Laura Horton: 'We need to hear from people who benefit from theatre'

From a homeless man to a mother who saw her son’s life transformed, a new project is collecting stories of ordinary people affected by theatre.

Laura Horton

When conversations started, during Covid-19 lockdown, about the threat of theatre closures, what struck me were the voices that weren’t being heard. The media spoke to celebrities and high profile theatre makers about the importance of theatre and though I recognise the importance of this, I think it’s vital we also hear from people who are engaged in different ways.

There are so many theatres and companies who run incredible community engagement and education programmes, so many people with interesting stories that don’t get amplification. That’s why I’m on my way up to Edinburgh to collect stories from the local community and visitors about the Fringe as part of my Theatre Stories campaign.

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I started this campaign last year as a way to evidence the impact of the industry to the Government. I was devastated by the news that my local theatre was under threat and I needed to do something that felt positive. I put a call out on social media and through press interviews, asking people to send me their positive theatre stories. I was overwhelmed by the response.

There were people like the woman whose autistic son attended a youth theatre programme; she described his experience “not lightly as life changing”. There was a man who told me his first show “took me away from myself” – he had been homeless and struggling with addiction and theatre literally turned his life around. Some stories were about theatre bars and cafes, others particular memories of shows or spaces. The tales varied enormously. I wrote some of them up for the media and the reactions were powerful. I decided to expand the project and that’s how Theatre Stories was born.

I knew there was something in this very simple idea. I’d start to collect stories from around the country about the power of theatre and amplify them. I’ve focused on finding stories through theatres and companies who run varied community outreach projects. We create accessible assets, both written and audio, to share across our website and platforms on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and then I write up specific stories for different media outlets.

The hope for this project is that we can chip away at media and public perceptions about who the performing arts are for. In the long term I also hope it encourages people who don’t think theatre is for them to get involved. It feels important now, as we begin to open up again, that we encourage, capture & share a diverse range of voices, that we keep hearing from the people who benefit from its existence.

I ordinarily attend the Fringe as a publicist, amplifying artists and running around the city with no time to think. This year I wanted to slow down and hear from the local community and beyond about the impact the festival has on them. From 23 – 27 August, in conjunction with Assembly Festival, I’ll be at the venue’s year-round theatre space, Assembly Roxy. From 12-3pm daily I’ll be inviting people to come and share their theatre stories with me in person. I’m excited to be speaking to people face-to-face, to find the time to stop and reflect about this festival and how it positively affects the city and people of Scotland. Please get in touch and share this campaign with anyone you think would like to share their stories about theatre. All tales will be sensitively handled and only shared with consent.

To book a slot to speak to Laura at The Snug Bar at Assembly Roxy from Monday 23 - Friday 27 August from 12 – 3pm please email: [email protected] For more information or to follow the project: www.theatrestories.co.uk. Twitter: @StoriesTheatre. Instagram: @theatre_stories. Facebook: TheatreStories