Stage performers put on a showcase of fun activities in Salford in a bid to encourage more people to go to the theatre.

Salford’s Sunday Showcase, put on by the Lowry, wowed audiences with a plethora of pop-up theatre delights which were completely free to watch.

The event was held at Ellesmere Shopping Centre in Walkden where spectators were treated to a series of immersive whimsical tales, thanks to Nottingham Handmade Theatre’s segments of Tell Us A Story.

Photo by Scarlett Mullender

Sarah Whitehead, the Lowry’s community collaborator, said the popular Salford theatre is aiming to engage more with the public.

She said: “I’ve been working with them [the Lowry] and helping them to understand and engage with local communities.

“We’ve been working with a group for the last 12 months called the Show Selectors; they are local people who don’t typically engage in the theatre for lots of different reasons.

“We are working with them to go out and explore sets or the different types of theatre, the different spaces that can take place, and to really expand our ideas of what theatre can be and what performance can be.”

Photo by Scarlett Mullender

A selection of craft activities, including ‘dress up’ and character designing, were also on offer in a bid to encourage younger children to explore their creative side.

The crown jewel of the event was arguably its host, dynamic powerhouse Nana Funk, who captivated the audience with her captivating musical theatre and dance performances.

Sarah also stressed how critical the element of inclusion in theatre is in the modern era.

She added: “We’re starting to see more how theatre is an opportunity for people to explore the reality of their lives, to be creative, to uncover skills and talents that they didn’t know they had.

“[They can] use these tools and advice to create social change.”

Yesterday’s event was the first of its kind, both in Walkden and in their shopping outlets.

The showcase utilised myriad forms of drama, including puppetry, direct audience participation and even a surprise appearance from the infamous Julia Donaldson character Stickman.

Photo by Scarlett Mullender

The reasoning behind the diversion from the typical Lowry show format was because, in the words of event coordinator Porcelain Delaney: “Although we have the theatre, there is quite a low engagement in the area, and a lot of it comes back to class, and [people thinking] ‘this isn’t for us, we don’t belong here’.

“A lot of local residents don’t believe it’s for them and we’d like to try and change that.”

With the cost-of-living crisis worsening, and an alarming plummet in entries this year to GCSE arts subjects, the work that theatre organisations such as the Lowry are doing to accommodate performance for everyone is pivotal.

Photo taken and given permission to use by Scarlett Mullender

Porcelain said: “I think particularly in a working class area, life is so hard at the minute, everyone’s struggling, there needs to be some form of escapism.

“I think theatre’s a really good way of doing that – if you don’t try it, you’ll never know!”

For many of the event’s young audience members, Salford’s Sunday Showcase may have been their first introduction to theatre.

They were kept engaged, however, by the three comedic actors of the Handmade Theatre group.

The trio, consisting of Suzy Gunn, Robyn Cain and Steven Vitale, embraced the group’s mantra of bringing ‘experiences of wonder and joy to children and communities’ by taking viewers on a non-sensical journey of performing fun.

Photo by Scarlett Mullender

Handmade Theatre actor Suzy Gunn said: “‘Tell Me A Story’ is our brand new show that we’ve created this summer; it’s interactive theatre, so we’ve got lots of joining  in!

“This show was created because we work a lot in care homes, and we work with people with dementia.

“Their stories that came out of working with them, we wanted to do something special with them, so we’ve created this show to embrace story-telling and celebrate it as an art form!

“In a group setting we’ve seen that, actually, people will become more confident. It stops the isolation, especially since COVID, people have been really isolated.

“They come together, they celebrate each other, they celebrate their lives, and they share stories.”

After the success of the showcase, there is hope that the Lowry’s Show Selectors will host future events directed at single adults in addition to children, who can sometimes be left out of family theatre settings.

Photo by Scarlett Mullender

Despite the positive work being performed by the Lowry to boost diversity within theatre, Sarah knows there is still an element of preconception associated with the arts.

She said: “I think that people think that the theatre is an elite place and only an activity for people who can afford it. It’s not, it’s for everyone and everyone can engage with it.

“Everybody can be an artist and a performer and a creator!”

Photo by Scarlett Mullender

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