Family Matters: Skyclear gets the excitement going

Youngsters from A Mind Apart rehearsing for their production of Skyclear
Youngsters from A Mind Apart rehearsing for their production of Skyclear
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TUESDAY night and rehearsals are in full flow at the Burton Street Project in Hillsborough for a production of Skyclear.

Excited youngsters exercise their imagination to the full, pretending to be vicious dogs, hungry horses, intrepid princesses, scared bats, enchanted trees and tricky magicians.

While some are loud and energetic, others are quieter and less sure but everyone is fully engaged in the action.

However, no-one is on top of their lines, so the children, whose ages range from about five to 11, are encouraged to get into little groups to help each other learn them.

Director Natasha McGowan gives feedback at the end of the session, reminding everyone that they have to create their own costumes for Saturday’s show at Shiregreen Community Centre.

The youngsters in the group include some with behavioural issues and others with ADHD or autism but everyone is treated the same. Natasha, who first started teaching drama to help her little brother develop his communication skills, said: “There’s always some value of drama as a tool for teaching. You can use it to teach about anything.”

She said of one youngster in the group, which is run by A Mind Apart: “When she first came, all she ever did was sing, she never spoke. She was like a little nightingale! What we mainly focus on is getting them to feel confident, happy and proud.”

Two youngsters who share the role of Princess Petronella spoke about how being in the group has helped their confidence.

Mollie King, who is 11, said: “When I first started I was really shy. Now I’m much more loud and more confident.

“I enjoy it a lot. I just like the feeling when you get on stage and you’re confident enough to do it.”

Her friend Megan Rooney, aged 10, said: “I’ve never played a main role before. I’ve never had the confidence in myself to do something like that.”

Megan writes her own songs and has now performed one in public for A Mind Apart. Mollie appeared in a production of Oliver! for last year’s Peace in the Park.

Skyclear is about a brave princess, Petronella, who defies her mum to go and search for her lost brothers. She befriends a timid bat and they go on a quest, tackling three challenges set by a magician to win three magical items to help her.

Natasha said that the story is based on a feminist fairytale. In September she read it to the children and then they started to imagine how to tell it and what types of characters they needed to create.

The children only got their scripts when they understood all about the story and the characters.

A Mind Apart, based at Burton Street, works to use the performing arts to develop children, young people and adults.

Natasha, who works as a project manager, said: “It’s a company that is designed to give every child and young person the same experience, no matter what their background or where they come from.

“The children don’t all come to us because they have a talent for drama – it’s quite the opposite. Parents want them to be more confident, work better in a team, deal with behavioural issues or come out of themselves.”

Skyclear is at Shiregreen Community Centre on Saturday (March 2) at 2pm and 7pm. The event also includes performances from Dobcroft drama club, Sharrow drama club, Redirection young people’s performance group and the Street to Feet street dance class. For tickets, call 0114 232 1172 or email

To find out more about A Mind Apart, go to or call 232 1172.