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Theatre Centre: 60 years young

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Two years ago, in 2011, I had the great honour to be a judge for the Brian Way Award, Theatre Centre’s annual competition to find a new, commercially produced play for young audiences which really sets the judges’ pulses racing. In our case the winner was Ghost Boy by Keith Saha, and quite a piece it is too.

I have long admired Theatre Centre’s work in producing fine plays for young audiences and doing everything possible to promote the genre through new writing – which was why I was so thrilled to be involved.

Last week I had an email from Theatre Centre’s new marketing manager, Alan Ward, who tells me that Theatre Centre celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Now that is astounding.

Back in 1953 – when Disney released Peter Pan, the first colour TVs were introduced in the US and here in the UK the new young queen was crowned – theatre for children really was in its infancy. Yet that was the year in which visionaries Brian Way and Margaret Foulkes founded Theatre Centre, which quickly went on to become the leading exponent of a writer-led programme of new theatre for young people which, for the first time, they toured to children and schools.

Over Theatre Centre’s 60 year history, it has wowed young audiences with plays by playwrights such as Lisa Evans, Noel Grieg, Jackie Kay, Mike Kenny, Michelle Lavery, Roy Williams and Benjamin Zephaniah. For many in the audience it’s a first experience of live theatre – there in their own school hall. And, in recent years, Theatre Centre has also toured venues including Birmingham Rep, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Sheffield Theatres and the Unicorn in London – where I’ve twice seen Lisa Evans’s powerful and moving four hander, The Day the Waters Came, which is about the experience of New Orleans people during Hurricane Katrina.

So what’s happening to celebrate the 60 year milestone? This month there’s to be a microsite launch, www.theatre-centre.co.uk/60, where the company promises to pull together the funny and personal stories from casts and crews (and a few famous names) over six decades.

On June 20 Theatre Centre is hosting a one day conference, Write Lines: New Writing for Young Audiences. On November 14 there will be a quasi birthday party with winners of this year’s awards and friends, colleagues and alumni.

And that’s in addition to new projects such as an 18 month partnership with Birkbeck College and ten primary schools and a partnership with Rose Bruford students to bring to life three new plays.

And – maybe the icing on the cake – Theatre Centre is producing a new Roy Williams play, Advice for the Young at Heart, in the autumn. Williams cut his teeth with Theatre Centre and has been associated with the company for 25 years from young actor to leading playwright.

So many happy returns, Theatre Centre. Here’s to the next 60 years.

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