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Visit to the Interplay Theatre company in Armley, Leeds

This Erasmus+ project has come to an end with our last meeting, which took place in the lovely city of Leeds. It was a pleasure to visit this interesting city which is very friendly and full of kindness. It was also captivating to have the opportunity to visit the ancient city of York for a day, with its medieval streets and structures and the Jorvik Viking museum, and to be able to imagine how our ancestors lived. But the highlight was having the opportunity to visit Interplay Theatre which was a life-changing experience.

In 1984 Interplay Theatre, established in 1970, took permanent residence in a former Church Hall in Armley, and became a hub of research and development for creating sensory theatre. Additionally, Interplay Theatre provides community, theatre and film projects for the residents of West Leeds. It has storytelling at its core, and they believe that everyone has a story to tell through different mediums, such as film, theatre, drama and music. They have also created a community hub for emerging artists and a programme of diverse events and performances for local audiences. Steve Byrne, the Creative Director of Interplay Theatre which we have been working with for the last three years through an Erasmus+ programme, invited us to visit the theatre on the 12th of July. And what an experience!

In this lovely former church we got the opportunity to witness an improvisation of a group of people that were working on a project about zombies. The members of the group were of very different ages, from seven to forty one, even a devoted mother of six, Caroline Bibson, who was there improvising with her four children and whose oldest daughter, Amy-Leigh Watson, is a phenomenal story writer. When Steve asked the group to prepare for their performance, the group, as one, began their preparation with full concentration and excitement. And then, as the improvisation started, everyone transformed into their characters in a magnificent way, full of confidence and focus. You could strongly sense the atmosphere and the full concentration going on as the characters moved forward in their story, which gradually became more exciting, mysterious and unexpected. As an audience you lost track of time since the performance of the group was so focused, and the participants knew exactly what to do next as they listened carefully to their fellow actors with respect and understanding. Steve followed from the sidelines, recording and working beautifully with his group with such an attentiveness and tenderness.

It was no less interesting to have a conversation about their work after the performance, where you were able to understand Interplay Theatre’s importance for each and every participant, both personally and through the community. The group had been creating individual, short stories and short movies about their lives and experiences, as well as creating fictional new stories. Asked about what they thought creativity was, one answered: It is tied to your feelings and emotions and tied to your dreams.

As drama teachers for over twenty years we have to say that this was a breath-taking experience for us. Seeing people of such a variety of ages working so beautifully together, everyone working to their own strengths with such respect and harmony, fulfilling their dreams of creation where anything can happen. A place like Interplay Theatre should exist in every community. A place full of creativity and creative people following their dreams.

Thank you for this amazing experience and kindness!

Jóna Guðrún and Rannveig Björk

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