Engaging theatre

Engage, the Theatre Royal Bath’s adult participation programme for those aged over 18, continues a long history of community participation at the theatre. Emma Clegg finds out more about the groups and two forthcoming performances.

Last autumn saw the return of the Theatre Royal’s Engage programme with the creation of four new groups, each offering the opportunity for individuals to connect with people and create space to discover.
The Theatre Royal’s ongoing work in the community builds on the previous success of Engage, founded in 2010 and funded by the Beryl Billings Charitable Trust, and last year’s Elevate Festival, which celebrated community theatre by showcasing local talent in a 15-day event at the Theatre Royal in March 2023.

The four groups, which were designed to run for eight weeks, are Engage Acting, Engage Elders, Engage Community Theatre Group and Engage Together. Acting is open to anyone over 18; and Elders is a gentler approach to theatre making, designed for those over 65. Community Theatre Groups is a collaborative project with Creative Twerton – who work in the local community (focusing on Twerton and Whiteway) to develop confidence in existing skills – and the award-winning Kilter Theatre company; and Together, a partnership between the Theatre Royal’s Engage and Achieve Together, one of the UK’s leading providers of support for people with learning disabilities, autism, PMLD (profound and multiple learning disability), deafness, hearing loss and associated complex needs.

The two upcoming productions from these workshops include Engage Together’s The Seven Deadly Sins on 5 July. The production, inspired by Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, takes place in the Egg, the most accessible of the theatre’s performance spaces. Led by theatre director Sophie Cottle, The Seven Deadly Sins was chosen by the group of 12 participants who worked together to decide on the direction of the script, with content informed by what individuals wanted to include. For example, the designer Alice Sales is incorporating costume designs drawn by the cast, in their final show costumes. The participants attend the Educational Day Services care provision run by Achieve Together, where individuals have different and complex needs. In response to this, the show offers different ways for the cast to be involved – there is a core cast who are on stage all of the time, and an ensemble cast joining in with group scenes.

Shane Long from the cast of The Seven Deadly Sins

In this production the theatre space is adjusted to make it accessible for participants. A key element is lighting, because often off stage it is quite dark and people are looking out for cues, so they need to be able to see other people’s faces, and to see hand signs if they sign.

Katherine Lazare, Head of Community Engagement, says, “Having that interpretation in place is important. The theatre terminology is quite nuanced sometimes and so we benefit from having British Sign Language interpreter Paul Mancini – he understands what we mean by ‘downstage left’ and can help communicate that to the participants. We also want the process to be accessible and enjoyable.”

As a Deaf-centred workshop, some participants can hear a little and the majority are completely deaf. Because of this a sound designer Joseff Harris explores what sort of sounds the participants respond to, whether that’s different vibrations or base sounds. He will creates a design that resonates with some participants, also creating a sound atmosphere for the hearing audience.
The other production on 20-22 June is Engage Acting’s Love and Information by Caryl Churchill, which has 27 actors, 57 scenes and more than 100 characters. Katherine describes them as a rigorous group who rehearse 1-2 times a week.

“What is amazing is the commitment everybody has”, says Katherine. “Nobody has dropped out – both shows feel like ensemble companies.”

Love and Information by Caryl Churchill, 20-22 June, Egg Theatre, 8pm; The Seven Deadly Sins, 5 July, Egg Theatre, 2pm