So yesterday I had a lovely meeting at The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester to talk about how I might be able to work as an early years performing arts practitioner within the spaces. To be honest I was probably under prepared (really Mel? That doesn’t sound like you?!). The brief is pretty open but there were other real artists that went in before and after me with HUGE bags of stuff, proving with solid and fabulous looking evidence that they ARE artists. I had my I phone 6, some chewing gum and a socialist swagger to go with the cherry red docs. So I faced it with a killer smile and I got talking – and then talked some more. I do like a good old chin wag about me. I was half way through a particularly lengthy and fascinating description of my legendary dancing skills (the ladies at Pride can vouch for that) when it struck me how amazing and brilliant and utterly different we are at Meladrama. I am not being conceited. I really don’t know any other drama schools that offer what we do. Its not just drama. Its way way bigger than drama and here’s why:
My socialist and feminist roots are at the very heart of everything we do.
We don’t do plays that enforce gender stereotypes, instead we challenge it. And we start challenging with our youngest pupils at Little Stars going right through to the adult classes. Little boys and girls are given the same colours, same choice of roles to play – if a boy wants to be a fairy then fantastic, if a girl wants to be a dragon – fantastic. Same response for both. This myth that girls and women are not equal to boys and men is challenged at each class I teach, And it will be till we have equality. I want every single girl and woman that attends my classes to know her self worth, know she can achieve anything, and that brains, and compassion and creativity are far more important than the constant stream of body shaming pedalled out by our media. You won’t catch us doing ‘sexy’ dances, imitating scantily clad pop stars singing generic songs, but you will see young children dancing, celebrating being themselves in a proud, strong and powerful style. Older children and the teenagers are steered and encouraged to develop work that informs and educates them about issues that may affect them. For example the teenage class in Preston devised their own piece earlier in the year about on line bullying and the Bolton group focused on teenage binge drinking and alcohol abuse. Before that we performed in Manchester with a piece called Carefully Lost that looked at the devastating effects of child sex abuse. You might think – ‘oh why can’t they do Bugsy Malone or a nice musical‘? well here’s why – I know in my heart and soul that all the children and young people I have worked with are empowered and safer because of the knowledge and confidence they gained whilst working on those shows.
While they learn to act they also learn that there are others less fortunate and that for some people the world is a cruel and harsh and unsafe place just because of how they look, or dress or speak or identify. My student actors learn their lines and they learn compassion and understanding for all people regardless of race, heritage, religion, gender, sexuality. disability. They learn the words of the people that don’t have a voice and those words and ideas will resonate with them forever,
We don’t just teach people to act and perform. We create change and we are slowly and surely building a drama army of strong and powerful people, that are going to change the world, and if instead they decide they want to be an actor then they’ll be pretty good at that too!
Finally…I would also like to ask for your help.
The images today of the refugees drowning – in particular the image of the little Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, have distressed me to the point of physical sickness. I feel utterly ashamed to be living in such a cruel world. I don’t really censor my boy Leo, he watches the news with me and if he asks I tell him, I openly encourage discussion on numerous topics some people might think he is too young to understand. For the first time in his 7 years I can not risk him seeing the news or my facebook page, I can’t bear for him to know about those families we talked about when we were in Folkestone. I have him on film talking about why he thinks we should let people come and live here. He even offers to give his room up. Those that know me will know that I have been very ranting on facebook and de-friending anyone that has taken a negative stance on immigration when talking about the Syrian Refugees and refugees in Calais. For this reason I am in the process of collecting (hopefully a van load) of winter clothes, sleeping bags and tents to take to Calais. Please help me by following the facebook campaign a fellow actress and practitioner Becx Harrison has already started. Its not clear yet whether we will take our own van or I will collect from all the classes in Leyland, Bolton and Preston and just take to her – she is currently on her way to Calais so I can’t actually speak to her. We will be collecting goods over the next week. All the info will be on the Meladrama page as well.
We can’t bring that little boy back or any of the hundreds that are drowning and we can’t make David Cameron do what he should have done today. But we can come together and make a difference. Help each other. Be there. Restore some of our faith in humanity.