Our Annual Highlights for 2016/17 have arrived! See below for information about our recent work in secure settings, catch up on what our wonderful community ensemble, Staging Recovery, have been doing and learn about our new performances for staff training conferences, exploring vulnerability for a variety of staff teams.
On Saturday 10th June Geese Theatre Company reached a landmark anniversary: 30 years since the company's first rehearsal. Clark Baim, one of the founding company members and now on our Board of Trustees, shares this memory and attempts to name-check all past and present company members:
It’s throwback Saturday, friends: Celebrating 30 years of Geese Theatre Company UK. On June 10th, 1987, we had our very first rehearsal in the drama studio at the University of Warwick near Coventry, England. Thirty years later, the Company, based in Birmingham, England are going stronger than ever, leaders in the field of applied theatre in criminal justice and related settings in the UK and beyond. It’s my great joy to now be on the Board of Trustees for the Company (a registered charity), after founding the UK Company and working there until 1999.
As I see the Company move from strength to strength under the Directorship of Andy Watson, I also reflect with gratitude and amazement at the many people who have committed so much talent, service, passion and creativity to the important work of using drama as a medium for promoting positive change in individuals, in institutions and in society.
Huge credit and applause to the many people who have served in the Company over the past thirty years, including Ros Adams (current company member), Daniel Anderson (current), Mark Ball, Matthew Britton, Irene Brown, Liz Brown (current), Sally Brookes (former Director), Joe Butler, Simon Casson, Helen Cave-Smith, Andrea Cifuentes-Poseck (current), Vivienne Cole, Helen Couzens (current), Adrian Dakers, Hilary Dawson, Sue Deedigan, Alex Dower, Charlotte Drew, Katy Emck, Jackie Evans, Mark Farrall, Gavin Ferris, Bryan Foster, Camilla Gibbs, Yvonne Gregory, Katie Greenwood, Mario Guarnieri, Rosie Gunn, Kenneth Guy, Sandra Hall, Ryan Hamilton, Saul Hewish (founder member, former Director), Louise Heywood (current Director of Programmes), Victoria Lee, Mark Londesborough, Andy Marshall, Wendy Meakes, Tom Mellor, Stephen Morris, Una Morton (founder member), Alun Mountford, Jon Nicholas, Nena Nwankwo, Alison O’Connor, Daniel Pearce (current), Ian Pringle, Juliet Raynsford, Kerry Reidy (current), Mark Robinson, Simon Ruding (former Director), Rhiannon Sawyer, Emma Smallman (current), Tanya Smith, Shannon Smy (founder member), David Snook (current), Dominic Somers, Paul Stevens, Karen Sweeney, Jez Thomas, Patrick Tidmarsh (founder member), Ken Walker (founder member), Paul Wallis, Jon Watson, Lizzie Watt, Kerrie Williamson and Sarah Woodland. (I hope I haven’t left anyone out!)
Huge thanks also go to John Bergman for his inspiration and creative vision in starting Geese Theatre USA in 1980 in Iowa (later Chicago and New Hampshire) and for his ensuing work with the UK Company through the 1990s. Enormous thanks also to the dozens of ensemble members of Geese Theatre USA, who from 1980 to 1989 forged the basis of much of what was to follow. Thanks especially to USA company members Mike Bael, Dan Brown, Gift Harris, Shaun Landry, Ian Mackinnon, Jill Reinier, Scott Stevens, Ellen Stoneking, Tom Swift, Keith Whipple and the many other former members of Geese Theatre USA. Onward for another thirty!
Look out for details of our 30th anniversary events, coming up in the next few months. To support Geese Theatre Company, please email email@example.com or click here to sponsor a mask
On the 10th May 1997 my career at Geese Theatre Company began. Tony Blair’s New Labour Party had just won a landslide general election victory; Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was one of the most popular films, and R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly was at number one in the UK charts.
I had auditioned in April, was formally offered the job on 1st May and started nine days later with a week-long trip to a holiday camp in Dorset (an actual one, not what some people might call a prison!) which had been taken over by the Prince’s Trust for a residential for 400 14 – 18 year olds.
