“We’re in Room 007 tonight…”
“I love that room !” says one of the students attending the Minerva Arts’ senior group at Kingsway campus.
Steph Meskell-Brocken has invited me to Kingsway for an update on Minerva’s progress since our blog 3 years ago , https://thechesterblog.com/2016/03/30/steph-brocken-and-minerva-arts/ as well as news about the arts groups forthcoming 10 year anniversary.
” A lot of things are similar but a lot of things have changed. ” says co founder Steph. “We had one group, the Seniors, which is based here. We had a younger group which started in 2014 and met in the city centre. When Storyhouse opened, that completely decimated us. Having a city centre presence wasn’t tenable anymore, it was pointless.
“We had already began exploring working in more rural areas, with very little for young people to do on the doorstep. In 2015 we had done a pilot in Malpas and that had gone really well. That group was growing and growing each year as the other groups were declining. In Chester theres always been competition, with Stagecoach, Theatre Train and now Storyhouse ..”
Minerva closed the city centre group and pursued a new direction, setting up a new group in Upton in September of last year. “It’s far away enough from the city centre to have its own identity as a parish” commented Steph. Meanwhile the Maplas group split due to its growing size. “We had also been doing some work in Tarvin, we started off with some holiday groups and then started doing a regular group. ” Lache also became a new area of interest. “Last year we received some funding from the Stop Loan Sharks Fund. We produced a piece of theatre that was performed at Kingsway and also Lache community centre. ” Following a positive link up with the team , a youth theatre group was set up.
“We offer that for free so its really hard work to fund. We have to keep putting in funding bids, but the performance work they’ve created has been amazing. They performed with some of our other groups at the Bandstand in July. They won the Young People’s Award at the Voluntary Awards this year. It felt really symbolic for the Lache to win it, and the community support has been amazing. We now have a group in Mollington as well .
” As with everything the different groups expand and contract at different times. Youth theatre isn’t the same as it was 15 years ago when I was moving from being a member to a worker. You dont have people willing to turn up 4 nights a week for 3 hour rehearsals. Theres a lot more stress and pressure and competition for the time and attention of young people . We’re always having to push the old ways to get the word out as well as thinking of new ways to communicate what we offer. ” Minerva also offer a regular work experience programme and have done some commissioned projects. Steph is donating the majority of her fundraising and development time to youth theatre in order to support the groups. For the first time ever, in 2020 Minerva are participating in the Erasmus project, taking a group of young people from the borough on a residential to Southern Italy.
The 10 year anniversary show will take place at Tarvin Community Centre on the 26th October. “We see it as show that wraps up the first ten years but gives us a bit of investment to kickstart the next ten. There will be a bunch of local performers, some theatre, a comedian and the headline event is Will Lang, professional working live artist and original Minerva member.” The event will include a bar and street food, plus a mini craft fair. Steph promises ” Lots of entertainment, good food and drink and a lovely night of good vibes!”
The senior group, currently developing an LGBT themed version of “A Midsummer Nights Dream” (coming Spring 2020) offered their thoughts on what Minerva meant to them. Rachel, who has been a member for 3 years said that she “really enjoyed coming to Minerva because its really relaxing. You get to meet many new people and make new friends . You get lots of new experiences , doing new things in your city and community” Her friend Lauren joined a year ago at Rachel’s suggestion: “I’m glad I joined because its made me step out of my comfort zone and its built my confidence”.
Jess, who has been a member for 6 months told us that “I really like it because its really inclusive and you get to learn lots of news skills. I enjoy acting and want to learn more.”
Of Chester, Steph says that she is cautious about expressing an opinion on the current cultural offering, with not actually living in the city.” I think what’s been really exciting is the change in food and drink scene, because food and drink venues are culture venues waiting to happen. The pot of money that has come in for the rows has some real potential in taking some interesting art and culture into some interesting spaces!”
Of her ten years at the helm of Minerva she says that it “feels a bit odd!” but ” It does feel like ten years, if I think of everything that’s happened in that period, just personally, as well as the big wide world.. I’m very proud of where we are. We’re still a tiny organisation but theres a whole bunch of people that believe in it.”
Tickets for the show available https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/minerva-arts/10th-anniversary-gala/e-elmljv