C.A.S.T Academy Takes Young People On A Journey Of Creativity

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Over 100 pupils with special educational needs and disabilities have engaged in exhilarating creative and artistic educational opportunities, thanks to a ground-breaking project which was between three special schools and Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Services For Young People.

The Creative Arts Special Theatre Academy (C.A.S.T.), which is supported by partners in the Council’s Cultural Services department, endeavours to develop the behaviour, self-belief and learning ability of pupils.

Professional specialist artists worked alongside teachers to produce a final production entitled ‘The Journey’ – which is a tale of a group of children from a dreary and arid world who stumble upon three magical doors which open to worlds of colour, light and sound.

The production was performed by the young people at the Muni, in Pontypridd. There was also an additional exhibition of pupils’ work which was described as ‘exemplary’.

Now in its second year, the innovate C.A.S.T. project continues to go from strength to strength and is having an undeviating and encouraging effect on the lives of young people with special needs throughout Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Councillor Eudine Hanagan, Rhondda Cynon Taf Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, officially opened the exhibition, which was attended by key delegates from the local authority, school improvement services, NHS, the Arts sector and disability support organisations from across Wales.

This year, the project grew to incorporate new learning opportunities such as theatrical make-up, technical theatre and front-of-house duties.

Young people from Key Stage 4 and above benefited from these fresh opportunities with the view that pupils would get authentic, on-the-job experience working alongside industry professionals as well as being able to obtain the benefits of being given greater responsibility in making the show a success.

The motto “I choose not to place Dis – in my ability” is at the heart of all project activity.

This sentiment was echoed in a closing speech by guest speaker, Sara Pickard, Project Participation Officer for Mencap Cymru. Sara, a person with Down’s Syndrome, has a fanatical background and awareness in the Arts, having performed many times with HiJinx, one of Wales’s leading professional inclusive theatre companies.

Earlier this year, some of the C.A.S.T. Academy pupils were invited to perform at the LINKS Co-founder celebration event of best practice at Ty Dysgu.

For more information on C.A.S.T. Academy and Services for Young People Holiday Programmes for young people with additional needs and disabilities, please contact Lowri Owen on 01443 744000 or email Lowri.M.Owen2@rctcbc.gov.uk.

Below you can find Cllr Hanagan’s full speech, and Sara Pickard’s full speech.

Cllr Hanagan’s speech:

Ladies and gentlemen, may I thank you all for attending today and in doing so, demonstrating your support for a unique and stand-out project as well as the wonderful and inspiring young people who have worked so hard to showcase the work you are about to see today. 

CAST Academy stands for Creative Arts Special Theatre Academy and is a RCT education initiative and a partnership between the Services for Young People Department and Cultural Services who, in full support of this project, offered the three RCT theatres in kind and three pioneering schools: Ysgol Hen Felin, Ysgol Ty-Coch & Park Lane Special School. CAST Academy began in 2011 as a seed of an idea in that, the three schools wished to come together to work on a joint project.  Now, this project offers young people living with moderate to the most complex and profound needs regular opportunities to access a wealth of stimulating, creative and high quality arts experiences delivered by specialist artists and organisations across Wales and beyond. 

All year, young people have worked together on the themes of Colour, Light and Sound and have produced an exhibition and performance entitled ‘The Journey’ and as the title suggests today, we are invited to accompany these young people on their journey and experience the beauty inherent in the otherworldly dimensions of colour, light and sound. 

I’m sure, just at a glance, you will all agree that the standard of the work in this exhibition is simply breathtaking so as you walk around the room and view the pieces please hold in your mind and your heart that the young people created everything you will see today both here, and during the performance, and when you consider this, it will become clear how very, very hard these young people have worked to share this all with us today.

From the actors on stage to the lights and effects and film that support this production, from props, costume, music, make-up and the exhibition pieces, all have been interpreted and created by young people. 

CAST Academy employs approximately 30 artists to support young people and with the commitment of dedicated teaching staff, young people are supported within an environment that continually encourages excellence, personal goal setting, nurtures the self-confidence, self-belief and determination and most importantly, allows young people to cultivate vital friendships with children and young people from neighbouring schools and enabling them to add to their lives in the most positive sense. 

The over-riding theme and core-value of this project came from a quote by Robert M. Hensel – an American poet and activist – who has Spina Bifida. This saying is central to the ethos of CAST Academy and says –

 ‘I choose NOT to place DIS-in my ability.’

And as we look forward to today and stand in awe of each pupil’s work, let us celebrate the unique talents demonstrated by every individual young person and remember the shining ability that has spoken to us today. 

And now without further ado I am delighted to officially declare CAST Academy’s exhibition open.”

Sara Pickard’s speech:

My name is Sara Pickard. Like you all I am a number of things to different people. Daughter, sister, colleague, community councillor, friend. Sadly at times I have been described as a Down ’s Syndrome ‘sufferer’ (the only thing I suffer from is lazy journalism and attitudes).

To myself, however, I am a performer; I day dream about dancing, about appearing on the stage in the West End, appearing in a soap in the East End, singing a song on a big stage, kissing the leading man.

A famous painter once said ‘everything you can imagine is real’ and that is what art is. It is what you have done today with this amazing play, it’s what we do every time we doodle on a piece of paper, every time we sing in the shower, each dance move made and each word written or performed.

I have been involved in two touring plays with HiJinx Theatre, ‘Miss Brown to You’, where I got to kiss the leading man, and ‘Into My Own’ where I got to tell people about important issues that affect disabled people. Both were life changing events; I grew in confidence, became a better performer and person. I have been able to perform on stages from Cardiff to Caernarfon including the Millennium Centre.

It is the experience of creating art that I feel is the most important, not the performance, or the audience applause (though, that is nice). We can tell people that we have stood in front of lots of strangers and performed our best, which makes us all proud.

However my fondest memories of acting are not being on the stage, but hanging out back with my fellow actors, driving in a transit van across the country or rehearsing and creating. The friends I made, the moments between acting where we shared a joke. I hope it is those memories that you will all remember from taking part in the CAST Academy and this wonderful production. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that today’s production is called ‘journey’ because it’s the journey, and the people you take it with, not the end destination that’s important. It is through art that those of us who have trouble communicating can express themselves. Some of us might not be able to tell people how we feel, but by dancing, making music or taking pictures, people can see how we view and interact with the world. I know many of you from my work with Mencap but there you were students, to your parents, carers and siblings you were family members but today, and through the work of the CAST Academy you have shown us your true selves; amazing young people full of confidence whose story can inspire us all.

Thank you.

Related Article: Inspiring Theatre Academy Helps Special Needs Students Shine

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