Musician and composer Jo Collins meets teacher and director Mary Ward.
Sharing a belief that everyone should be able to perform and create, they set up a theatre company. Initially based in local church halls, they ask local benefactor and landowner (and fan!) Lady Elizabeth Byng if there might be a space free on her property for the company to use as its base – and history was made with the kind offer of a disused chicken shed!
The company grew as more and more members began to join...
buying in to the collective passion and enthusiasm for the power of community theatre. And then, a young boy with cerebral palsy took part in a Chickenshed production. “If we’re open to everyone,” asked Chickenshed’s teenage members, “then why is there no-one else like him?”
Mary and Jo realise the way forward for Chickenshed must be one of true inclusion, and by embracing this ethos wholeheartedly the next phase of Chickenshed’s development begins.
John Bull joins to become Chickenshed’s first Managing Director, pioneering work on integration and taking Chickenshed to the next level: Jo, Mary and John have created the world’s first truly inclusive theatre company.
Soon Chickenshed is going from strength to strength with record contracts, CDs, West End shows, TV spots, high-profile trustees such as Dame Judi Dench and Sir Trevor Nunn. But more – so much more – is yet to come.
Chickenshed meets Lord and Lady Rayne
and Lady Rayne becomes president of the company. Thanks to her Chickenshed gain a very special patron indeed: Princess Diana, whose zest for Chickenshed’s message of hope shines through in spectacular fashion. Lord and Lady Rayne work tirelessly to create a permanent home for the company.
Chickenshed move into its own purpose-built theatre in Southgate, North London.
From a home of their own Chickenshed embark on national tours, delighting audiences of over 5000 and showing the entire nation the meaning of inclusivity in the performing arts.
Chickenshed expand its ground-breaking inclusive model into the field of education, beginning with BTEC courses.
Foundation Degrees soon follow, and culminate in the ability to deliver full Bachelor of Arts Degree courses.
Chickenshed launch its Kensington & Chelsea branch
to expand the company’s ability to offer the same life-changing opportunities in an area of London with the widest disparity between life chances and choices.
Mary and Jo receive much acclaim for their work in creating Chickenshed, including two MBEs, appearances on This Is Your Life, Creative Briton Awards, Snowdon Awards, Honorary Doctorates… but the biggest reward comes in seeing what Chickenshed has become.
Parent and volunteer of Chickenshed in London, Elaine Finkletaub, relocates with her husband and two children to New York.
She is keen to enroll her son and daughter in a like-minded inclusive theatrical company and is disappointed to discover that there is not a comparable model in NYC.
Elaine takes matters into her own hands and is connected with Elliot Fishman, a Broadway producer and Secretary to the Royal Shakespeare Company America. Elliot immediately jumps on the idea of bringing Chickenshed to the US. Together they agree that their first task is to give New York a ‘taste’ of what Chickenshed and its inclusive approach to theatre is all about. Adding Cyndi Steele-Harrod, Artistic Director of studio programming at Shuffles, Broadway Tap and Musical Theater School, the project begins to take shape.
The team spends the next year preparing to present a pilot demonstration week in NYC.
Securing the financial support needed...
to mount the pilot project from Shari Sapp, a former UK based Chickenshed parent and founding member of the American Friends of Chickenshed, the newly formed dedicated New York team work alongside experienced company members from London to deliver the demonstration week. Together they conduct workshops with students, adults and potential teaching artists; perform shows to little ones in pre-schools, and rehearse with 120 children and teens from a number of New York city schools, culminating in a Showcase performance at Symphony Space in front of an audience of over 600 people.
A huge success and confirms that Chickenshed is welcome and needed in New York.
The next challenge is to find a home. Natasha Boucai, financial supporter, introduces Elaine to Wetherby-Pembridge, a newly-arrived British school on the Upper East side who donate their space and Chickenshed NYC is born with the launch of its preschool show Tales from The Shed.
In the Fall Chickenshed NYC begins the core of its work
creating a theatre community. Under the guidance of professional theatre practitioners children and teens come together to create and perform in a brand program, Chickenshed Players.
In March the pandemic forces the physical closure of its doors
but thanks to the generous support of Backstage Theatre Trust and the Arcadia Fund, virtual doors are opened and Chickenshed NYC pivots to the online world. Hosting online immersive performances of Tales from The Shed for preschools and individual families and adapting the Chickenshed Player program for the virtual world Chickenshed NYC is able to survive the next year .
Catherine Kenny, Associate Director 14th Street Y, reaches out to explore the possibility of hosting Chickenshed NYC programming at its East Village location.
As the pandemic begins to ease, a hybrid version of Chickenshed Players is launched during the Spring.
Tales from The Shed is redeveloped and the new preschool show, Adventures from The Shed launches. Chickenshed Players perform their first Holiday show ‘Twas The Night Before featuring Guest Drag Artists: Phoebe Jeebies and Blair Bitch.
Chickenshed NYC incorporates scientific elements into its programming and receives its first grant from Science Sandbox.
In March The British Consulate General hosts an intimate event for Chickenshed NYC at its private residence where guests are treated to a performance featuring Chickenshed Players over drinks and canapés.
The Spring production of The Tigon and The Liger sees the beautiful work of set designer Greg Stevens bring to life this musical adapted by Keilly Swift from her best selling book of the same name.
Chickenshed NYC’s partnership with 14th Street Y continues to flourish and the Executive team moves into an onsite office.
In September Chickenshed Players adds an Afterschool program as membership grows and rehearsals begin for Ever After, an original musical adapted from the successful version first staged in London’s Chickenshed.
The new year sees the addition of a new program for preschoolers
My Little Adventure, a semester-long bridge program for 2-5 year olds, between Adventures from The Shed and Chickenshed Players.
In April The British Consulate General hosts another event for Chickenshed NYC at its private residence where guests are once more treated to a performance featuring Chickenshed Players over drinks and canapés.
On June 9 Chickenshed Players performed Chickenshed NYC's first youth-led created and devised jukebox musical, Don't Stop Believin'. The show was made entirely from recycled materials, from the set & costumes to the toe-tapping tunes and completely sold out 4 performances making it our most successful production to date.
Inspired by a visit from Tanasia Swift, Project Manager with the Billion Oyster Project the Players were inspired to create a movement piece to composer Dave Carey's Ocean Life as part of the performance.
Youth Intern, Caroline Fish's journey with this show was captured beautifully by People's TV in the short film: ScienceSandbox Stories of Impact - Chickenshed NYC.
Chickenshed NYC’s hope is that every member, supporter, performer, parent and caregiver - whether they remain with us or move on - has the belief in the power of inclusion to change the world for the better.