Mandala’s current trilogy focused on ‘Place, identity and Belonging’ uses the lived experience of young people, supported by academic research, co-creating exciting new plays with young people in collaboration with high-calibre playwrights, which tour nationally and internationally with a professional cast.
The company has a unique creative process to highlighting injustice through tireless research, educational creative workshops and Rehearsed Readings of early drafts with young people inputting and feeding back, to give voice to stories that are not being heard.
Rather than rely on existing plays, Mandala drives new writing and creates exciting, fresh contemporary work, taking it on tour, always visiting the communities which inspired the artistic response, as well as to mainstream venues.
Springboard for debate
Mandala’s mission is concerned with creating a catalyst for debate leading to social change and contributing to policy and systems change. Integral to our performances are Mandala Debates in each city we tour to, involving local young people, councillors, politicians, relevant NGO experts and academics. Our artistic approach to difficult subjects enables young people to think for themselves, articulate ideas and creatively express what they feel in innovative, interactive workshops within their local communities.
Informing future policy
The results of these debates feed back into research and ultimately into government policy decisions on community cohesion and social justice.
The company is currently working on the third part of its trilogy, focused on the exclusion to prison pipeline, with new play, ‘Pipeline’ commissioned from writer Avaes Mohammad, an Amnesty International Media Award winner and a significant poet and playwright, writing for radio, screen
and theatre, currently Associate Artist with Red Ladder Theatre Company.
Mandala’s Trilogy is focused on working with young people from Black, Asian Minority Ethnic and White working-class backgrounds. Young people are involved in script development through creative workshops, followed by rehearsed readings to invited audiences before each play is produced.
Part One (2015/2016), Mandala collaborated with S.African/Asian writer Nadia Davids to produce ‘Night Light’, academic researchers and young people seeking asylum to find and explore their stories.
Part Two (2017/2018), commissioned from writer Atiha Sen Gupta, who was writer-in-residence at Stratford East and winner of the IAR Award for Best Playwright. ‘Castaways’ explored connection or disconnection by young people and how they can be drawn in by far-right extremism and
Though This Be Madness
Summer & Autumn 2021
“Nationally, 1 in 200 children is excluded from school, but 1 in 2 of the prison population was excluded when at school.” The Difference Charity UK
‘Though This Be Madness’ written by Avaes Mohammad, directed by Yasmin Sidhwa, in association with Oxford Playhouse, was co-created with young people, using compelling physical theatre to present a moving and authentic exploration of what lies behind the headlines. Plugged into headphones - a world of spoken word, music, podcasts and rap that underscores their lives. Tachia, Cass and Mickey have ended up outside the mainstream, labelled, boxed in. Can they escape this life and find a way out or will they get drawn into the dangers lurking, waiting to pounce on the vulnerable and isolated? Though This Be Madness unravels what is happening to young people in relation to education, exclusion, gang grooming and too often, a pipeline to prison.
Can we change the story?
“Powerful, Brilliant acting. Amazing Cadence and Street poetry”. Diane Long – Former Director Donnington Doorstep Family Centre, Oxford
Our three-part programme, Place, Identity and Belonging, uses academic and community research to create live theatre, debates and creative workshops around community cohesion and social justice, which aims to feed back into Government policy.
Mandala is working with writer Avaes Mohammad, researchers from the Department of Education, Oxford University and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), the Oxfordshire Virtual School for Looked After Children, Oxford Cultural Education Partnership and young people to find and explore the stories and journeys of those who have been or are in danger of being excluded from school.
Developing two-way partnerships
We work with arts, academic, NGO and community and educational partners in cities where Post-18 migration, radicalisation and exclusion from school are prevalent. We see these partnerships as a catalyst for longer-term, sustainable programmes of creative work. Feedback from this will enable our research partners to witness the effect that policies have on young people and communities – and whether their involvement with arts projects such as these makes a difference.
Research & Development
Mandala’s work is at the forefront of creating theatre from academic research and creative outreach workshops with young people. Each professional project involves in-depth research and development in one year, followed by a national Tour with Mandala Debates and creative workshops in the subsequent year.
Our first project ‘Night Light’ in 2015/ 2016, was developed in partnership with Oxford University, Department of Social Policy’s ‘Becoming Adult’ project. ‘Castaways’ in 2017/18 was developed as part of our research work as Testbeds artist with the University of Bedfordshire.
