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Professional partnership and community engagement grows stronger

Children immerse themselves in creative project about the brain

Children from six east London schools descended on the University of East London to learn about the inner workings of the brain in an immersive theatre project.

Now in its third year in partnership with UEL, ‘Open Minds’ is a cross-media theatre project about the brain, helping to integrate pupils with special needs into primary and secondary schools.

The week-long project used drama, digital technology and the visual arts to cultivate young pupils understanding of brain activity and function as humans develop and grow.

The project is a collaboration between UEL’s drama, applied theatre and performance programme and educational theatre company M-SET.

M-SET artistic director, Paula Manning, said the collaboration had been hugely successful. She said, “The brain and mental health are such crucial issues and this project is a great way to creatively immerse young students into the topics practically.

“For young students with special needs, it is important that they have support to learn and understand the neurological causes of their disabilities; and it is also important to increase disability awareness amongst the wider public.

“This is the third year we have worked with UEL and we have three residencies each year. UEL students have been absolutely amazing and we even have some alumni that work for us on a permanent and freelance basis.” 

Throughout the week, school children explored issues related to disability, mental health, wellbeing and growth mindset.

As part of the week, drama, applied theatre and performance students co-facilitated and performed a short piece of theatre daily for a week.

Each day about 15 to 25 children and young people came along to watch the performance which touched on issues of bulling and challenged when starting a new school. The immersive piece gave young pupils the chance to interact with UEL students and talk about different challenges. 

Liselle Terret, co-programme leader for the drama, applied theatre and performance degree, said, “I am utterly delighted that our partnership with this important immersive and educational theatre company just grows stronger each year and has become extremely central to our first-year student learning experience.

“The partnership has been central to our Mental Wealth module. The ethos of M-SET matches our own whereby students develop their professional practice of becoming pro-active, hands-on, empathetic and considered Applied Theatre practitioners by gaining real experiences working on a real project – even as first year students.

“This is just one example of how we work with the local community in Newham, which is really important to us.”

In the same week, drama, applied theatre and performance started devising their next performance, which draws on their experiences of the dangers of stereotyping race and ethnicity that leads to discrimination but also the production is a celebration of the incredible cultural diversity of our student body. This production called You Only See Me Through Your Story will be touring secondary schools and further education colleges this March as well as being performed in our annual course EMERGENCE on 6 May which is part of the department of Music, Writing and Performance’s fUEL performance festival in May 2020.

The second and third part of the residency with M-SET will take place in May and the first week of July, culminating in a public exhibition and panel discussion on 10 July 2020 in the main theatre in USS with 150 children and young people attending as part of the symposium.