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Meet Marie Vickers and Russeni Fisher at London Bubble Theatre Company

12 March 2024

Meet the Locals

Imagine not having a voice. That no one is listening. This is the reality for thousands of young people that London Bubble Theatre Company aims to change with its Young Theatre Makers programme.

"We create plays that inspire young people to talk about their challenges", says thirty-year-old Russeni Fisher, who completed the programme in 2013 

Ten years on, he has welcomed his first cohort as programme leader, taking the baton from London Bubble Artistic Director (and his former course leader) Marie Vickers.

The pair share the easy confidence of actors, switching chairs to act out a joke as they explain London Bubble's impact on its performers and audiences.

The scene for our interview is a rehearsal room in London Bubble's Rotherhithe HQ – a magical warren of creative spaces, including a Wonka-esque prop workshop, which they have raided for their photoshoot.

"We create plays that inspire young people to talk about their challenges"
Russeni Fisher

Young Theatre Makers is a free nine-week programme that runs once or twice a year (depending on funding) with a cohort of up to twelve 18-25-year-olds who create and perform plays.

The unique process starts with 'foraging', where the young theatre makers visit local schools and youth groups to ask young people which topics are important to them. No idea is off-limits – a rare experience for many children.

Back at base, the cohort collates their findings to choose a performance theme. Over the following weeks, they create a play by improvising scenarios in which a central character interacts with influential people in their lives; exploring power and disempowerment experienced by young people. 

Performances are delivered as forum theatre, a style in which actors pause to ask the audience what a character could have done differently or should do next. Spectators or 'spect-actors' step into the shoes of the main character and play out their ideas alongside the actors, who are now skilled improvisers.

The audiences include the schools and youth groups who participated in the foraging exercise. Not only is this many young people's first live performance experience, it tells their personal story. 

"Sometimes their suggestions improve the character's outcome, sometimes they don't. It's an opportunity to safely explore the options they could take in real life.

"They might need to talk to a parent, and the forum theatre process gives them the words to do that," Marie explains.

Marie and Russeni are rewarded by making audiences feel seen, as well as the outcomes of the young theatre makers themselves. 

Almost 200 young theatre makers have been through the programme since 2011, gaining confidence, self-discipline, transferable skills and an introduction to the arts. Some 80% of its alumnae go on to work or higher education.

The programme attracts people from all walks of life, including those in the social care system, early school leavers, gap year students, or young people who might not have much exposure to performing arts.

Russeni, who is studying for a degree in Education Studies at the University of East London, fell into this last category.

"I was born in Jamaica," he says, " I came here when I was eight, and it turned out that theatre was my thing.

"Shout out to my dad: he took the night off work to come and see me in my first school show. I was a news anchor!"

Russeni recently took home the 2024 Drama Inspiration Award from the Music and Drama Education Awards, a proud moment for Marie.

"He has developed into a creative practitioner who understands the art of making theatre and has such care and connection with young people. I've seen him work with people in the justice system as well as looked-after children and make space for them to celebrate who they are," she says.

Likewise, Russeni is in a position to celebrate the positive outcomes of the various London Bubble programmes he has facilitated over the years – the company also works with children and older adults. He mentions one young person who joined as a selective mute and ended up confidently stage-managing a production.

There are many opportunities in London for people who can pay but not for people who can't. We want to be fully accessible, so we don't charge or audition
Marie Vickers

The Young Theatre Makers programme is free, even helping participants with travel costs. It also does not charge schools for performances.

However, like other charities, London Bubble has been hit by funding cuts and a drop in donations during the cost of living crisis.

"There are many opportunities in London for people who can pay but not for people who can't. We want to be fully accessible, so we don't charge or audition," Marie says.

On 21st March, the current Young Theatre Makers cohort will host a performance at The Shard. The story centres around Toby, a young man for whom sudden TikTok fame delivers unexpected setbacks.

The performance is part of the Big Give, a campaign that will double donations to participating arts and culture charities between 19th-26th March 2024.

Donations made between 19th-26th March will be match funded: Click to donate

Fundraising event booking details: Click here

Donate to London Bubble at any time of the year here: Click to donate

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