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Young people on stage during their Play in a Week

The Grand Academy: Play in a Week

To celebrate #InternationalYouthDay, we’re looking back on the Grand Academy’s Play in a Week sessions that took place this week (Mon 7 – Fri 11 August 2023), which brought together sixteen young people and had them create and produce their own short play in five days.

Written by Aaron Cawood and Kate Southam

Day One

Young people on stage at City Varieties Music Hall, looking out into an empty auditorium. Credit: Kate Southam

Young people on stage at City Varieties Music Hall. Credit: Kate Southam

Monday was all about the introductions! Our young people introduced themselves before a quick warm-up of their bodies, voices, and minds.

They then had a tour of City Varieties Music Hall, learning about its history, and taking a peek backstage.

Then, whilst standing on stage – which they described as ‘nerve-wracking’ and ‘exciting’ – they learned about some of the famous faces that have performed on the world-famous stage.

After a much-needed lunch break, our young people then made some one word stories. They were asked to write down three keywords – a colour, an adjective, and something related to the theatre. These were then mixed up and handed out to the groups the young people had been put into. Now it was time for our young people to work together, putting these random words into sentences that formed the basis of their poems. After a short time rehearsing, each group was ready to perform their poem to the rest of the group.

Young people organise words written on cards to make a poem.

Young people organising their word cards to make a poem. Credit: Kate Southam

Day Two

With yesterday’s groundwork laid so well, Tuesday saw our young people diving into practical work inspired by everything they had learned the day before.

Inspired by a prepared story about the history of City Varieties, the group set out to create tableaus through which they could visualise different locations in the text.

In a story spanning from a singing room above the White Swan Inn to Thornton’s New Music Hall and Fashionable Lounge, all the way until the venue became what we know today, the young people wore many hats – literally and figuratively – to become audience members, furniture and even Harry Houdini himself.

Sarah leads an exercise to the group. Credit: Aaron Cawood

Sarah leads an exercise to the group. Credit: Aaron Cawood

After lunch, the group revisited what they had made and thought about the ways they could develop it. Once this was done, they took some time exploring soundscapes. While listening to ambient recordings inspired by the history of The Varieties, our young people pulled out elements they found interesting or surprising, so that they could apply these to their piece moving forward.

Young people pose, creating a tableau of a theatre. Credit: Aaron Cawood

Young people pose, creating a tableau of a theatre. Credit: Aaron Cawood

Day Three

Young people learn Victorian music hall songs.

Young people learn Victorian music hall songs. Credit: Kate Southam

After some quick warm-ups, focusing on teamwork, Wednesday saw our young people jump straight into rehearsing their story about City Varieties Music Hall. With a focus on details like facial expressions and spacing, they brought to life characters from the past.

They then had the opportunity to rehearse on stage, working on projecting their voices and figuring out the spacing whilst keeping safe on the stage! It was then time for some vocal warm-ups.

The young people learned several music hall classics After the Ball and Where Did You Get That Hat? before considering how they could incorporate them into their sharing on Friday. Complete with props, the young people had some excellent ideas on how to bring a physical element to their songs.

To finish up the day, our young people focused on creating a character – anyone who could go to the theatre. They considered the era they may have come from, their age, and what they enjoy going to watch. These characters will be developed as the week goes on, with our young people thinking about how they can bring these people to life.

A young people draws a character, annotating it with facts about them, including their name and age

Young person drawing their theatre character. Credit: Kate Southam

Day Four

As Thursday rolled around, the young people were continuing to develop the audience members they’d created yesterday. They introduced each of their characters to the group, culminating in a hot seat exercise where the young people were challenged to embody their character to answer questions from their peers.

While this was going on, they each took turns to record their lines for the story portion of the play, so a narration track could be created to play through their performance. After lunch, the groups cycled through an assortment of Victorian-inspired crafts, to continue to engage with the history of City Varieties.

Imogen explains the upcoming performance to a group of young people, from a large sheet of paper. Credit: Aaron Cawood

Imogen explaining the upcoming performance. Credit: Aaron Cawood

This involved making paper chains, creating model boxes to design the set for their show, illustrating and writing programmes, and designing Victorian fans for audience members to use.

Each group also took turns rehearsing their independent scenes, inspired by the poems they wrote earlier in the week. To end the day, each group shared their scenes and celebrated the progress they’d made – cheerily singing yesterday’s Where Did You Get That Hat? as they left the studio.


A group of young people perform to an audience. Credit: Aaron Cawood

One group shares their work. Credit: Aaron Cawood

Day Five

Young people piece together a paper chain, its links inscribed with what they enjoyed most over the week.

A paper chain made up of the young people's favourite part of the week, to decorate City Varieties. Credit: Kate Southam

In the final day of Play in a Week, our young people were filled with nerves and excitement ahead of their sharing in the afternoon! The morning began with some crafts, with them making a paper chain of their favourite things this week.

Particular favourites were the range of games they played, creating their characters, and making new friends.

After a quick refresher of their characters, thinking about how they could visually represent them, we headed back over to City Varieties to begin rehearsals.

Our young people have done amazingly with remembering their roles, cues, and lines. It was especially exciting for them to be able to run through their whole production, complete with props and staging!

As the end of the day rolled around, the audience took their places in the auditorium, the young people positively vibrating with excitement. Friends and family watched the prepared songs, scenes, poems, and hot seating.

Everyone performed fantastically, and we couldn’t be more proud of all the hard work our young people have put in.  It has been fantastic seeing everyone work so hard, engaging in each activity and bringing together a fantastic performance.

Young people stand and sit on the stage at City Varieties Music Hall, Imogen standing opposite them

Imogen gives the young people a pep talk during their final rehearsals. Credit: Kate Southam

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