There's this theatre company based in Liverpool that work with young people both locally and nationally that have been instrumental in making me into the artist I am today. They are 20 Stories High, you may have heard of them and if you hadn't, you should make the effort to.
I had the pleasure of working for 20 Stories for 4 years of my career as part of the participation team helping to run the participatory offer in Liverpool as well as nationally whilst their shows were on tour. 20 Stories High is not just your average 'youth theatre' with the ethos of holistic support of young people embedded right at the core of the company.
I have many hilarious memories of working with the team and the young people including two incredible residentials, more broken down buses than you could ever want in a lifetime and going slightly loopy on a 24 hour cycle challenge to raise funds for the charity - and that doesn't include any of the artistic work we did!
It's fair to say 20 Stories High do things differently: a true manifestation of community arts practice that creates work for, with, by and about the young people of Liverpool and beyond. Each show created, be it youth theatre or professional tour, always starts from truths graciously shared by the young people engaged with the company and they've been pioneers in employing and paying young people in professional work too. But it is their complete and utter dedication to increasing diversity within the arts that has had them recognised on a nationwide scale.
This year marks the companies 10th year changing lives of young people across the UK and they recently marked the occasion with a wonderful two night stint at The Everyman with a new show: The Elasticated Sound System - a collaboration between their youth theatre and young actors that was a pumping musical journey that left the audience in the only place possible after a 20 Stories show: up on their feet dancing in the aisles and on the stage (told you they were unique). The show was followed by a legendary 20 Stories post-show jam, gorge food, choons and dancing.
I'm delighted to still be working with the company on a freelance basis and will be delivering an open workshop for them next week and then will be on North West tour as company manager for HEADZ - a collection of gritty, urban monologues written by Co-Artistic Director Keith Saha.
So HAPPY BIRTHDAY 20 Stories High and thank you to Co-Artistic Directors Julia Samuels and Keith Saha and the rest of the team and young people for giving me four incredible years and inspiring and teaching me more about the world and the arts than you could ever know... yous are all BOSS :)
HEADZ tours to schools and non-arts venues in the North West in October. Find out more HERE.
20 Stories High's next national tour, I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip, kicks off in early 2017 premiering at Contact, Manchester - keep an eye on their website for more info.
20 Stories is part of the Arts Council National Portfolio of funded arts organisations. Their work is also supported by local authority and numerous trust funds. This year the charity has set an aim of raising £10k to help them continue to offer life-changing opportunities to the young people of Liverpool and beyond. If you wish to donate or simply find out more click HERE.