“As a teacher, if you read a play or take part in an activity that you know your students will love then you have to make it happen. The story exchange was one of those experiences.”

– Helen Coope, Acting Course Tutor at Northampton College, Writer & Theatre-Maker

EMPOWER Case Study : Story-Exchange

Helen Coope is a respected member of Northamptonshire’s arts community and leads the Level 3 Acting course at Northampton College. Helen’s specialism lies in contemporary theatre, script writing and community outreach performances. In addition to teaching, she is a writer, practitioner and theatre-maker. We spoke to Helen to learn more about her experiences of working with Narrative Alchemy Co-Artistic Director, Sean McGrath.

How did you first connect with Sean?

I have known Sean for a number of years and have worked with him in an acting capacity previously. Sean directed a rehearsed reading of a play, ‘Anger Management’, that I wrote and performed in at the Royal & Derngate. Since then, Sean and I have worked together on multiple projects over the years, especially at Northampton College, where he has a long-standing relationship with the Performing Arts department.

Tell us about some of the recent projects you have worked on together. Why were these chosen?

Sean and his team create applied theatre pieces to take out into the community and Northampton College has booked their plays to be performed for our students. Sean has also delivered lectures to our students on managing your own theatre company. More recently, Sean invited me to take part in a story exchange experience. The collective experience was incredibly powerful so when Sean offered the story exchange workshop for students, I knew they needed it in their lives. As a teacher, if you read a play or take part in an activity that you know your students will love then you have to make it happen. The story exchange was one of those experiences.

All of our students, around 80 in total, were able to take part in the story exchange workshop. This was delivered by year group and students worked in pairs. Before the workshop, the students were briefed on the theme – Lost and Found – so that they could think of a story that they were comfortable sharing. Sean provides plenty of information and guidance in advance. He gave the students agency to make their own choices and facilitated the conditions needed so that students felt comfortable sharing their stories.

What kind of impact did you see/hear about from those who participated?

The reach beyond the workshop was huge. The story exchange facilitated discussions on topics such as toxic masculinity and mental health. If the students were working on a play, they could draw on the discussions to inform their performance. I also saw our students, who had known each other for a year already, develop a deeper level of understanding and empathy for each other following the workshop.

The power of listening to a story, and the responsibility of repeating someone else’s story, was hugely impactful for our students; they listened to each other in a completely new way, paying more attention to their peers’ words and body language. All of these skills can be applied outside of the classroom.

Importantly, our students had fun too!

Do you have plans to continue the momentum and work with Sean and the team in the future?

Northampton College has worked with Sean to deliver workshops during its industry week in October for five years and I know that the College will be planning to work with Sean again in the next academic year.

Would you recommend Sean and his team to others?

Absolutely, yes. I have already recommended Sean to other people because his work is so valuable in so many ways.


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