Reflecting back on the beginning of my career at Geese I realise how important the first few months were in terms of my learning about the work and about the possibilities of using theatre in criminal justice settings. It was an incredibly steep learning curve but I was also very lucky to join a small team of people who had considerable experience in this specialist area and who were keen to share their learning to aid my own development. Many of those people still work in criminal justice and related areas, including Louise Heywood, our Director of Programmes, and I am extremely grateful to them for enabling me to develop and grow in what I consider to be the most exciting, challenging and stimulating career.
As I look at my diary from 1997 it is fascinating to note how different some of the work we were doing then was in comparison to now. I seemed to spend the vast majority of my early career at Geese co-delivering Probation-led groupwork programmes all over the country. This was in the days before accredited programmes and long before Transforming Rehabilitation, when Probation Services had the freedom to develop their own interventions according to the needs of their local populations. Geese were contracted to deliver a number of sessions in approximately 15 different counties, as far afield as Cornwall and North Yorkshire. I spent much of my time travelling up and down the M6 to the three programmes centres in Staffordshire: Hanley, Tamworth and Stafford, co-delivering on CAV (Controlling Anger and Violence), OBG (Offending Behaviour Groups), and SOG (Sex Offender Groups.) Even now, when I drive past Junction 15 of the M6 I have an automatic reflex urging me to turn off and head to Hanley! I learnt so much from Probation colleagues who I co-worked alongside: how to work with resistance; how to be responsive to the needs of the group and the individuals; how to quickly and effectively build rapport; how to question and appropriately challenge. I vividly recall a two-week Violent Offender Programme which we delivered in Essex Probation. My colleague Alun Mountford (currently a psychotherapist in HMP Grendon) had devised the programme and I can still remember a number of the participants and the impact that this intense 10-day project had on some of them.
Geese Theatre Company, June 1997: Clockwise from far left - Andy Watson, Alun Mountford, Clark Baim, Hilary Dawson, Mark Farrall, Louise Heywood, Steve Morris, Mark Robinson, Irene Brown, Sally Brookes, Viv Cole
Of course, much of this Probation work has disappeared from our portfolio now. The process of accreditation brought in a ‘national curriculum’ of programmes which were to be delivered across the UK which meant that there was no room for some of the innovative, local practice that Geese devised with probation colleagues. When Transforming Rehabilitation occurred, effectively privatising probation provision, our work in that area pretty much came to an end.
Back in 1997 we were still delivering a wealth of work in the prison sector. The first prison I visited was HMP Perth, as part of a week-long tour of our resettlement performance Lifting the Weight in Scotland. This tour took in a number of prisons, most memorably HMYOI Polmont (where I recall having real difficulty understanding the accents of some of the young Glaswegian lads we worked with!) and my first introduction to the Special Unit in HMP Peterhead, a prison within a prison which as I remember housed around 12 men who were all considered to be very high-risk. I can’t remember too much about the work we did in the Special Unit but I do remember the lunch that we had, prepared by the lads, served by the lads, and eaten with the lads.
Geese is just about to turn 30 and I feel so lucky to be part of such a special organisation. Even after 20 years I still feel challenged by the work and constantly like I am learning the craft of creating effective projects in criminal justice settings. I work alongside amazing colleagues, am often humbled by participants as they contemplate the process of change, and still surprised when asked the question – but does it work? Yes it works – because our work is about people – giving people time, space, and a safe environment to contemplate their identity, their place in the world, the impact of their behaviour on themselves and others, and to rehearse potential new ways of being. And I absolutely love being a part of that.
Andy Watson, CEO/ Artistic Director
The National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance have put together a guide that provides those people with responsibility for supporting the education, health, well-being and resttlement of individuals within the criminal justice system with clear information on the role arts can play in supporting their objectives. Geese are included the Arts, Culture and Innovation in Criminal Justice Settings Guide for Commissioners, with a case study of our recent NOMS-commissioned work with prisoners vulnerable to self-harm and suicide.
Drawing on further case studies and research evidence, the guide aims to provide practical information and ideas for arts interventions and details of how to identify providers and activities that best match the needs of the commissioning organisation.
Our wonderful ensemble, Staging Recovery, are the October cover story for BVSC's Update magazine! Please click to read about their amazing work.