‘Taking Part : Special’ by Paul Swift

Spectacle Theatre Ltd will tour a participatory theatre project ‘Taking Part: Special’ by Paul Swift, and accompanying workshops to Communities First clusters across Wales in winter and spring 2015-6.

The participatory play will be performed 45 times with 10 community workshops to an audience of over 3000 people many of whom will be first time theatre attenders. The play and workshops will be bi-lingual. There will be 10 research and development workshops in summer 2015 (300 people), one national event to promote the project in October 2015 and attendance by the company at the National Eisteddfod and Tafwyl to promote the project.

Added value to ‘Taking Part: Special’ is the creation of two apps and a film, available on line in its entirety and in workshop format (January 2016). The theme of ‘Taking Part: Special’ is changing bullying and cyber bullying behaviour. Lisa Morris Director at Llen Associates Ltd will evaluate ‘Taking Part:Special’ and it culminates with a performance in Brussels European parliament in July 2016.

This participatory project provides more ways for people to take part in high quality arts activity, and will target and reach people living in areas of acknowledged deprivation, it will promote wellbeing amongst all age groups, and strengthen partnership working between the arts sector and other relevant organisations in Wales.

The play ‘Special’ by Paul Swift is being written in English for inner city Birmingham audiences. We will create a participatory play ‘Taking Part: Special’ in Welsh and English for Welsh audiences. Spectacle is directly involved in the development of the play ‘Special’ by Paul Swift and the recognition of the differing participatory methods required in Wales has led to the proposal to create’ Taking Part: Special’.

Bullying affects achievement and victims of childhood bullying had a higher risk of poor health, poverty and problems with social relationships in adulthood. (Professor David Egan’s report at www.savethechildren.org.uk )

We have discussed the impact bullying has on wellbeing with Communities First Learning Leads across Wales, they demonstrated a strong desire to have ‘Taking Part: Special’ in their communities. We discussed participation (the agreement to work through invented and agreed fiction) engaging the audience in dilemma and character and, enabling participation during the performance and in the drama sessions continuing from the play.

Welsh Government acknowledged the need and welcomed our desire to deliver this project in Wales.

Young people in Wales say ‘they want lessons that are discussion based and involve them more centrally ‘ Generation 2000 (2014 research findings wisekids.org.uk )

‘Taking Part: Special’ will be developed separately for each area but will have at its centre the participatory play ‘Special’ and workshops. Spectacle has created anti-bullying initiatives, ‘built upon the core philosophy of the Whole School Approach: on the assumption that bullying is a systemic problem, and, by implication, an intervention must be directed at the entire school not just at individual bullies and victims’ (Smith, Schneider, Smith, & Ananiadou, 2004, p. 548)’.

‘Taking Part: Special’ is for the most vulnerable, (families living in poverty, travellers, ethnic /faith minorities, young people in care, disabled, risk of offending). We aim to work with additional support staff (in residential homes, health care systems, specialist associations supporting these groups in the schools and community). We have developed strong links across Wales with Communities First, third sector and public sector organisations in preparation for this project. We have been listening to these agencies in regard to their needs; an example is where many children arrive from outside of wales at the beginning of the autumn term ( up to thirty in one case) leading to an increase in the levels of bullying , another is where children who want to achieve , are ostracised by friends in the school, another is where the parents ‘bully’ their children to stop them from achieving, in all these cases the ‘Special ‘play and workshops has been recognised as a meaningful and innovative way to address the specific concerns.

‘Taking Part: Special’ by Spectacle Theatre Ltd will enable people to participate in high quality arts activity, it is targeted for and supported by people living in areas of acknowledged deprivation, it will promote wellbeing amongst all age groups and will promote and strengthen partnership working between the arts sector and other relevant organisations in Wales.

‘Taking Part:Special’ by Paul Swift is focussed on two characters; The two central characters of the play are both ‘special’ ; one an eleven year old girl who is a witness to bullying incident , the other a fifty year old man with special needs , whose mother is in hospital so he is being cared for by his sister. One day the man is sent to the park so ‘he isn’t in the way’ and he meets the girl who is there for a meeting arranged online. The play is bi-lingual, Welsh and English.

Taking Part : Special’ represents a radical development for the company and the writer, using magic realism combined with a participation structure to create a challenging piece of active contemporary theatre suitable for a wide range of audiences. The play will support our work with families, adult groups, young people and children.

As well as exploring new forms this project will provide professional development for 2 company members who will have an opportunity to work together as actors for the first time. In addition the company will employ an outside director / writer Paul Swift, an acknowledged expert in participatory theatre, to build the working relationship and skill set of the core team.

‘Taking Part: Special ‘supports the company’s aim of becoming more sustainable by creating a play with permanent company members, putting participatory theatre at the centre of all our community work. This production will enable us to use theatre production in repertoire instead of simple workshop drama stimuli to respond to requests for work from Community partners.

‘We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless almost inevitable part of growing up. We need to change this mind-set and acknowledge this as a serious problem ”the impact of bullying in childhood continues into adult life… more serious illnesses and a greater likelihood of being in poverty’ Dieter Wolke University of Warwick

This has been evidenced in our Community Voice Theatre project over the last two years, using the art of theatre to enable seldom heard voices to speak, often revealing damaging forms of bullying behaviour in the daily lives of people of all ages. So when we were invited to become part of EUBully, a pan European project that addresses the serious problem of bullying, we saw this as an opportunity to develop our work in a wider and more accessible way. This opportunity and our long held artistic drive to create bi-lingual theatre that involves the whole community in an accessible, participatory and inclusive in Wales, gave rise to the idea for ‘Taking Part: Special’.

