For the last two years, a group of local people has gathered in our Script Library over several cups of hot coffee to debate, discuss and share the plays that are being written and performed in our building. It’s an initiative we run with The Reader – a group that has been changing lives across the UK and beyond by bringing people together through great literature.
The group read a play over the course of six weeks, meeting on a weekly basis, followed by a group outing to see the play.
Bush Theatre’s Community Producer, Holly Smith and Reader Leaders, Ruksana Lad and Tatjana Damjanovic tell us how it works.
How did it start and how did you get involved?
Holly – As Community Producer at the Bush Theatre I organise all of the creative activity for the local community to get involved with.
As a new writing venue, a chance to share and talk about our work with members of our local community was an exciting opportunity. The plays we put on have a certain style to them. They are contemporary, reactionary, thought provoking and challenging. The Reading Group attracts a wide variety of people, from different ages, genders, backgrounds and interests which adds a real richness to the discussions. We have had writers and theatre producers attend the group, alongside community members who enjoy reading in their spare time and have come along just for fun.
Ruksana – I joined The Reader as a volunteer about two years ago and I have loved it from the start. I have run several groups in library and hospital settings in West London and found it to be a hugely stimulating and rewarding experience. When I was asked to help run the reading group at Bush Theatre about a year ago, I jumped at the chance. I enjoy theatre and was really curious to see how the Shared Reading model would work with a contemporary new play.
“it gives me a reason for getting out of my flat”
What do you think readers gain from attending Shared Reading at the Bush?
Ruksana – Many of our participants love the discussion and exchange of different views that happens when we read plays that are contemporary and often challenging. One reader said she “gained a lot from hearing other people’s views. It expanded her thought process.” Another said that “the most exhilarating aspects of our meetings is the exchange of views.” I think this has got something to do with the contemporary nature of plays that the Bush put on.
Tatjana – There are many things readers gain from coming to the group. One person said “it gives me a reason for getting out of my flat” and always provides her “with company, ‘food for thought’ and it’s free.” Another said “I have enjoyed hearing the plays being read out loud, in the group and then comparing the experience with how the play sounds and is performed in a live performance.” Paying such close attention not only to the text but to each other as we read really gives us all the opportunity to sit more comfortably with our feelings and, sometimes, to change our minds about it in a safe space.
What have been the highlights for you?
Holly – My overall highlight of this project was when one of the elder members in our group told me that the group acted as an antidote to the loneliness she often experiences. That for me is at the heart of what a community theatre is. It’s a place for people to explore their own creativity, but it’s more than that, it’s also, sometimes, a lifeline.
Ruksana – What I’ve enjoyed seeing is how the action of sharing is present in so many different ways. There’s the Shared Reading of course, the sharing of views from group members and the sharing of the physical things like the coffee pot and the room we occupy. I’ve also found myself bumping into group members in and around Shepherds Bush quite regularly and stopping for a chat. In the past weeks I chatted to a reader on the 207 bus and another group member walking on a local street. It’s lovely to know that we are part of a community in more ways than one.
The group runs on Tuesdays, 10.30am – 12pm. It’s currently on a break and will resume in the New Year.