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Stan About Town – Leeds Playhouse

Stan About Town – Leeds Playhouse

Words by
Stan Graham

Leeds Playhouse is a theatre opposite the bus station, right? Well, yes but it is so much more than that; it is a community hub and asset available to a diverse range of people from the ages of 5 to whatever, connecting with refugees, teachers, students, young people, older people, those with dementia, learning disabilities and the residents of parts of the city which traditionally don’t have easy access to the arts.

As a reviewer I have been to many plays staged here. Some have been brilliant and others, shall we say, not to my taste! But, hey, that is what art is all about, you experience what is presented to you and analyse it in your own way. I recently gave a production a really hard time whereas the Telegraph awarded it five stars. Needless to say I have now cancelled my subscription – or I would have done had they not had such a good crossword.

The other week I had a very pleasant hour in the Front Room Cafe at Leeds Playhouse learning about the other non-luvvie things the theatre has to offer. It is a light and airy room where you can indulge in breakfast, lunch, coffee, cake and snacks, possibly in that order, and it is open to all, Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 6.00pm, or until the show starts on performance evenings.

Leeds Playhouse has three spaces in its eye-catching building on Quarry Hill: The Quarry, The Courtyard and Bramall Rock Void, but this isn’t the only place where it carries out its work. Just round the corner in St Peter’s Square (I have always found him to be quite cool myself) above the Wardrobe pub is Playhouse 2, two floors of outreach rooms and rehearsal spaces offering community engagement opportunities.

The Playhouse, which is a registered charity, offers two broad strands of support; through Furnace, its artistic development programme, and Creative Engagement, its community arts team.

Furnace helps hundreds of artists across Yorkshire each year by providing free workshops, rehearsal space, peer support and technical guidance to enable them to explore and enhance their creativity. Among the plethora of opportunities are the Bramall Rock Void Creation Space which gives artists access to a week of free rehearsal space, Furnace Tuesdays drop-in sessions, and ‘By, For, With’, a series of free year-round workshops run by, for and with local artists – geddit?

The Playhouse’s award winning Creative Engagement team works with 12,000 people a year through Playhouse Youth, Playhouse Communities, Playhouse Older People, Playhouse Education and Theatre of Sanctuary (it became the UK’s first Theatre of Sanctuary in 2014, offering a place of safety, hospitality and support for refugees and those seeking asylum).

Among its many Creative Engagement groups are; Buzz, which offers workshops and activities for people aged 14-25 with learning difficulties; Youth Theatre, providing weekly creative sessions for 5-19 year olds; Asmarina Voices, a singing group for refugee women, and the Beautiful Octopus Club, a regular club night with music, dancing and fun, for adults with additional needs.

At last we get to people of my vintage. As you would expect from an organisation dedicated to the community, there are lots of events, activities and workshops for the over 55s – another section aimed at youngsters, then. Heydays is the largest and longest-running arts programme for older people in the UK and attracts around 200 people a week with crafts, drama, dance, creative writing and singing, all led by professional facilitators. There is also Armley Comedy Club which is designed for men of a certain age – that’s better – who fancy trying their hand at stand-up with the help of professional comedians and facilitators. With my knees I need more than a facilitator to help me stand up! Oh, it’s held in a pub, that’ll do it.

So, the next time you are near the bus station and you see the colourful new frontage of Leeds Playhouse, you will know that it is so much more than a theatre, it’s a way of life.

For all the gen and details of the shows on offer please go to https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk and follow the links.

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