"People expect cancer patients to arrive with bald heads and drips," says Sally Fletcher, community director of Interplay Theatre, which works with excluded groups in Leeds. Certainly, the out-of-school 14-to-16 year olds, for whom Interplay provides a two-year, twice-weekly alternative education programme, were wary of her suggestion that they create a dance-drama production with patients from the city's St James's Hospital teenage cancer unit.
"There was some apprehension," she says. "The excluded kids were worried about being with people with cancer, and the hospital kids were worried about the excluded ones: would they be really naughty or rude?" Yet, as the half-dozen young people from each group worked together on a 12-week dance, drama and film project, they bonded.
Led by choreographer Debbie Wild, writer Ben Tagoe and film-maker Natasha Kidd, the pupils discussed their favourite books and films as a way into developing a teenage love-and-loss story, which, when it was finished, was chosen to launch the 2005 Leeds Children and Young People's Film Festival.
The project, Leeds Dances Again, like all Interplay's education work, was run by professional artists, not teachers. The intention is always to re-engage disaffected young people in learning. But this went further, says Fletcher. "The young people have forged new friendships across unusual barriers and produced an amazing performance to several hundred people."
Since its launch the piece has been performed several times in Leeds, and the group hopes to show it at other festivals in the summer.
* For future performance details see www.interplay.org