce 50 community productions, from full-scale plays on the main stage of the Citizens Theatre to intimate shows in the circle studio. Participants have also taken part in international festivals in Edinburgh, Sweden and Rotterdam.

As well as sold-out productions with large non-professional casts, the weekly drop-in group, Community Collective, is a central component of the Citizens’ Community Theatre work. The impact the Community Collective has had on individuals is what makes the group so inspiring.

Speaking of the hundreds of participants who have engaged with community theatre at the Citizens over the past 20 years, Elly Goodman, community drama artist said: “Community Theatre at the Citizens offers a safe space for people to try new things, to meet new people and step out of their comfort zones. We have created a network of individuals who come together to create wonderful performances and make life-long memories.”

Neil Packham, community drama director, added, “Participants in our community productions are from all walks of life. We have doctors, teachers, people who work in shops, old people, young people, people who are in recovery or have been referred through the criminal justice system. The group means different things to different people – for some it is a lifeline, for others it’s a marker of the end of the week. It’s a supportive group and we tend to laugh a great deal.”

One of the longest-serving participants of the Community Collective is Marjorie. Not coming from a traditional theatre-going background and dealing with chronic mental health issues, Marjorie was unsure if the group was for her. However, an invitation to join after an impromptu visit to the theatre has resulted in her membership spanning 14 years, participating in over 20 productions and travelling with the group to perform in Rotterdam at the International Community Arts Festival. Marjorie now volunteers with the Citizens Theatre learning team facilitating humour therapy workshops with women at risk of re-offending.

Marjorie said: “I noticed that after each session I felt relaxed and happy. I felt comfortable. It’s a group that encourages you and challenges you. The Citizens Theatre Community Collective has given me my dignity back, to empower me to do something that helps others and to feel like I am contributing to society again.”

The Citizens has been such an important part of her life that Marjorie even celebrated her 50th birthday at the venue.

Highlights from the past 20 years of community theatre at the Citizens include Ice Cream Dreams in co-production with TAG Theatre Company in 1999 which was the first main stage production; Temptations of Tam in 2012, a co-production with Scottish Opera; A Night to Remember which marked the final performance by the community company before the Citizens Theatre building closed and On Common Ground, a major participatory event with Debajehmujig Storytellers performed as part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme. On Common Ground was awarded the Glasgow Life Award for the most creative contribution for realising the ambition of Festival 2014.

Dominic Hill, artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, said: “Community theatre has the power to bring us together, to transcend barriers and boundaries and enhance lives. It is at the heart of the Citizens and is intrinsic to our work in the Gorbals. The Citizens learning team delivers a pioneering range of creative participatory projects and world class performance opportunities. I am delighted to be celebrating such a momentous milestone in our history and my hope is that our next 20 years of community theatre activity will be as successful as our first.”

Neil Ritch, director of the National Lottery Community Fund Scotland, said: “National Lottery funding has had a huge impact on communities and on people’s lives for the past 25 years. The Community Collective is a great example of a project using life-changing National Lottery funds to bring people together to discover a new passion, meet new friends and learn new skills.”

The moment will be marked with a celebration event on 1 November at Scotland Street School Museum with past and present members of the community company.



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