The topic that came in from the cold

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Teenage suicide is the topic for a series of drama workshops being run in tandem with performances in Edinburgh, Fife and Inverness of Chatroom, written by the award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh.

The dark and humorous tale of malicious intent in the information age explores the challenging subjects of teenage depression, bullying and the risk of suicide through the stories of six young people caught up in the murky world of an internet chatroom.

The Lyceum Youth Theatre, Behind the Scenes Youth Theatre and Out of Eden Youth Theatre had all scheduled the play and Lucy Vaughan, the head of education at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, secured pound;13,000 from the Scottish Executive's Choose Life fund to develop an outreach programme.

Running now until June, it gives young people a chance to see the play and take part in workshops to explore the issues raised.

Xana Maclean, the director of the LYT production, is leading the workshops.

"We hope to give young people a perspective on their own feelings, showing that you can talk to other people about problems as well as sticking up for yourself," she says.

The two-hour workshops for schools and youth groups are designed for about 20 participants a time and are issue-based. "But we will be balancing issues with learning about the dynamics of theatre," she says. "How, for example, do you present a chatroom on a stage? What dramatic conventions can be used?

"We'll use drama exercises and games but the sessions are not meant to be confessional. This is not drama therapy.

"The workshops will be serious and fun, ending on a definite high note."

Ms Maclean, who graduated from Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh two years ago, says she realised as a student that education was integral to theatre. "Young people get more out of theatre if they're involved and not just passive spectators.

"The workshops are about breaking down barriers, building audiences and are a fun way to learn and develop as a person. We will not be didactic, but explorative, participatory and celebratory.

"Young people are very adept at saying what they think if you give them a safe platform to open up. Our aim is to get them to say and do what they want, rather than what they think they should be saying or doing."

The Choose Life programme aims to improve mental well-being, raise awareness about suicide prevention and reduce Scotland's suicide rate.

Caroline Farquhar, who is in charge of implementing it, welcomes the youth theatre project.

"We're delighted to support this initiative, which encourages young people to talk in an open, constructive and supported way about their feelings and helps them identify where and from whom they can safely seek help," she says. "This work gives a profile to suicide prevention in an innovative and engaging way."

The three productions of the play will be seen by an estimated 1,000 young people, in public performances and schools, and 200-300 will attend the workshops.

"This is the Lyceum's first bespoke outreach programme," says Ms Vaughan.

"The Choose Life programme ties in absolutely with the play, which is about the internet and isolation, about people sitting on their own but communicating with each other.

"We are addressing this isolation and separateness in both the production and workshops, using one of the most ancient forms of communication - drama."

Public performances of Chatroom will run at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, June 7-11 as part of the NT Shell Connections Festival.Workshops places are filling rapidly. Contact Lucy Vaughan, Royal Lyceum, tel 0131 248 4838, email

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