Lisa Worth, a new feature writer for Nerve, describes the work of MAD (Merseyside Academy of Drama) since it was formed in 2009.
Hope Street, the cultural heart of Liverpool, is the home of MAD (Merseyside Academy of Drama). It stares the Grand-daddy of Liverpool theatre, the Everyman, square in the eye, and was the initiative of Sam Donovan and Nick Rogers.
Set up in 2009, MAD offers drama workshops to adults who are not necessarily looking to act professionally, but nonetheless want to explore their own potential.
But its value extends beyond perfecting acting technique, and I asked members about their experience.
Phil McNamara’s cool confidence belies his earlier inner conflict.
He said: “I first came to MAD to help me with social anxiety. It took me ten weeks of feeling sick at the start of every session, before I could get up in front of people. But it was a personal battle that I had to fight.”
That was 2 years ago, and since then Phil has appeared in numerous public performances.
His story is not unusual.
Nathan Topping freely admits that he tends to be quite reclusive, and found chatting with strangers very challenging, all of which was creating obstacles to his personal development.
“Drama forces me to interact, to talk and socialise. The workshop is the highlight of my week” he said.
In this era of social media and eroding community, loneliness, stress and mental health issues are escalating.
Theatre does not always appear accessible to those who may need it most, due to the misguided idea that it’s elitist.
But sit with this diverse group of people, of all ages and demographics, and that myth is dispelled.
Gill Lewis has always had a passion for theatre, studying it to degree level.
As a charity worker, she functions in a high stress environment which takes a toll. MAD offers her escapism, and a great source of stress relief.
She feels that what she develops in the rehearsal studio, widens her understanding of life outside of it, equipping her with more interpretive tools.
In this era of political turbulence, I wondered whether drama takes on extra resonance.
Gill was vociferous: “Look at Pinter, Wilde, Stoppard, Shakespeare. They were big thinkers, through whom we can learn a lot and discover new ways forward.”
The means to individual expression was a common theme within the group.
Rob Keyes is a sports physio, and he has been a member of MAD for 2 years.
He said: “I have addressed some personal issues, although not always consciously, through my involvement with MAD. I can vicariously express emotions that I wouldn’t otherwise have the courage to express.”
Life in 2017 is difficult.
24/7 news, the pressure of work, domestic issues, money worries, all impact severely on physical and emotional health.
Community cohesion is vital to reduce social isolation, discrimination, crime and segregation, and yet it is fast being consigned to nostalgia.
The need for an outlet to express ourselves is more acute than ever, but the creative arts are being systemically eliminated from our education system.
Inevitably, this will leave a void, one which perhaps the likes of MAD can help to fill.
Sarah Jones relocated from Northampton to Liverpool six months ago.
Initially, she felt alienated with a job that she didn’t enjoy, and struggling to make friends outside of it.
She sums it up.
“Life can be isolating. I’ve been lucky to meet so many fantastic, positive and encouraging people in the group. It’s exciting to be surrounded by those that share my interests. Community right?”
January is generally considered the gloomiest of months.
This year in particular, with political and economic uncertainty, fractures in our society seem to be widening further.
It’s all too easy to feel hopeless.
But on a cold, wintery night, from huge Victorian windows on Hope Street, there is a welcoming glow.
And there, a bunch of people gather to explore, to share, and to develop their creativity, through which they might just better understand their place in the world.
And if all else fails, there is always an hour in the pub after!