As we approach the end of 2022, we have been reflecting on some of the amazing memories and achievements that we have had together this year.
We kicked off the year with two performances at the YMCA Northumberland and Gosforth Civic Theatre of FLUX, a thought-provoking show about identity, and how the pressures to fit in and meet the expectations of others, can make it difficult for young people to fully grow into their real selves and openly explore their interests and values. These shows were 12 months in the making and the first shows after the covid restrictions put a halt to live performance for our Ensemble Young Company. So it was fantastic to return with a bang and to perform for our Mortal Fools community and audiences and to see the venue spaces come to life with dynamic stage design, lighting, live music, the Mortal Fools stamp and of course reactive, appreciative, thoughtful, attentive audiences. This was a big moment and for our Ensemble Young Company, it was the first time some had EVER performed and for others, the first time back on stage since 2019. The buzz and excitement was palpable from actors and audiences alike – and it was great to be back flying the flag of high quality, co-created performance work, that sits on stage in professional venues. We are so proud of Ensemble Young Company………..and we aren’t done with FLUX! So watch this space.
“I had forgotten how exhilarating performing to actual people is! I felt really proud of everyone, and it was brilliant to see our hard work pay off.”- Maisie, Ensemble Young Company cast member discussing FLUX
My People is a great place to start! My People - four bitter-sweet, poignant film shorts from Mortal Fools’ Ensemble Young Company, following a group of young people navigating the reality of friendship in the modern world. The accompanying resource pack contains discussion prompts and activities that teachers, facilitators, youth workers, community group leaders and parents can use to support young people in exploring the themes and characters from the films. You’ll find loads more digital content too via: When This Is Over and our YouTube Channel.
We are committed to expanding our reach and throughout 2022 we have been partnering with schools and organisations and increasing our youth theatre membership. After establishing two new youth groups at the YMCA Northumberland at the end of last year, it has been inspiring to see how the young people have fully embraced the process of creating theatre, contributing their voices and experiences and have had held three performance events, Come on in, Fools Fest and Found. In a short time, group members and practitioners have built a creatively exciting environment where young people feel comfortable to share their ideas and know that they will be met with encouragement and support.
“Establishing two new Youth Theatre groups in Ashington has felt really important – both in how we have been embraced by the community there but also seeing how our work has already had a positive impact on the young people we’ve been working with.”- Kiz, CEO
In all our youth theatre groups wellbeing is a key focus (in all our work too!) and we have been working hard to create a formal structure around our practices, the PERMA wellbeing toolkit, which is helping us to be more conscious of our role in cultivating positive mental health among our youth theatre members. This has been in development since 2018 and we’ve been piloting different iterations – the “finished” version (is anything ever finished in the creative world!?), has been used in sessions, school groups since the summer and we have been training teachers and youth workers on how to use it, whilst getting their important feedback. We have found it helpful to visualise and understand the impact we are having on young people’s wellbeing, on a session-to-session basis, making it more conscious and measurable. Going forward we are really excited about the potential to use this toolkit in partnership with other organisations, to see how this approach can have a broader positive impact on the creative and charity sectors and we will be launching it more publicly in 2023.
We cannot talk about wellbeing without mentioning the continued impact of our MELVA programme, an intervention for Primary age children that helps to facilitate conversation about mental health and wellbeing in a fun and accessible way. We have been exploring how this programme can be used as a tool by the NHS and Children NE for suicide prevention and health education purposes, particularly looking at its applications for helping young people with asthma. Being awarded investment from the Kavli Trust has made a big difference, allowing us to bring this project to more schools across the UK, as well as helping us to develop our Future Ready Program to support young people with complex lives, additional educational needs, neurodivergence, and disabilities.
As an organisation we love being able to share our approach with others and foster long lasting mutually beneficial relationships. We have been working closely with law firm Muckle LLP in 2022, delivering leadership training to their staff and supporting each other's events. We are excited about what is to come from this partnership in the future, as we continue to support each other’s work. They are kindly considering gifting Melva licenses to chosen primary schools as part of their ongoing commitment to caring for and contributing to local communities. This would help to support our work even further and have a lasting positive effect on young people in the region.
Throughout this year the important work that we are doing has been recognised across the industry. Achieving highly commended in the Uniquely North East Category at the North East Charity Awards is in recognition of our bold and trailblazing approach to everything we do. We have been overwhelmed by the interest in our work from different publications and media channels and have been featured in The Stage, on BBC Look North, Head Teacher Update, Northern Insight magazine, Bdaily and High Life North helping to increase our profile, both regionally and nationally.
Being awarded NPO status by the National Arts Council is the cherry on the cake, and a testament to the difference we are making to communities across Northumberland. We are looking forward to being able to use this funding to continue increasing our impact in the coming years. This core funding enhances the security of our groups, in a challenging funding landscape and we have big ambitious plans across 2023 and beyond.
We have a lot to look forward to in 2023. As well as continuing to provide excellent quality youth theatre sessions across Northumberland we also plan to develop various full scale theatre productions, hopefully one of which will be outdoors, and various youth led events and happenings for Northumberland audiences – we can’t say much more than that, but it’s going to be SO exciting. We also have plans to take the Mortal Fools Young Company back on tour with a new iteration of FLUX, to give our young people the experience of taking professional theatre on tour, performing in different spaces with different audiences and meeting young people across the wider North.
“My all time favourite memory of Mortal Fools is in 2019 going on tour. Having my last year to do the same thing is something I can't wait for!” Mark, youth theatre member
As young people are at the core of everything we do, a long-term ambition of ours has been to give those who have experienced our work the opportunity to have an active role in the decision-making processes at Mortal Fools. In 2023 we will develop our work with our young peer facilitators, helping to build their skills, confidence and giving them the platform and tools to test their ideas. For two such young people, this starts in January with paid roles in our facilitation team working with and learning from Team Mortal Fools in action with our young groups. We have also been considering how we can integrate young people into our board of trustees so that they can have their say on the important decisions going forward; so far in 2022 this has proved difficult due to legal barriers, but we are determined to overcome that!
“I think it’s so important as an organisation focused on co-creation with young people that we have their voice around the table.”- Rachel, trustee
Another potentially important development is that we will find out if we are successful in a funding bid that would provide a new premises for our work alongside other brilliant organisations working with young people. This would be a youth hub – with various organisations providing very different offers and support for Northumberland young people. It would also include a high spec theatre, and various community spaces – we are incredibly hopeful and excited; it would be a game changer for so many young people. So cross all those fingers and toes for us!
Although we are all so excited for what the next year could bring, we found that the recent Fools Fest at YMCA Northumberland and Highfield Middle School in December, really brought home why we do what we do – it’s importance, impact and how much it means to audiences, youth theatre members, their care givers, and our team. These two events bought together communities celebrating the perspectives, creativity, and talents of young people. The storytelling and experimentation of these events invited the audience into our theatre members experiences and imaginations, as they fully embraced the journey.
To end this blog post – we will leave you with the question that our Ashington youth groups asked their audience: What is the best way to bring people together?
Answer in the comments!
Happy Holidays and I hope you all have a fantastic new year. If you can’t wait for more Mortal Fools we have some of our best moments from 2022 on our YouTube channel and we would love you to check it out.
And as always, if you are able – you can donate to support our work and young people’s provision across 2023, all donations are welcome – you can donate here as a one off or set up a regular donation too! And if you’re not able to donate –being an active part in our Mortal Fools Community, attending our events, championing what we do and sharing our digital content on social media, is equally as important and valued.
See you in 2023.
Team Mortal Fools