Students at South Tyneside College have broken down personal learning barriers to bring the magic of the musicals vividly to life in song and dance.
The learners, who are taught within our specialist Interface department for people aged 16 to 25 on the autism spectrum, took to the stage twice in a day to thrill parents and friends.
Big-hit songs played together included Don’t Stop Me Now from We Will Rock You, Seasons of Love from Rent, Consider Yourself from Oliver! and Night Fever.
The show followed Interface's success at the prestigious Educate North Awards in April, where it won the Student Experience Award.
Celebrating best practice and excellence in education in the north of England, judges praised Interface’s teaching team for demonstrating an impressive approach to student engagement.
The musical performances were created as part of overall course provision that supports students to develop better social interaction skills and gain confidence to live more independent lives.
Solo performances included Philip Robinson singing Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Jack Allen singing and acting Son, Be A Dentist from Little Shop of Horrors, and Callum Martin singing Pick A Pocket Or Two, also from Oliver!
Nathan Atwater sang Rawhide from The Blues Brothers, Amy Jackson performed Closer, and Kester Field sang Under Pressure, from We Will Rock You.
The remainder of the cast was Niall Quinn, Abbey Gail Wild, Richard Renwick, Scott Johnson, and Elliott Chapman, and college support workers Allison Halligan and Linda Haywes.
Lecturer Shelley Deakin said: “These shows were the culmination of five months of rehearsals and research which saw the students use social media channel YouTube to see how the songs had been performed, and some even went to the theatre.
“Some of our students struggle with one-to-ones and social interaction, and so to get up on stage – some for the first time – was a great achievement.
“They have displayed some real talent and the shows were very good, but the real outcome has been around personal progress, which is what the work of Interface is all about.
“The performance skills they have learned will expand into other areas of their lives, such as helping in interviews and general social interaction.”
The 40 minute performances – one of which was streamed live on social media site Facebook - took place in our Studio 5 professional performance suite at our Westoe campus in South Shields.
Some of those who took part have previous performance experience from school, while others were part of our production of the musical Grease last Christmas.
Student Amy Jackson said: “We did a lot of rehearsing to make sure the performances were as good as possible, and I practised a lot on my iPod.
“I was a bit nervous before the shows but once I started, I really enjoyed singing and being part of the overall performances.”
Philip Robinson said: “I really loved performing my song. I used to hide behind other people, but now I feel a lot more comfortable.
“I picked Pure Imagination to sing because it is from one of my favourite films and I know that it’s a nice song to perform.”
Jack Allen said: “Son, Be A Dentist is a very funny song to perform and it takes a lot of effort to do it well.
“I really enjoyed the singing and the moving that went into the performance, it was really fun to be up on the stage doing it.”
Interface, which opened in 2007, is a unique model of support in the North East for learners on the autism spectrum to access mainstream Further Education, with the unit’s staff enjoying close links with schools.
Part of strong Additional Learning Support that we deliver, its highly innovative post-16 learning makes it the region’s number one such support facility.
It combines personalised study programmes that focus on either a student’s social and emotional skills, independence, or employability, and helps them build other essential life skills.
Interface employs specialists in communication, behaviour, emotional literacy, media and ICT to enhance the learner experience.
From a purpose-built unit, Interface is hugely effective in preparing learners for mainstream education and to their pursuit of vocational ambitions.
In 2016, it enjoyed a 100 per cent retention rate, supporting 46 learners, who achieved a 91.9 per cent success rate, with 88.4 per cent gaining in maths and English.
Learners work towards nationally recognised qualifications such as City & Guilds, functional skills, GCSEs, and BTEC certificate in vocational studies.