I have now moved out of London after 3 years of on-and-off residence. The transition feels really fresh: friends, family, work, gigs, studying and training… so much life still up in the air.
One story in particular has to be shared now, because its community in Haringey needs support -and since I’m not there to physically contribute, I am hoping to inspire you readers to do so!
I joined Collage Voices in 2020. I had just moved to London in the middle of the pandemic, and I felt quite lost. I remember everyone around me was struggling, and life in the big city was hardly the exciting experience full of opportunities I had expected. With the exception of this group of people!
Collage Voices offered Drama classes on Saturdays for very affordable prices, and gave me the opportunity to improve performance skills and connect with an amazing group of students and tutors. I traveled on the District Line from Elm Park (after a 15 mins walk to the station), changed train twice to get to Wood green -the trip easily got longer then the time I spent in class! Still it made perfect sense to me, I needed that community like fresh water. The classes challenged me, pushed me, made me grow and kept me sane at an insane time.
Today Collage Voices has a weekend + weekday program, offering accessible high-standard performing, creative and media training with tutors from the professional industry on weekends, and engaging with the local community through a variety of projects during the week, –offering platforms for voices that are not traditionally heard, and bringing their stories to a wider public. Find out more about their current projects here!
I look back with huge gratitude at Steve Medlin, Che Walker, Andy Moustras and the whole team at Voices, for keeping such a space open and alive, like a lighthouse during some scary times. I have since then been supported by Collage in a variety of ways: from recording one of my pieces for cello and voice, Heron with the guidance and production of music tutor Tony Mahama, to using the Mc Queens Space for small listening parties last year, trying out new songs for friends and supporters, to attending amazing shows all around London at affordable prices.
I also had some opportunities to give back (not enough!) thanks to the Revolution nights (flyers below!), when we gather to offer song, scenes and poetry to raise funds for the Kieran Taylor Scholarship Fund, supporting young performing artists in need through small and fast emergency grants.
SOOO speaking of fundraisers:
this Sunday, December 3rd, will be a special night -the first big event for Collage Voices’ SAVE OUR THEATRE Campaign.
I would normally be performing, but since I’m away I am supporting by writing and advertising!
To secure yourself a fabulous night, get your tickets and support this amazing community: click HERE
The Voices community has also organized an AUCTION on Jumblebee: you’ll find unique creative gifts just in time for Christmas -the gains will go support the Save Our theatre campaign 😀
During my last week in London I had the exciting opportunity to meet with Celia Greenwood, one of the drama teachers of Collage Voices’ community, and find out more about her work with young people as a performing arts tutor.
It’s quite an extraordinary story and it starts around 45 years ago, so buckle up!
Back in the mid 1970s Celia was working as a Drama teacher in a comprehensive school in Camden, with a strong arts curriculum, but noticed that despite great focus and talent the students struggled to access professional training. Academies justified rejections saying the students spoke with an accent, or were not prepared on technique.
A dance student was told by the Royal Ballet School how much they appreciated her work, but that they couldn’t accept her because she had not done any ballet. If she could get some ballet training, whey would consider her. This inspired Celia to set up classes to support students towards their auditions.
ED Berman, founder of Inter-Action -a creative organization which was active in Kentish Town (find out more here) offered the spaces and helped securing funds to start an affordable performing arts scheme: Celia founded the Weekend Arts College in 1978, with the aim of preparing young performers aged 16+ to access professional training, by focusing on technique and discipline.
The program was developed on 2 levels so that both beginners and more advanced students could join, and grew into a drama, dance and jazz music scheme. It later saw the start of the youth theatre company Fusion, and of the London Fusion Orchestra, so that the students would have opportunities to perform, and expanded into a Junior Wac, for younger people aged 5 to 14, with a wider focus on creative skills.
Listening back to our conversation the amount of projects Celia described in less than an hour feels like a river overflowing. Her story was so rich in facts and anecdotes, it is hard to choose what to report here! This one time, she received a call from the school of one of WAC’s dance students, from the most advanced class. He had been suspended from school, and they asked Celia to suspend him from dance as well. They felt that was the only way they had left, to punish him. Celia refused, and instead asked one of the dance class alumni, who was already in professional training, to go and talk to him.
This is just one story of many: the team was realizing that there were creative children the schools were failing to reach. So the WAC programs branched out into holiday camps, evening classes and a variety of projects, to keep young people motivated and supported.
Thanks to European funding in 1996, the team connected with schools in England, Italy and France, creating an additional program of classes in music, dance, singing ad drama for young people (16+) who had dropped out of school, and were not working, nor in training. This scheme then expanded to include 14-19 year olds.
The program saw a new development when the Free School scheme came on the scene. Quoting Celia:
“There’s a new scheme called free schools. And apparently anybody can open a school.
So why don’t we own the school?
(Before then) we were limping from project to project. (…) you were never able to say to a 14 year old, “we got you till you’re 19 -you don’t have to panic about anything, we got you”.“
…I loove this bit: “why don’t we own the school?” Jumping out of the frame and creating a whole new dimension! Makes me wanna dance and stomp around the house 🙂
The Free School at WAC started in 2014.
Meanwhile, the team realized that although students were now accessing academic training, they often found the courses alienating. The curricula and staff didn’t represent their stories, nor their heritage or background. Responding to these concerns the team created a Foundation degree, which then became a Trinity-Approved Diploma Course: the students could then get professional training directly at WAC, which included equally western and non-western art forms.
“Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists; it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.” George Dei
Things have changed again since then, and around 2019 part of the WAC teachers and students community, including Celia, left that school and started Collage Voices (part of Collage Arts) in Wood Green.
It seems to me that the community of artists and educators around Celia, at WAC first, and now at Collage Voices, has never “gotten comfortable”: always receptive to the communities around them, to the students, constantly adjusting the aim, thinking out of the box, welcoming new ideas, listening -a deep, attentive listening that makes you realize you’ve got important things to say… and there’s someone out there who wants to hear them!
I feel so grateful to be part of this community, and even from afar I will keep supporting the Voices family as best I can.
So I hope I inspired you to do the same! And to go have a fantastic night out this Sunday, and support this fantastic cause 🙂
Fundraiser on gofund me -so you can support from anywhere in the world…
…and the Auction on Jumblebee!
At a time when so much of inhumane is going on, let’s huddle up with our communities of change and resistance…let’s not not forget we can always make a difference, take a stand.
Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.
Resistance and change often begin in art.
Ursula K Le Guin
Pics below are from the Non una di meno march in Rome, when this November 25th 500000 of us walked, sang and danced from Circo Massimo to San Giovanni for gender equality, against gender violence and all colonizations and occupations -including the one currently happening in Gaza.