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A Magazine for Sheffield
A man and a woman at a workshop dance together, smiling, while a woman in the background watches and laughs happily.

SBC Theatre An insider's view: "This group knows how to get the best out of you"

Stand And Be Counted (SBC) Theatre run several groups across Yorkshire – creative empowerment programmes for people seeking sanctuary, supporting them as participants, artists and leaders. Mary Carr found out more ahead of SBC's Unplugged event for Migration Matter Festival 2024 on 19 June.

As an outsider, a new girl joining the group a few weeks ago to interview people involved in SBC Theatre, I’m aware that every member of the group has once felt like a stranger.

A warm greeting by Artistic Director Rosie Macpherson allows me to feel a stranger no longer. As group members arrive, there's an easy intimacy. Someone shares a photograph of his first niece, another their frustrations with a college course. This sets the scene for a relaxed and personal evening with a theatre group who "sit at the intersection of arts, culture and social activism."

Rosie suggests the workshop is based around the group answering the four interview questions that I had sent in advance. Starting with warming up exercises led by Nahzi Nabipour, there’s a felt sense of each other, producing much laughter. Not expecting to join in, I find myself in a place where everyone joins in and I'm so glad. At first there are six of us, then subsequently four others arrive. As someone new steps into the group, the recording is paused to welcome them. My first question to the group – How did you hear about SBC? – elicits some interesting responses.

Most members were introduced to the group by friends, although on one memorable occasion it was a stranger at a bus stop. Some joined after participating in Thea Shahrokh’s research at the University of Sheffield, which partnered with young people and community groups to support inclusion and empowerment. Others had previously joined groups that they hadn’t felt they could so easily be a part of.

The second question about motivation is paired with asking how members had benefitted from being in the group.

Varied motivation has a common theme. An interest in acting or film is expressed, while wanting to "do something fun on a Thursday night – and you get free food!" is another.

One member contributed: "I was an asylum seeker with no right to work and nothing much to do [...] In the group I found you could have a small glimpse of an idea and turn it into something that can be performed [...] This group knows how to get the best out of you."

Three people hold megaphones in the air while another holds up a fist, looking happy in a large cabaret-style events tent.

Members of SBC Theatre at Festival of the Mind 2022.

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Expressing yourself in ways that are not possible elsewhere seems like a universal benefit of being part of SBC Theatre. Acceptance and a lack of judgement is repeated too, as is getting to know new people and moving beyond language barriers.

"I feel very lucky to be part of this group. I feel like you guys are my first family, as I don’t have family here," says one person. Others speak of "learning something new, empowering and knowledge exchange, and making connections" – for example, with the British Film Institute for two of the group members.

As for favourite moments with SBC, people choose performances – Festival of Mind 2022, Young People Together at Migration Matters 2023, and transferring a short film to a theatre piece. Many mention the shadow play ‘Across Time’, which symbolically charts the universal process of migration.

"There’s a breath that everybody takes when they join the group each time and I don’t feel it anywhere else. It’s unique," says Nahzi, commenting on the joy she experiences at every SBC meeting.

The final question: How would you explain the group to other people?

"If you want a challenge and want to try something new," says one, "If you want to be a star, come to this group." Another adds, "It’s a pathway to your future."

It’s fitting to end with a single word from a group member who, when asked what the group meant to him, said: "Belonging."

"I can’t top that," said the next person in the circle. And there was emotional agreement.

Learn more

SBC Theatre's Unplugged live music and storytelling event happens on Weds 19 June as part of Migration Matters 2024 at Sidney & Matilda. Tickets are free.

Accessibility info

Sidney & Matilda is a venue made up of multiple areas. Each area has varying levels of accessibility. The venue has an accessible toilet, which has level access from The Yard. Sidney & Matilda's website has more comprehensive information about the accessibility of each area of the venue.

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