Theatr Ffynnon

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Founded in Raglan, 1989, Theatre Ffynnon is a theatre company for people with special needs

Theatr Ffynnon was founded in Raglan in 1989 by Gerald and Margery Wakely of "The Chestnuts" on Usk road. It is still going strong with more than 100 members. Now based in Cwmbran, it has developed to provide opportunities in Torfaen, Caerphilly, RCT, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Powys encompassing the arts & voluntary sector across six local authorities. (for more information: (nb. Ffynnon, Welsh for 'fountain')

Secret Islands in Raglan

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Caption: Members of Theatr Ffynnon interrupted their hectic dress rehearsal at Raglan Community Centre for a photocell last wee,. The company presented 'The Secret Islands', a play that they had devised themselves. Pictures here during their rehearsal are Daniel Routh, Kim Tomlin, Sarah wakeling, Jamie Farr, Sue Malson, John Greenland, beverley Lewis, peter James, Huw Edwards, tracey Styles, Phylis Rowe and John Barrington Also involved with the Production, although not in our photograph were Tom Cooper, Chris Pledger, and Gerald and Margery Wakeling (1992, South Wales Argus)

Special needs theatre company prepares for 'Bright Ideas'

Theatr Ffynnon, the Raglan-based theatre company for people with special needs, was started some six years ago, after founders Gerald and Margery Wakely went to see a show stated by the 'inspirational' North Country company Kaleidoscope Theatre, writes Liz Davies.

Realising the many benefits that such a company could offer, the couple returned to their Raglan home and began the long process of getting funding to begin their own company. Countless appeals for financial support were successful, and armed with grants from the Arts Council of Wales, Children in Need and with the support of Gwent County Council's Social Services Department, Gerald and Margery were able to set about establishing Gwent's own theatre company specially created for adults with special needs.

"There had been nothing like this for people with special needs in the area before," said retired animator Margery who herself has a child with special needs. There are lots of excellent day centres and youth clubs, but Theatre Ffynnon encourages members to learn to work as a team and to develop skills they can draw on in their everyday life," said Marjery. "The work we do here is of tremendous importance in building self confidence, but most importantly we all enjoy it. Sadly, Gerald died two years ago, but we decided to carry on with the work he had started," she added.

"We have had several wonderful directors and musical directors like Sali Davies, Tom Cooper, Chris Pledger and of now Chrys Blanchard and Liz Buckler," said Marjery. Past successes for the company have included The River, Alice in Wonderland, The Circus, a hilarious piece of street theatre staged in Abergavenny market, and last year's It'll Be Alright on the Night'.

"As well as the performances we also try to arrange trips to see other shows like the famous Strathcona Theatre Company - a professional touring company run for people with special needs - and to workshops like the Gamelan workshop held at the Festival Hall in London."

Margery was speaking at the beginning of a first for Theatre Ffynnon which sees the company, along with its directors Chrys Blanchard and Liz Buckler, taking up a week long residence at Abergavenny's Gwent Theatre. Normally the company meets once every two weeks and Chrys believes that the residency provides a unique opportunity for the actors and actresses to experience the continuity of the build up to a performance from a professional aspect. "This week will give us the opportunity to pull together all the strands and allow the group to experience the creation of and build-up to a performance," explained Chrys. She added that the company will work to a professional schedule with warm ups, voice work and movement sessions beginning each day before moving on to the arduous work of rehearsal and working on costumes, props, lighting and sound.

During the week long stay at Gwent Theatre, the cast of 20 actors and actresses will be working on a new production based on an idea originally used by Gwent Theatre. 'Bright Ideas' is set in a black and white world where life is not very exciting. People don't experience a range of feelings and only relate to people superficially until one young girl has a dream in which she dances with a rainbow and life is never the same again…

The company will be rehearsing all week, with the residence culminating in public performances at the Drama Centre on Friday and Saturday. "This is a most important week. We were a bit worried that parents wouldn't be too keen on the actors taking such a long time away from the centres they usually attend, but they were really enthusiastic and supportive, and everyone seems to be enjoying it tremendously," said Margary taking a short break from rehearsals.

"I honestly believe that this is such an important service for people with special needs. It gives them an opportunity to show exactly what they are capable of and to use their emotional and physical attributes," she continued. "My real dream would be to see something like this son a professional basis, maybe running one day a week with backing from the local authority. If Strathcona Theatre Company can do it so can we…"

Theatre Ffynnon will be performing Bright Ideas at the Drama Centre, Pen-y-Pound on Friday evening and for two performances on Saturday. (Abergavenny Chronicle, November 9th, 1995)

NOTE: Gerald (Fitzgerald) Wakeling did the props for the TV series 'Roundabout'

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