Leeds drama group Generation Squad offers 'incredible experience' of creating stories

A Leeds drama group founded on the principle that imagination has no age limits is bringing people of all abilities together to create original performances.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 6:00 am

Generation Squad draws its membership from the local community in Seacroft as well as other areas in the city, with the focus firmly on having fun and feeling free to share ideas.

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The project holds a special significance for Fall Into Place co-director Sarah Shaw as it inspired the formation of the arts organisation that now runs a whole range of activities and training.

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Generation Squad members Emiliene Eyongakpa, Julie Jones and Aisha Ali with drama facilitator Tshayi Hercules. Picture: Tony Johnson

"It was back in 2016 and it was before we had founded a proper company," she said. "It was the first thing we did.

"I was studying creative writing but also working for a charity for older people. I was meeting all these incredible older people who had all these experiences and it was just a shame they didn't have much opportunity to interact with young people."

Sarah went on to write a script for her course and got a group of older people from communities in Leeds to perform it alongside students.

She said: "Everyone just bonded really well. At the end they said they felt like a family. It was particularly nice to see for the students, maybe away from home."

The Yorkshire Evening Post has teamed up with Leeds 2023 for Hello Leeds, a campaign celebrating the stories of communities and cultural organisations throughout the city.

With the first performance complete, members immediately began to ask what was next and it has been running ever since.

Some of those original participants are still involved, sticking with the project as it relocated two years ago to Seacroft's Kentmere Centre where Fall Into Place is now based.

While some people sought out the group because they wanted to get involved in acting and performing, perhaps for the first time, others discovered it entirely by chance.

Aisha Ali was roped into a show when she mistakenly text a picture of herself pulling an angry face to Fall Into Place co-director Naomi Roxby Wardle.

Professional actress Aisha Ali was roped into a performance at the last minute and stuck with the group for the enjoyment it brings. Picture: Tony Johnson

Previously a broadcast journalist, Aisha had begun to pursue more professional acting work after she became chronically ill. The invitation to take part in the Generation Squad production came as she was continuing rehabilitation to rebuild her physical strength.

"They needed a nutty 1920s fortune teller for a play they were putting on in four weeks," said Aisha, 42. "I thought while I'm getting back on my feet, I'll go along to this."

Almost two years later, she's still playing an active part in the group purely for the enjoyment it brings her.

She said: "I loved the people and the fact it was inter-generational. It's open to everybody. It doesn't matter what you do in your life - whether you're retired, in work or have an illness. It's inclusive, there's no egos.

Drama facilitator Tshayi Hercules has found working with the group inspiring. Picture: Tony Johnson

"Because we're playing with ideas, we get to share parts of our lives. I think that's really important for people understanding each other just in life."

Supported by the Social Enterprise Support Fund, the group ordinarily meets on Mondays but has switched to online sessions until Covid restrictions are eased.

Drama facilitator Tshayi Hercules is running the weekly sessions, which have recently included masterclasses on improvisational techniques, voice performance and storytelling.

"Just meeting the group in January and getting to know them, the main focus is about play," she said. "Just having that freedom to be creative and share ideas, and to really talk about things we want to see change. They're really interested in that and how they can do that through art and performance."

Roots is the theme being explored for the next production, with the aim being to create a radio play, online performance or outdoor show to be staged in the summer.

Julie Jones, who lives with her family in Seacroft, loves the inclusivity of the group and the rapport they have together. Picture: Tony Johnson

Tshayi added: "I'm in my early 40s and I get so much inspiration from this group. Just the level of confidence and the things they share from their personal experiences. We're like a bit of a support for one another as well."

It is that sense of community and support which is so valued by Generation Squad member Julie Jones, who lives with her family in Seacroft.

Now 50, she had met Sarah previously through another drama project and they reconnected when Fall Into Place moved to the Kentmere Centre.

She said: "It's very inclusive and the thing I thought was really nice is it's not only different ages, but people from different backgrounds. It's a nice way to meet people that you wouldn't normally meet.

"We all get on with each other. Because I've known them for quite a while, there's a good rapport. They're really understanding if there's things going on."

As someone who has always liked drama and creative writing, she added: "I think what's enjoyable is you can be all sorts of people. It's fun."

For Sarah, one of the key things to have emerged during the pandemic is how vital the arts are in building a sense of community and self-esteem.

"Arts can create a really safe space because you're creating something together," she said. "I think bringing people together to create a story that's going to connect with people and move people is an incredible experience. Just bringing people together to do that really does breakdown barriers."

Ring Sarah on 07341 254967 or email [email protected] to find out more about joining the group. Transport is available for older local residents for a small donation.

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