Champions of change

5th March 2004 at 00:00
An educational theatre company tackles a range of PHSE and citizenship issues with dramatic effects. Kevin Berry reports

At any one time CragRats ReAct theatre company can have 20 shows out on the road. "We tour throughout the UK. In fact, one team is just back from Jersey where we've been delivering a waste management project," says Lindsay Campbell.

CragRats is housed in a mill complex with its own theatre in Holmfirth - the town where the television series Last of the Summer Wine is set- on the slopes of the West Yorkshire Pennines. ReAct is the education arm of CragRats, and has been going for more than 10 years, producing more than 500 issue-led touring shows. Half a million school pupils saw a ReAct production last year.

Shows are prepared to meet a perceived need, or they can be tailored to fit a request from a school. At the company's headquarters, researchers and writers are working on a show about mental health and sexuality, while a range of other projects bubble away.

Today I'm watching ReAct showcase two new 30-minute dramas aimed at young people. Bridging the Gap looks at aspects of antisocial behaviour, and Smokin' and Tokin' is concerned with substance abuse.

"The drama makes up about 20 per cent of the learning," says Lindsay. "The story kicks things off, predisposing the young people to working in the workshop environment."

The two dramas visit subjects previously tackled by ReAct, but they have been updated to accommodate changes in the law and to refresh the content.

Both stories use abrasive language, engaging and identifiable characters and street-smart humour. Both are competently acted, but the situations explored are more important than fulfilling any theatrical ambitions.

Young audiences will be shocked when, in Smokin' and Tokin', a policeman reveals that passing a spliff to someone can be classed as supplying drugs.

A youngster is told that dealing in cannabis can still lead to a sentence of up to 14 years.

Are the days of stopping and searching over? The young characters in Bridging the Gap think so - but they are mistaken.

CragRats runs training courses for actorfacilitators who work with the creative team when the workshops are being devised.

Every ReAct show has a common theme - the raising of self-image and fulfilling potential. The company firmly believes that no one is inaccessible and it is never too late to work with anyone.

Chris Simes, the company's development manager, gives a short session on objectives. He asks an audience of youth workers, teachers and agency professionals to consider some questions: "What is the behaviour you want to change?" and "What are the gaps between your vision and reality?" The key is to make peer pressure a positive force.

His talk is instructive and perceptive, focusing on creating a "pattern change" in behaviour.

Chris suggests that learning can be retained and extended with the creation of cultural champions: selecting a group of young people and effectively training them to deliver events and projects within their own communities.

ReAct has had much experience with setting up such groups. "They will further consolidate what we do," says Chris. "The reality is that what we can do in a day session is finite, but by creating cultural champions we can leave something permanent."

Stand A430

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