THE driving force behind theatre company Acting Up Belfast, Caitlin O’Neill, is creating drama classes for all abilities, bringing a wealth of experience and talent to her business.
Having graduated from Liverpool’s John Moore University, worked as a classroom assistant and being a familiar face at Fountain Centre’s Learning Space store, Caitlin has created Acting Up Belfast as a “safe space for children to come along and be children”.
“I started out providing drama classes to children from underprivileged areas, I realised there was a greater need for children who had additional needs and who were on the autism spectrum that just weren’t being looked after,” she said. “At the time there were no classes for these children it was very much the standard drama classes of rehearsals, putting on a show at the end and that is the end of it.”
Caitlin spoke of how her unique classes were being held throughout community centres in Ardoyne, Glengormley, Mayfield and Short Strand, “and then Covid hit”.
“All my work which was booked up until December was cancelled, instead of letting that stop me I saw it as a learning curve and started doing free online classes. It was a way of reaching out to parents, to children who were trying to find stimulation for their children throughout the lockdown period. I started with sensory storytelling which became weekly and I loved seeing the same faces, it became a way of seeing friends.”
She continued: “My classes have now started up again and it’s all about engaging with the children, creating that sense of excitement around creavity and imagination. This week for example our theme was ‘feelings’ and trying to build their emotional resilience, how to express their emotions. In every class I aim to include all children of all abilities and I tailor the classes to meet their needs. I have a sensory area with ear defenders for those who don’t like loud noises, visual timers, calming toys, calming music. I tend to end the class with a story, focusing on diversity and ensuring the children know how amazing they are in their own way.”
I have a sensory area with ear defenders for those who don’t like loud noises, visual timers, calming toys, calming music. I tend to end the class with a story, focusing on diversity and ensuring the children know how amazing they are in their own way.”
Caitlin said that currently one of her classes are pulling out all the stops for their Christmas performance.
“The class has six-year-olds up to ten and we are going to do Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, Twisted Fairytales and the group are working on everything from costume, marketing and lighting,” she laughed. “They are learning so much.”
As part of Acting Up Belfast, Caitlin also runs Boogie Babies for newborns and up to three-year-olds in Glengormley. “It’s amazing to see the newborn babies reacting to the sensory lights, bubble machines, it’s my hope to be able to branch out and get out all over Belfast.”
With a nervous and cautionary air throughout the city as families continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, Caitlin said that her resilience comes from her classes.
“I get such fantastic feedback from parents on how their children have enjoyed the classes. I get such a boost of energy from the classes and their enthusiasm is infectious. I have such a passion for what I do, Covid wasn’t going to stop me. It was just to find another way to grow. I find that if you treat the children with respect then you get it back. My own ‘imagination den’ within my own premises is the end goal for me, I hope I can work with schools right across Belfast as part of an after-schools programme and I hope to get back there soon to create a world of imagination that the children can get lost in.”
My own ‘imagination den’ within my own premises is the end goal for me, I hope I can work with schools right across Belfast as part of an after-schools programme and I hope to get back there soon to create a world of imagination that the children can get lost in.”
For more information on Acting Up Belfast visit Facebook or email ActingUpBelfast@gmail.com for more information.