Musical company

How Crash Bang Wallop Theater Company survived – and thrived – through lockdown

Dan Brookes, artistic director of a youth theater company, has been an inspiration to hundreds of young people in the Stokesley and Great Ayton areas. He spoke to Jan Hunter

CRASH Bang Wallop Youth Theater and Performing Arts Academy has become famous for its high caliber productions and has won numerous awards. The academy gives children aged 5 to 17 the opportunity to learn to sing, act and dance, a process which, especially for Dan, also promotes self-confidence, helping to prepare young people for adult life. .

The Youth Theater is a charity and the academy is a business, both of which have been operating successfully for 18 years. They have low subscription rates and offer installment payment systems, aiming to make the business accessible to everyone.

In 2019, he beat all comers for his production of Heights, winning Best in Area and Best Youth Production awards from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA), the charity for theater companies. amateur theatre. Individual artists have also won regional and regional NODA awards.

Locked out, Dan won a Hambleton Hero Award for his work during the pandemic, as well as being chosen as one of BBC Tees’ 50 stars. The accolades the company has received speak for themselves.

“We managed to get our own theater studios in 2011,” says Dan. “It’s made such a difference. We’ve created a space for young people where they feel safe, they can express themselves without judgement. It’s not elitist, we’re a great team and we support each other. Everyone has a chance, and while we work hard, it’s fun too.”

At school, Dan was into science, but thought he would see GCSE drama as a creative relief from other subjects. Being dyslexic he could focus on a practical subject, and after being in one of the Great Ayton pantomime he knew he would enjoy it. He decided to take the baccalaureate and came into his own when his drama teachers, including myself, challenged the group on how to stage a combination of two different plays – Bouncers, which takes place outside a nightclub, and Shakers, which was put inside.

Arrived at the Stokesley School drama studio, supported by other members of the group, he had a small model revolving stage, which included a circle of wood, a pencil and some marbles. “I think that solves the problem and we can build it,” he said.

With the go-ahead, they did, using wood to build a revolving stage, overseen by the design and technology department, and using golf balls and brute force to spin it. It was safe and it worked.

Dan taught himself other skills such as rigging and lighting design, and decided this was the career he wanted to pursue.

“Mum and dad were very supportive and I got a place at Oxford Drama School for the foundation course,” he says. “I was still acting in pantomime where I met Emma, ​​my future wife. We had both been involved in the production of Oliver at Stokesley School, and we decided to do our own version of it. We saw what the kids got out of it, and how they grew as people from the experience, so we knew it couldn’t be unique to us.”

In the same year, Dan was offered a place at Guildford School of Acting, and Emma was doing her PGCE at Durham, before moving to Guildford, and with the help of parents and many volunteers, he and Emma returned to Stokesley whenever they could. in order to maintain the group with smaller shows.

Since July 2008 when they returned to Stokesley, they have produced two shows each year, except when Covid effectively brought the performing arts to a halt.

The pandemic has brought a real challenge to the company.

“We were losing money, but we had to look at continuing for our students, giving them direction, maybe helping with mental health, so my team, Emma, ​​who is the choreographer, and Alice Carr -Smith, the Music Director, decided to rehearse and air a production of Fame, which we did in June 2021,” says Dan.

They started with Zoom rehearsals which were very tricky, and in practice rehearsals where students wore masks and visors, they had to keep social distancing at all times. They had use of East Harlsey Village Hall, where they had to build a stage and a new lighting system.

“It was so hard to pull off,” Dan says. “It was like a game of chess, moving pieces and negotiating traffic on stage, and keeping everyone safe. It was fantastic how it worked out and the excitement continued throughout. Apparently, we were the only local amateur band to do this.”

Dan admits the joy of his work is seeing how children gain confidence and have higher self-esteem. He values ​​support and encouragement, and while he rejoices in the fact that some of his students are accepted into top acting schools, it’s what happens to the individuals in his studio that he finds most rewarding.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The cast of Hairspray, performed by the Crash Bang Wallop Youth Theater

He balances Crash Bang Wallop with his full-time job at Yarm School, working both in the auditorium and with extra-curricular plays, such as directing two student productions a year and outdoor Shakespeare events. .

“Kids feel safe and supported at Crash Bang Wallop,” Dan explains, “not just by us, but by each other, which is why I think they do so well.”