Making performing arts accessible in Maesgeirchen

Making performing arts accessible in Maesgeirchen

11 May 2021

Maes-G ShowZone is ready to get back to live rehearsals after the latest lockdown for their first big show. The performing arts group gives local children performance and production skills, as well as boosting their mental health during a very difficult year. Local couple Eirian and Steffie Williams-Roberts embarked on their mission to bring ShowZone back to Maesgeirchen last year, and it has gone from strength to strength despite the uncertainty caused by rapidly-changing Covid-19 restrictions and regulations.

Steffie says, “I was a member of ShowZone when I was a teenager, it was run by two local mothers and we did a show at Theatre Gwynedd every year. It’s always been a dream to bring something like this back to the Maesgeirchen estate but it isn’t easy! Opening your doors to a group like this takes a lot of work before you can even think of bringing kids on board. But because of lockdown and my wife being furloughed, we had the time to do the research, and after bumping into one of the mothers who ran the original ShowZone, we decided it was something that really needed to come back. Eventually we opened on 18th September 2020 after approaching Invest Local group MaesNi and getting some money from them as a start-up fund.”

Steffie and Eirian hold the weekly classes from 6-9pm on Friday nights in the local church, Eglwys y Groes. They charge a token amount of £1, which covers the hire costs and allows the classes to be accessible to every child on the estate. There are 28 dedicated children who attend and two young volunteers who help out at the classes, which also gives them useful experience for the future.

Their first performance took place at Eglwys y Groes on 19th December, just before new lockdown restrictions were announced, and was livestreamed on Facebook as they were unable to have a live audience. This technical element gave the children a chance to experience different aspects of staging a show. Eirian says, “We wanted that to be unique to our group as a lot of performers don’t get to see those behind the scenes roles when they’re training.” Steffie continues, “We had to set up for the Christmas show without them because of coronavirus but they were really amazed to see what was seen through the camera compared to what it looked like behind the scenes. So they got that insight into how a TV show is made, in a way, which is really important because what we want is for them to have these lifelong skills. I went to performing arts college but the A-levels I got there were what got me into university to do law, so it’s such a gate-opener to so many other things.” 

Steffie and Eirian are expanding by starting ShowZone Extraz on Wednesdays, which will allow the children to further develop performance and stage skills alongside working on short-term partnership projects. Some of their confirmed projects are Coronavirus and Me, where members will act, film and produce movies in small groups, and an educational video showing how energy works through the medium of dance. “We’ve been able to put some of our budget towards buying hand-held camcorders so they will also do the production side of it, and each team will get the experience of performing and producing.”

When they reopen for classes in May, they will jump straight into rehearsals for their next big show in Pontio’s Bryn Terfel Theatre. They have dealt with the latest lockdown by preparing individualised rehearsal packs for all the children – they received £500 from Cynefin to buy mp3 players, onto which they have uploaded each child’s selections of songs. This innovative approach helps to get around the digital divide, as not many of the children would be able to attend classes if they held them online. “It was important that they had access to their music, they could learn their songs, they could go over the dances they’d already learned, they could get familiar with the music of dances they haven’t yet learnt. We took some easter eggs around that had been donated by a local café and the parents on the doorsteps said that the children had really appreciated this, and they’d been engaging with their children on it.”

Originally planned as a summer show in July, they have pushed it back to October and expanded from one night to two partly because of audience restrictions but also to really give the children the chance to soak up the experience of performing in a real theatre. “The kids are excited to show off what they’ve been doing, and we want to do the best by them. A lot of them have never set foot in a theatre – I grew up on the estate and took things like panto trips for granted, but they don’t have that kind of thing anymore.” 

Steffie and Eirian are pulling out all the stops, and have spent lockdown sourcing costumes and jazz shoes in every colour and size from sites like eBay to make their grant money go even further – which has turned their spare bedroom into a full costume department! Another benefit of having a two-night run is that it allows parents to volunteer to help out backstage one night and still get to see their kids perform on the other night. “This type of community support and buy-in is really important for ShowZone, with parents helping get the word out and fundraising – we’re engaging as many people as we possibly can.” They are looking for funding to cover the theatre hire and show costs for this year, which they plan to make back from programme sales, adverts etc. and ringfence to pay for next year’s show, so building community relationships is key.

Underpinning ShowZone is the desire to give back to the community, and provide the estate’s children with a safe space after a difficult year that has seen many of them lose family members. While the classes and shows equip the children with real skills, opportunities and discipline (as well as being fun!), they also provide them with “a little bit of a safety net as well, so they know somebody’s watching out. So I hope we’re making a difference in more ways than one. We’ve been active in the community for many years and it’s always been said that ‘one of you alone can do a great job but when it’s two of you together, you’re unstoppable!’ ShowZone is our baby and we want to nurture it and help it grow – it’s taken over our lives but in such a positive way!”

Photos kindly provided by Maes-G ShowZone, who retain ownership of them.

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