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The Garage's exciting new theatre initiative engages hard to reach children and young people in Norwich

  • Date: 30 August 2013
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: South East
Young people attending The Garage's Curtain Up! theatre programme Young people attending The Garage's Curtain Up! theatre programme

The Garage, a cultural venue for young people, received National Lottery funding through Grants for the arts to design and deliver a consultation programme which produced an exciting programme of professional theatre and performance for young people.


Following an interview day in September 2012, The Garage - who seek to provide opportunities for children and young people of all backgrounds - selected 10 young people to train as young peer consultants, to identify what they wanted to see and do at The Garage. They received 10 weekly training sessions and led consultations: with friends, at their school and through events at The Garage such as 'Slam Nights'. In total, the views of 90 young people were recorded.

As a result of the findings, The Garage delivered two main seasons of Curtain Up! performances in autumn 2012 and spring 2013. 12 shows were presented, including Box Clever's Time for the Good Looking Boy and French circus act Atelier Lefeuvre et Andre's 8m2, a result of The Garage's partnership with House (an Arts Council funded initiative to bring a wider range of artforms to theatre venues in the East and South East).

Each show was supported by a Q&A event, and 12 young writers took part in workshops and masterclasses with actors, directors or producers, aimed at developing new scripts for young people which could be produced by The Garage in the future.

The Garage was the first UK venue to offer 'tweetseats' to all 2013 performances, giving away a limited number of tickets to young theatre-goers on the condition that they review their experience live on Twitter.

Benefitting young people

The young people who took part in the consultation developed useful skills such as communication (87.5%), self-confidence (87.5%) and team working skills (75%), and all became more involved with The Garage as a result. They were also supported to achieve Arts Awards, with five awards being put forward for moderation as a result of the programme. 

The Curtain Up! shows had a broad reach and were attended by young people from a range of backgrounds, including deaf and hearing impaired young people and refugees, and schools and colleges.

A total of 960 people attended the shows, and audience feedback was extremely positive. Darren Grice, Director of The Garage, reports, "97% of respondents from our surveys either strongly agreed or agreed that they enjoyed the show. 97% also told us that they thought the show they watched was relevant to them. This is particularly pleasing since we broadened our programming to include families with toddlers, teenagers and young adults."

One audience member who accessed a free tweetseat tweeted: "Think I am really getting into new theatre and new shows being created. Thanks @_TheGarage!" Another wrote on their feedback card: "Watching it as a GCSE drama student, I took a lot from it, which I will take back to the classroom. But generally, it was wonderful and made you think about the main issues within the play."

Developing new audiences and a strong reputation for The Garage

The project gave The Garage the chance to experiment with new ways of attracting audiences, which resulted in increasing their reach: 56% of those completing feedback cards stated that they were attending more than one show, and 23% were attending for the first time. Grice says, "We have had the opportunity to try out new types of programming such as programming for younger audiences (which sold out and has led to us integrating work for young people and families into our future plan) and to try new ways to attract audiences such as our pizza and a show initiative. We have also been able to experiment much more with social media and how we might use it to harness the views of those attending to develop the profile of the Garage and indirectly, by adopting the tweetseats initiative early, enabled us to get unexpected national profile".

In addition to the tweetseats initiative, new partnerships which developed as a result of the project have greatly improved The Garage's profile and opened opportunities for future development. Grice says, "Pushing to secure performances from high calibre organisations such as Half Moon, Paines Plough, HighTide and those synonymous with young audiences such as Box Clever, 20 Stories High and ThickSkin has helped earn The Garage this strong reputation. This provides a fantastic platform upon which to build the future of the organisation, both in terms of programming and embedding opportunities for participation and talent development."

The Garage's work with young people was made possible by the National Lottery funded Grants for the arts award from the Arts Council. Grice says, "It is not possible, despite the many challenges faced with setting up and developing something new for audiences that are notoriously hard to engage in theatre, to consider this as anything except a fantastic achievement, made possible thanks to the support of the Arts Council, amazing artists, companies, employees and audiences."

Find out more about Grant for the arts funding.