Winchester theatre company teaches valuable life skills

Andover Advertiser: The second workshop, at the United Church on Jewry Street. The second workshop, at the United Church on Jewry Street.

“ALL children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

One of Picasso’s famous quotes, and a mantra that sticks with Winchester’s newest additions to the creative community.

Two drama graduates from the city’s University started their own theatre company, Penny Drop, at the end of last year, and have successfully kicked off 2014 with their first wave of workshops, courses and performances – but with a difference.

Sure, they express and vocalise a particular character, mood or theme, but the aim of each workshop is not about escaping the mundane realities of everyday life, but about changing personal perspectives on self, the world that we live in, and overcoming mental issues.

They offer life skills and enable people to hone their technical ability in drama to suit everyday situations, through exercises ranging from vocal warm ups to reflective breathing sessions.

The duo, 22-year-old Chelcie Peryer-Davis and Aston Harrison, 25, met at University whilst studying drama, and performed together in their final module before graduating and moving away last year.

Penny Drop Theatre was born through their shared interest of exploring mental health at a one-off meeting towards the end of last year.

Both have since moved back to Winchester, and it’s a subject that is close to both their hearts.

Aston, a former carpenter, said: “We were looking to do another play, or move our play from our final module along and in a new direction. But then Chelcie suggested we looked at mental health.

“It was really timely for me because I had just had a really tough year at University anyway; I worked as a volunteer with the student union, ran a sports team, worked four part-time jobs and was doing my course, so I felt the pressure building and building. My nickname was the busiest man in Winchester!

“I found that every summer I went in to this depressed feeling, and I wasn’t engaging or connecting with what I wanted to do. I just couldn’t see it happening for myself. I felt isolated and lost all self belief.

“I found that the exercises we now use in our workshops helped me turn my life around. They showed me new ways of thinking, and creating new positive habits, and that’s why they are so important.”

Chelcie, who admitted she experienced low self confidence and insecurity when she started University, said she turned to counselling to get through her dark times.

“For me it was recognising that I had the courage to say ‘actually I could do with a bit of help’,” she said. “Once those thoughts start it’s easy for them to grow and develop into something worse. It’s a slippery slope, and I think that more people need to say ‘OK I could do with some help’, and people need the opportunity to do that.”

The classes, held at the United Church on Jewry Street, are aimed at 18 to 25 year-olds, but are not strictly limited to those overcoming mental difficulties, and the pair said so far there has been a real mixture.

Aston said: “People may not come for emotional reasons, but they always find a second reason to come back.

“Everybody experiences mental issues, whether they know it or not, and that’s why we say our classes are open to anyone. It’s not a piece of paper that says we only work with mental health issues, these skills and techniques can be applied to everyone.

“When I was in school my creative successes were never celebrated as much as say an English results, or a Maths one. But creative subjects are just as important and employers look for people with ideas – that’s why some people come along.

“We aren’t about celebrating one light bulb or ulrika moment, but the hard work that is put in to it and what you learn along the way.”

For more information on Penny Drop Theatre visit pennydroptheatre.co.uk.

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