We know to challenge bullying requires a whole community approach. We began by carrying out research regarding content and delivery in Communities First clusters across the whole of Wales and in schools in Birmingham; this research , in the form of active workshops with young people and adults, online research and discussion at forums , conferences and meetings in Wales . We spoke with Women’s Aid, Communities First, Sangeet Bhullar at Wisekids, youth forums, and we participated in active workshops with our European partners in England, Ireland, Romania and Greece to ensure we are working with the most reliable and current data and ideas about bullying and cyber bullying behaviour.

In particular our research suggested that people around the age of 10-13 lack understanding of the consequences of cyber bullying when using social media platforms, they lack empathy. It is for this reason that our play ‘Special’ is focussed on two characters, a young girl aged eleven and an older man with special needs. The content area of the play is aimed at people aged 10 plus. So in order to be inclusive we will create participatory workshops to enable families and children( 5 years ) to access the project.

Spectacle has experience of developing projects using the whole school approach. We undertook a European co-production with Tryater (Friesland) and took the Friesian play Geweld Nee! Transposing and translating this play into Welsh and English. This led to the highly successful anti-bullying project created in partnership with RCT Educational Welfare department, ‘Good for nothing — Dda am dim Byd’ the play was subsequently published in the welsh language.

Spectacle delivers participatory bi-lingual anti-bullying workshops into secondary and primary schools, with those at risk of offending, special schools, young offender institutes and with adults in the community in areas of poverty and deprivation and will continue as part of the projects research and development.

The ‘Taking Part:Special’ project is being created to be as inclusive and participative to all. We will target those most vulnerable groups in each community and work to remove any barriers in taking part.

Through the medium of theatre, empathetic Drama and discussion we will enable the audience to express and respond to issues that directly concern them , to share and increase their understanding of the cause and effect of those issues and then to re-evaluate their own experience. This participative approach empowers people to break through barriers (such as isolation, negative self-image) discover the enjoyment of theatre and their own creativity and reconnect to social activity and learning.

The benefits of ‘Taking Part: Special’ are

  • Access to high quality theatre experience for a wide age range. Accessible, affordable and delivered in the communities where the people live, removing transport barriers.
  • New partnerships between arts organisations, voluntary and public sector organisations involved in a positive and fun activity that addresses the concerns of the community. This will be evidenced by feedback forms, questionnaires and e- platforms.
  • A greater understanding, awareness and change in bullying and cyber bullying behaviour. This will be evidenced through the recording app and the data and feedback shared with stakeholders in Wales and Europe.
  • Development of strategies to ‘keep safe’ when using internet and social media. There will be benefit in all ages sharing experiences of how they keep safe on line, we will be encouraging adults to listen and learn from young people.
  • Accurate evidence base about the incidence of bullying and cyber bullying behaviour. This will be evidenced from the apps, feedback questionnaires and shared with stakeholders and policy makers.
  • Better digital literacy in the community through use of app and website, children and adults working together in safe participative activity.
  • Reduction to the achievement gap, more children supported by parents to remain in education. This will be evidenced through Community First partners over a longer period of time (three years).

Feedback from Spectacles participatory projects state the following to be benefits:

Skills developed in

  • Problem solving, communication skills, content creation.
  • Literacy and oracy skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening).
  • Interpersonal and intra personal skills, including communication.


  • Wellbeing
  • Empathy
  • Aspiration
  • Confidence resilience
  • A sense of belonging to a group (inclusion)
  • Trust yourself / others
  • Ability to accept individual and group responsibility
  • The ability to express feelings
  • Having serious fun!

Opportunities for

  • Parents and children learning together about digital literacy and digital citizenship
  • Breaking down of barriers to education, such as adults negative views of school leading to prevention of children achieving
  • CPD (Continued Professional Development) for teachers and auxiliary staff

Specific Benefits to ‘Taking Part; Special’

  • Opportunity to BYOD (bring your own device) which can develop behaviour and self-management with devices to access internet, this will be built in to the participatory nature of the play
  • Development of online resilience so that risks do not become harm
  • Feeling better through enjoyment

A digital record through photographs and video will be made where appropriate, outcome stars will be used to measure distance travelled and shared with participants. The project will seek to engage through an inclusive non-judgemental approach with characters, situations and issues they can identify with. We have given consideration to ‘language’ that our audiences speak and have decided to produce a bi-lingual play and workshops where participants will be free to use which language (Welsh /English) they are most comfortable in using. To ensure those that want to Take part can we will consult with partners who are based in the area where the project will be delivered, discuss spaces to perform in and run pre sessions to build audience.

We will bring our extensive expertise and skill in this field to negotiate neutral spaces where our theatre can be performed, and extend our work throughout the whole of Wales to all areas of poverty and deprivation. ‘Taking Part; Special’ will provide an opportunity for adults and children to be together in a social and artistic event promoting wellbeing. The apps and digital film will maximise the ability to access and continue Taking Part after the company has delivered the project. It is our aim that this project will become an annual project and be rolled out across wales as an example of best practice in Arts and Community engagement.

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