Inspiring Stories

On the drama and dance courses at York St John we often talk to our students about impact their work will have politically and socially. How theatre and the arts are a vehicle for social justice. We are consequently always really proud when our amazing students go on and work in areas of social justice.

Here we profile three amazing female students and the impact they have had on making the changes they would like to see in the world around them.

Holly Sloan – My Converge Story

“Converge is a unique, award-winning partnership between York St John University and mental health service providers, offering educational opportunities for people in the local community who access mental health services. I was first welcomed to Converge nearly 4 years ago when I joined the Introduction to Theatre Course as a Student Volunteer.

I still remember how it felt the first time I stepped into that group. I was terrified. Eighteen-year-old me was only a few months into University life, still feeling homesick, and didn’t truly understand what mental health was. Yet there I was, stood in a circle of people more diverse than I’d ever been in before, about to participate in a session on the one thing I did understand; theatre.

Two hours later, I went home feeling totally awestruck. We had shared, laughed, and worked together. Despite our mix in ages and life experiences, our combined love of theatre brought us together and quickly dissolved my nerves. Thursday evenings became my favourite night of the week.

Volunteering with Converge shaped my three years as a student, and I completed my Drama: Education and Community degree with a performance lecture disseminating research around why Converge Students engage with theatre. I adored the co-production in Converge. As a York St John Student, I formed close bonds with the Converge Students I worked with because, in the space, we were equals. We supported and learned from each other.

After I finished my degree, I was successful in applying for the Converge Graduate Intern role, which I began in October 2018. This led to a more permanent role as an Administrator and Volunteers Coordinator. I love how varied my work is, from looking after the social media pages to organising events, being a website contributor, supporting the office coordinator, administrating The Discovery Hub and recruiting York St John Student Volunteers to participate in our courses.

Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to do something that felt meaningful. For me, working for Converge goes beyond that. Every day, I am inspired by my colleagues, by the tutors, and by the students. One year after finishing University, I feel so lucky to be at the beginning of a career I love. For me, this will never be ‘just a job’.”

Lydia Crosland – Sparking New Opportunities

“I completed my Undergraduate degree at York St John in English Literature and History which I absolutely loved. By the third year I was spending more time devising plays, acting in productions and working as a Youth Theatre Assistant at York Theatre Royal. I knew then where my passion was moving forward.

In September 2018 I started a Graduate Internship coordinating Platform: YSJ Spark Community Theatre; a partnership between York St John’s School of Performance and Media Production and Spark:York.

Platform: YSJ Spark Community Theatre is driven by a desire to provide quality theatre and arts that are accessible for all. I’m so proud of the work we’ve been able to develop in collaboration and offer because of the rich resource of talent in the student, staff and graduate community at York St John.

Spark is a vibrant location in the city centre drawing social entrepreneurs and emerging northern artists together. We’ve hosted live performances, soirees, open mic nights, exhibitions and student and community events. All have brought different people and communities together – engaging in creativity for social change.

As a young northern woman, I have been supported and given the confidence by the Drama and Theatre Department to develop and platform my creativity beyond the campus walls, push forward my deep desire for the arts to be accessible for all and to make a contribution to YSJ’s social justice mission. My next step is to start the Applied Theatre Masters at YSJ and continue to be an advocate for socially conscious and politically engaged arts practice for YSJ and the city beyond.”

Jessica Robson – When Creativity Promotes Social Change

“For the past 5 years, I‘ve had the opportunity to work on an innovative YSJU social justice project, the York St John University Prison Partnership Project run by Rachel Conlon in the Drama and Dance department. The Project is a partnership between York St John University, HMP New Hall and HMP Askham Grange; it brings together female prisoners and students, two different communities coming together to inspire creativity and promote social change.

I started my journey as an undergraduate Theatre student on the project in my third year where I formed Through the Gap Theatre Company with four other female theatre students. We co-ran theatre and singing workshops on a weekly basis on the project in prison. This is where I began to shape what my professional theatre practice is today.

As a student, I was intrigued by this world of theatre in prisons – a new and unknown creative territory to me. I was drawn to making work with women as collaborators in prison where they were the experts of their own powerful and hard-hitting stories and we were emerging as experts in theatre-making. Together we united to form two performances, one for a mainstream theatre audience that challenged the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding women in the criminal justice system and a performance where we performed alongside the women we had worked with, where they were granted ‘release on temporary license’ to leave the prison which enabled them to perform on campus to a university audience. This moment was powerful and life-affirming, it solidified the journey I would undertake as a theatre maker and drama facilitator. The ability to enable women to be creative and make discoveries and re-imagine new identities and talents beyond prison release in a creative process together. This felt empowering for both me as a student and for the women.

Upon completing my undergraduate course, I immediately started a master’s in Applied Theatre to enable me to further my work on the York St John University Prison Partnership Project. This created many real-world, professional opportunities for me where I was able to experience on the ground workings of a prison context and work alongside world-leading creative industry professionals. Upon completing my master’s programme I was successful in being appointed to the graduate internship for the project, which led to me being employed as a practitioner.

I am now employed as a drama practitioner by the York St John University Prison Partnership Project where I run weekly drama groups in prison and in the community. Here, I share my theatre skills and learning of the criminal justice system with new YSJU students who come onto the project as part of their work placement on the degree course. It is fantastic to feel that I can now impart my learning and knowledge to other students as they embark on their degrees here at YSJU.

The journey I have undergone with the women, prison and theatre staff has been life changing and opened my mind to wider possibilities which has exceeded the initial expectations I had when I first started as a student at university. I am clear about my career moving forward, excited by the possibilities ahead and social justice will be forevermore at the heart of my theatre-making.”

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