Group aims to transform lives through the power of art

by AMY FORDE

Life Act 184352-4

OPEN Minds are a performing arts organisation and registered charity based in Rotherham and have been operating in the town since 2003.

They currently rent space from ROAR and the two organisations know each other well.

However, this last year has seen some quite significant changes for Open Minds and I grabbed half an hour with Craig Roberts, strategic director of the company to find out more.

Open Minds have an impressive and varied portfolio of projects which they have brought to life including Rotherham African Drummers, Carnival, Colourscape and the Shakespeare Festival.

Indeed some of these projects have become so popular, as they word it on their website, they have become mini organisations in themselves.

One of the more popular projects which the team are currently looking to expand is Life Act, who meet every Tuesday at Westgate Chambers. This theatre group is for adults with learning, physical and hidden disabilities who perform their own totally original pieces to a variety of audiences, from a number of local schools, to council members at Riverside.

Craig Roberts and Rihannon Lister-Coburn of Open Minds

Craig describes the group which he runs with Steve Rogers as “a riot in every respect of the word. It is wonderful.”

The group co-create performances around their own very real experiences.

Although tremendous advocates for what is possible, Craig explains that their work can be quite challenging for the audience: “A big theme of the current show which we are going out with is around authority. The barriers that authority can put in place for people with disabilities, both intentionally and unintentionally.”

He explains there are some “hard messages” to be heard where the group explore what it’s like going to nightclubs, football matches and working with service providers.

Another immensely popular project is Rotherham African Drummers (RAD). Originally run by the remarkable Amy Cawthorn, the group has recently been taken over by Tongesayi Gumbo who Craig feels will bring “a new dimension” to the group who gig all over the country.

Currently there are four differently levelled classes for people to join, from beginners to advanced.

Open Minds are also looking to bring together different dance companies and performers around Rotherham to celebrate the huge variety and quality of dance within the borough.

This current project is being headed by Rhiannon Lister-Coborn and Craig tells me it will hopefully accumulate in some form of festival next year.

Rotherham African Drummers

Much of what Open Minds is about is working with different community groups around the borough, particularly around advocacy.
“Advocacy is a big thing for us. Advocacy through drama. Advocacy through performing arts is a major factor to what we do,” says Craig.

It harks back to the organisation’s original motto – Changing Lives Through the Transformative Power of the Arts.

Craig adds: “I do a huge amount of work in schools, developing cross-curricular creativity, particularly around performing arts in schools. We also do some drama clubs, drama in the curriculum and youth theatre groups.”

The particular shift which has occurred this year has been the establishment of what Craig calls Open Minds’ “sister organisation” Rotherham Underground.

They currently occupy premises on Corporation Street in Rotherham town centre, which acts as both a cinema and performance space.

Craig acts as education director at Rotherham Underground and explains the decision to make the pair sister organisations has enabled both to really focus in and expand on what they are doing.

Rotherham Underground is currently the town’s only cinema and Craig boasts that they also have the “cheapest bar in Rotherham” whilst also providing audiences with freshly cooked popcorn and fairtrade filtered coffee.

Much about Rotherham Underground is around creating a welcoming space, as Craig explains: “We want to make it that coming on your own to see a film is no different than with other people, because you are still in a community where you can share and where you can make new friends.”

Having screened films throughout the year, Craig tells me that the most popular with audiences have been stories of community struggle and overcoming. Particular favourites were Still the Enemy Within and Kes. In light of this one of their main theatrical projects run by Alice Barlett, artistic director at Rotherham Underground, is a verbatim piece of work surrounding the Battle of Orgreave.

Craig Roberts and Alice Bartlett, artistic director of the Rotherham Underground cinema 180121-6

Craig adds: “If the government weren’t going to do an inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave then it’s down to the people to do it.”

Most likely working as a pro-community cast, Rotherham Underground are looking for anyone from the mining community, ex-miners and people who were at Orgreave to get involved. If this sounds like you, you can contact Alice on email Alice@rotherhamunderground.com.

Rotherham Underground are also looking to make the space as accessible as possible. Craig says: “Being underground we need financial support to help us get a wheelchair platform on the stairs. We’ve got board members who can’t come down to the venue they are on the board of and it’s shocking.”

To find out more about Open Minds, how to support them and keep up with their work you can visit their website at http://www.openmindstheatrecompany.com/

As well as this, you can find out more about Rotherham Underground on their website http://www.rotherhamunderground.com/.

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