For Art's Sake with Katherine MacAlister

Katherine MacAlister

Katherine MacAlister

First published in Focus The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Features writer. Please call me on 01865 425366

Katherine MacAlister is amazed by the results after her children enrol into Oxford Playhouse’s Beauties and Beasties workshop

While the working mother’s debate carries on unabated, the summer holidays continue relentlessly. For those of us who have run out of holiday and childcare options and exhausted all our relatives, the Oxford Playhouse children’s workshop for the week, aptly titled Beauties and Beasties, was a welcome respite.

A Play In a Week is something my children have always wanted to do yet we had never got around to, thinking it a luxury, preferring to spend the time with them myself. But as I sat in the Burton Taylor Studio on Friday afternoon, watching this small team of 7-10-year-olds performing so flawlessly, bravely and proudly, having made up the story themselves, learnt all their lines, and danced their little hearts out, I realised their time is as precious as mine, and that this week could be the start of something much bigger.

So I watched my two daughters singing, dancing and howling around the stage, as they were enchanted by the evil Big Bad Bob and hauled off to his evil kingdom, leaving one child behind to save them, armed only with a handful of magic dust and a magic ring, and I wondered where their confidence, energy and zest for life had come from. Sure, mums can fill days with play-dates and swimming and picnics, but we can’t do this.

Mezze Kalunga-Eade can. She is Oxford Playhouse’s Learning and Support Manager and hosted the Beauties and Beasties workshop, which runs from 10am-4pm.

Initially nervous, the kids were soon swept up in the excitement of it all, emerging loud and theatrical at the end of the day, and exhausted by supper time.

Mezze refuses to dumb down the productions, wanting to make them as professional as possible, which means that proper lighting, sound, costumes, routines and props are used, as well as full stage and dress rehearsals.

“The workshops are designed to give children the control and show them what they can do, in a safe and secure environment,” she explains.

So Mezze doesn’t use scripts, freeing up her young protégées from the printed word and instead allowing them to rely on their memory and, when needed, imaginations. “People ask me why I work with children, but it’s because they remind us how to have fun. I basically get to be a child every day,” she says smiling.

As for my young thespians, they got so much out of their days — their playacting having been given free rein for once — that they couldn’t quite believe their luck.

Oxford Playhouse runs theatre courses throughout the school holidays and three in-house youth companies in term time, for ages 7-10, 10-16 and 16-22. The next start on September 8. For more information visit www.oxfordplayhouse.com or call 01865 305305.

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