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Seize the Day 2024: DTEA recap

Celebrating with schools, youth groups and teachers up and down the country, Steve Ball, co-chair of the Drama and Theatre Education Alliance, describes his highlights from this year's Seize the Day campaign.

It's a wet and windy Wednesday evening in Leicester. The streets are dark and desolate. But inside the city's Curve theatre something remarkable is happening. Young people from the Young Community Company have taken a break from rehearsals of their production of Gargantua to talk with Liz Kendall, their local MP, about why drama and theatre matters to them.

It's not a chance encounter but one of more than 65 events that took place between 20 March – World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People – and 27 March as part of the Drama and Theatre Education Alliance's Seize the Day campaign. Schools, theatres and universities from Bolton to Bristol and London to Leeds invited their local MPs, councillors and school governors to observe a workshop, drama lesson, rehearsal or production.

Entering its third year

This was the third consecutive Seize the Day campaign, but given that we will almost certainly see a General Election this year, it provided an important – and urgent-opportunity to raise awareness of the value of drama and theatre with politicians and policy makers.

Many of us are only too aware of the ongoing decline in the take-up of drama in schools. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of drama teachers reduced by 18%; the number of hours taught reduced by 12%; take-up of GCSE drama declined by 40%, and the take up of performing and expressive arts declined by 69%.

Meanwhile the government has imposed a 50% funding cut to arts subjects at Higher Education institutions in England and the proportion of children who have participated in theatre and drama activities has reduced from 69% in 2008/09 to around 53.5% in 2019/20.

The event

The aforementioned encounter between the Leicester East MP and the members of Curve's Young Community Company was part of a Seize the Day event led by the theatre's Learning and Community department. Local teachers spoke passionately about the impact that the theatre has on the lives of children and young people in their schools. BAFTA award-winning actress Cathy Tyson talked about how taking part in drama at school and attending Liverpool's Everyman Youth Theatre gave her the confidence and motivation to succeed as an actor. We got to see a technical rehearsal for the Young Community Company's production of Gargantua by Carl Grose, a brilliantly bonkers play about a monster baby and a mad scientist. In the Q and A that followed Liz Kendall MP led an informal discussion with the young members of the cast about the work they were doing.

What do we want them to know?

I asked the young people what, in this general election year, they would say to politicians of all parties about why drama and theatre mattered to them. Many young people spoke about how the pandemic had knocked their confidence, distanced them from their friends and affected their mental health and wellbeing. ‘Lockdown was awful. I don't remember much about the pandemic, but I do remember my engagement with youth theatre – it saved me’, commented one young man.

They told of how participating in youth theatre had boosted their confidence, helped them to reconnect with friends and bring them out of their shells. One young woman spoke about wanting to be a barrister and how theatre gives her the skills she will need to articulate arguments.

I was truly inspired by their passion and eloquence and reminded that young people themselves are often the best advocates for drama and theatre education.

Steve Ball is co-chair of the DTEA, an alliance of UK associations working in drama and theatre with, for and by children and young people.

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