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University of Portsmouth Applied Theatre Performs for 500 School Children

larger-hopefully-1The School of Media and Performing Arts continues its commitment to the community by offering free performances in five schools throughout Portsmouth.

Students from the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries created a series of six original children’s plays that toured five schools throughout Portsmouth earlier this month. An estimated 500 schoolchildren at Ark Ayrton Academy, Meon Junior School, Beacon View Primary Academy, Fernhurst Junior School, and Wimborne Junior School watched the performances. The shows were followed by a series of interactive workshops, taught by the BA (Hons) Drama & Performance and BA (Hons) Musical Theatre students, that invited the young audience members to explore their own creativity.

Applied Theatre, according to Senior Lecturer Erika Hughes, is “really about engagement and interaction – we use performance as a way to build connections and strengthen our ties together as a community. Our students provided these schoolchildren a fantastic introduction to the University of Portsmouth, and created a bridge between our respective learning communities.”

The Applied Theatre unit has been running for well over a decade at the University, but Senior Lecturer Matt Smith notes that this work has “perhaps never been so important as it is now, in our current climate of budget cuts.  Many of these children will have never seen a play. Arts programming is frequently first on the chopping block, so our students provide something really critical for these children in terms of arts education.”

The plays themselves were initially based on the fairy-tales of Hans Christian Andersen, but students combined these base texts with current events to make them relevant to a contemporary audience.  One group created a largely non-verbal exploration of the life of a caterpillar, while another transformed Andersen’s The Story of a Mother into a piece about the refugee crisis.

Alice Rowe, a third-year student in the Musical Theatre course, describes the experience of transforming The Emperor’s New Clothes into a piece that was relevant to her all-female group:  “We have been really lucky to be able to take a classic piece of storytelling and put our own twist on it. From the outset we decided that we wanted to convert a male-dominated piece into a female only performance. We felt that this made the piece accessible, displaying a strong female lead and supporting cast. Our collaborative method of working allowed all members of cast to make this piece our own.”

Applied Theatre students will return to area schools in the autumn of 2018, but before that time they will work throughout the spring on creating a community-engaged piece of work that celebrates the life of late South African President Nelson Mandela.

If your school or community centre would like to discuss a future collaboration with the Applied Theatre unit at the University of Portsmouth, please contact Erika Hughes and Matt Smith at and

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