Birmingham youth theatre ready for new chapter after battling back from brink

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It’s a company with a rich 35-year history and 250 members at its peak, but which nearly didn’t have a future

An inspirational Birmingham youth theatre is looking to a brighter future after battling back from the brink.

Covid almost wiped out Stage2 but now it’s growing again, with a new generation of youngsters to follow in the footsteps of famous members including Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill, Lauren Crace from EastEnders and Paul Ready from Motherland.

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It’s a company with a rich 35-year history and 250 members at its peak, but which nearly didn’t have a future. Covid reduced the membership to only 17 and, while it carried on online, there were conversations about whether it could keep going. But it has battled back to 100 members, with a new enthusiastic young artistic director and a new stable home.

Since Covid, Stage2 has staged three five-star and award-winning productions at the Crescent Theatre, including Lord of the Flies and Lighting the Way, on climate change. Members are writing the next one on the subject of identity.

2022 production of Lighting the Way2022 production of Lighting the Way
2022 production of Lighting the Way | Stage2

What is Stage2?

Founded by Liz Light in 1988 at MAC, and having moved to several bases throughout the city, Stage2 now has sessions every Sunday at Queensbridge School in Moseley. Liz still oversees admin while the sessions are run by a former member, drama school graduate and performing arts lecturer Rosie Nisbet, 26.

Members can work for LAMDA exams, go on theatre outings, foreign exchanges and residential trips – to the Edinburgh Fringe last month – and take part in summer schools. They can learn sound and lighting skills and how to build sets and make costumes, and how to be leaders.

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Can anyone join?

Yes – no-one is turned away. There are no auditions and no waiting list, so everyone from seven to 21 can join, including those with special needs and disabilities. More than a third of the current members have challenges, from autism to hearing loss. There are no financial barriers either, with full and part subsidies helping out families as the need arises. An annual subsidy fund of £13,000 contributes towards tuition fees of £175 a term and even travel, trips and tickets.

Khalid Daley in the title role in Stage2's James and the Giant PeachKhalid Daley in the title role in Stage2's James and the Giant Peach
Khalid Daley in the title role in Stage2's James and the Giant Peach | stage2

Does everyone have to act?

There are plenty of other skills to learn from sound and lighting to building sets and making costumes. And members grow in confidence as they learn about commitment and teamwork.

Conor Woodman, author and presenter of TV’s Around the World in 80 Trades, says: “Stage2 wasn’t just great fun, it also taught me how to communicate clearly and confidently in front of an audience, something that has helped me throughout my career.”

Rosie says: “We ask the kids to turn up, try hard and be nice.”

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What do members say about Stage2?

When Arthur Darvill, best known for playing Rory in Doctor Who, won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for Oklahoma earlier this year, he made a point of mentioning the people who got him started. He said: “I went to an amazing youth theatre in Birmingham called Stage2 and I have a lot to thank them for.”

Paul Ready, who plays put-upon Kevin in Motherland and a spy in the new Netflix film Heart of Stone, says: “If I hadn’t gone to Stage2 I wouldn’t be an actor today. I learned about being part of something bigger than myself – a cast, a play, an idea.”

Award-winning performance poet Ella Otomewo says: “Stage2 encourages young people to be bold, kind, creative and collaborative.”

Amaka Okafor, star of the Take That film Greatest Days, says: “Stage2 turned things around for me. It gave me a voice and taught me how to channel my creative energy.”

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Khalid Daley was subsidised throughout his time at Stage2 and went on to star in the West End cast of Hamilton. He says: “I wouldn’t be living my dream if it wasn’t for all the support Stage2 gave me when I was younger. This life was not an option for boys like me – except for with Stage2. It’s where I made friends, gained confidence and made incredible memories.”

How do you join?

A new term starts on September 17. For more information, go to stage2.org or ring 07951 122932.

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