Starting in 2015, Mandala Theatre Company has been funded by Arts Council England, Oxford City Council and Trusts, Foundations and private donors. Both shows were taken on national tours visiting 26 venues in the UK.
2015 - 2016
Pegasus Theatre, Oxford
The Old Rep, Birmingham
The North Wall, Oxford
Refugee Resource, Oxford
The Children’s Society, Birmingham
The University of Oxford
Night Light addressed the issue of post 18 migration – where young people who migrate to the UK and spend their informative years here, are no longer given sanctuary to remain once they turn 18.
They no longer have a relationship with their place of origin – and they’re not welcome in their country of refuge. Where do they belong?
Mandala explored, through drama and discussion, the circular conundrum of young people who migrate to the UK, unaccompanied or with family, and for whom sanctuary no longer exists.
Faculty of English, Oxford University
For most of us the place where we live shapes who we are and how we relate to others. Why can our surroundings lead to alienation, exclusion and violence? How does urban planning contribute to postcode poverty?
Mandala has been studying research from the Leverhulme-funded Network: Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature, through work with Professor Elleke Boehmer and Network convenor, Dominic Davies, Oxford University. This was the inspiration for a short piece, which was showcased at an international conference in September 2015 and which will feed into a new full-length play.
Why are so many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) young people disconnected to their communities?
Why do young people choose to go and fight – or marry – in Syria or Iraq?
Mandala uses the power of performance and the compelling evidence of research to uncover what young people are searching for, even if that means putting their own lives in jeopardy.
Through in-depth creative workshops and discussions with young people from communities where radicalisation and urban separation and division are particularly potent, we are researching experiences of connection or dis-connection to the communities they have grown up in.
Mandala is working with award-winning new writer Atiha Sen Gupta and researchers from the Institute for Research in Education (University of Bedfordshire) to ensure that these young people’s voices and stories are central to the company’s new play, Castaways, the second in Mandala’s trilogy, Place, Identity and Belonging.
Rehearsed readings of excerpts from the script took place in early September 2017 in Woolwich, London, Oxford, Luton and Stockton-on-Tees. The play begins its UK tour in Spring 2018.
University of Bedfordshire
The ARC Theatre, Stockton
Ark-T Centre, Oxford
HOUSE, Farnham Maltings
“An intense, well-paced production that enables the voices of the urban young to be heard……Sidhwa draws powerful performances from all three actors who make their characters believable and contemporary.”
Newbury Weekly News
“Thought-provoking theatre for young people to get their teeth into….A tightly directed and choreographed production that succeeds in exposing a mainstream audience to a slice of life they are only aware of from newspaper headlines.”
Daily Information, Oxford
Press and Audience Reaction
Mandala is a local, national and international touring company. We have toured our professional work nationally and where possible internationally. ‘Night Light’ toured to Grenoble, France and Heidelberg, Germany. We have run International workshops and directed projects with professional and non-professional performers in Lithunia, Germany and France, have performed in Malmo, Sweden and would have been taking a production and directing in Ramallah, Palestine this Summer 2020. This has been now been postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19. We embrace our international work and are keen to expand it.
Artistic Director, Yasmin Sidhwa is an Executive Board member of Crearc, who run the International Theatre Festival – Rencontre in Grenoble, France. Over the years Mandala and Crearc have engaged in international youth arts exchanges, often offering young people their first taste of travelling abroad. Our key objective is to use the arts to connect young people across cultures through the arts. For the last 5 years Mandala Young Company have performed the following shows in France, 'Collector of Tears’ by Sean Burn, (which we also toured to Germany), ‘Antigone’ by Roy Williams and ‘Lucifer & Miss Primrose’ adapted by Yasmin Sidhwa, where we hosted young performers from France in Oxford and created an outdoor fire and theatre show together.
The impact of International exchanges on the lives and futures of the young people and artists involved are summed up in the following quotes: “From the moment we arrived the electricity and excitement of the exchange was almost tangible. It felt unified, relaxed and as though suddenly the correct way to live had been revealed..”The most important message of this exchange is how the youth can drive the future and how they can shape it. Despite going through hardships, challenges and difficulties, it is up to us to develop and educate the future”.