A Performing Arts School for All: Screech’s Martina Cross on hosting accessible workshops and programs for creative individuals of all ages and abilities

Our Blog Manager, Emma Kate Lewis, chatted with the Coordinator and Facilitator of Screech Arts, Martina Cross, to learn how the rapidly expanding, portable performing arts school is helping to make drama and the arts more accessible for individuals of all abilities.

Emma Kate Lewis: Hey Martina! Can we start with you telling me a bit about who you are and what you do?

Martina Cross: I’m Screech Arts’ State Wide Coordinator and Facilitator for CPL (Choice, Passion, Life). I’ve always been interested in drama and theatre performance, and as a child I was always dressing up and putting on shows for friends and family. So I’ve always had a love for performance and drama. I studied a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Theatre, which is essentially using drama workshops in the community for a reason: development, education, therapy… that kind of thing.

I’ve been facilitating Screech’s drama workshop for the last five years, and I really love it because it provides an avenue for people with disabilities to express themselves in different ways, and the confidence they gain in the drama room can then be transferred into the everyday. I guess the best part of my job is watching performers overcome huge barriers to achieve things, like speaking for the first time or using a communication device in front of an audience.

I’m really passionate about having every client involved and participating in their own way. We modify activities for each session so that people of all abilities can be included, and I really like to encourage individuals to pursue the creative paths that they enjoy the most.

CPL has now recognised Screech Arts as one of its ‘Hero’ programs, so in the past year I’ve been helping different CPL sites across the state of Queensland grow, and creating Screech programs for their own sites.

EKL: So what exactly is Screech all about and how did you first get involved? I know you’re now the Director…

MC: Yeah, well I’ll give you a little bit of background. Screech Arts is a unique, portable performing arts school. We pride ourselves in hosting accessible, inclusive workshops and performance programs for all creative spirits, from kids all the way up to adults who are, y’know, 65 years old! At Screech they can build up social skills, communication skills, verbal and non-verbal or creative communication, performance, collaboration skills, and so much more. These skills, as I said before, can be transferred into other areas of life as well.

It’s a fun and safe space where you can make friends while developing your creative expression. When we start off we were specifically focused on drama and theatre programming, but now we’re expanding into dance groups, film making, set design, music groups, and so much more!

I came to be involved in Screech when I started off at CPL as a support worker about six years ago. I was involved as an assistant from the very beginning, but before that I’d done some industry placements through my degree that involved a drama group with some physio clients, and that’s how I got to know about CPL and the amazing work they do. Over time the position for the Screech Facilitator/Coordinator came up, I applied, and the rest is history!

[Laughter]

Martina Cross

EKL: So what does an average working day look like for you?

MC: I’ve been trying to think about this and really it varies from day to day. Some days I’m running workshops all day, while others I’m in the office working with the marketing team, attending meetings and things like that. Some days I’m travelling around the state. The other weekend I was up in Gladstone, and soon I’ll be in Bundaberg for some trial workshops to spread the word about Screech. But mostly, I guess, facilitating workshops and then being in the office doing the planning and coordinating performances and meetings and supporting the growth of Screech in other areas.

The great part of my job is that no day is really the same, and that I get to work with talented and passionate clients every day, creating some awesome projects.

EKL: Can you tell me a bit about the trial workshops?

MC: Yeah, so Bundaberg are having an open day event during which they’re hosting a bunch of different workshops and activities throughout the day, so I’ll be taking a couple of tester drama workshops for any clients or people from schools who are around. We’ll just do a short workshop to give them a taste of the kinds of things we do: icebreakers, ‘getting to know you’ activities… And yeah, I was in Gladstone last week. They had a trial to gauge the interest in the area, and then if there is enough interest we know it’s possible to make Screech a permanent thing. There was a big turnout! A Gladstone resident called Julianne was running the group and I was up there supporting her, helping her plan, and everything like that. So yeah, all sorts of different things happening!

EKL: I’m so glad that the turnout was really good.

MC: Yeah, it was great! There were about 14 kids. It seems to be more of interest to the younger crowd up there, between the ages of about six and thirteen, but it varies from site to site depending on the demographic.

EKL: Can you tell me about the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your role so far? Though I imagine that since every day is so different the challenges also vary.

MC: Yeah, that’s it.

There have been many challenges, but to be honest I’ve always been the sort of person who needs challenges every day because otherwise I don’t feel fulfilled.

So I enjoy it! Even though sometimes I get stressed, I enjoy it. But I suppose, if I had to pick one, I’d say that at the moment one of my biggest challenges is time management. I just want to do so much more than I have time to do, and I’m the type of person who finds it hard to say no. As a result I can work some late nights and things like that. But to be honest, I don’t think I would have it any other way!

EKL: So what’s given you the greatest sense of achievement to date? I imagine that’s a tough one!

MC: Seeing new workshops pop up in different places. Townsville have started up a workshop, out in Springfield they’ve started up a new workshop, out in Toowoomba, up in Redcliffe… So yeah, seeing all the new places start up feels like a massive achievement.

EKL: Yeah I imagine, especially considering the fact that when you started there weren’t as many!

MC: That’s it! We originally started on the south side [of Brisbane] with a Friday night performance group that’s still running. Then we expected to Brisbane’s north, and now it’s growing even more. So that’s a big achievement. But I guess on a more local level, seeing different groups performing their creative pieces that they’ve been working so hard on. At the moment, one of the groups I run is working on a piece for Anywhere Theatre Festival next year. So that’ll be really, really exciting when we get that happening next year and put in the application. Getting into Anywhere would be a really big achievement.

EKL: Who are the women who inspire you most and why?

MC: There are a lot of women who inspire me, particularly those that I work with who don’t have their names up in lights but who are always there, no matter what, making a difference in our clients lives.

It’s those who try to think outside of the box and go above and beyond to get the job done that I admire.

I couldn’t really think of anyone famous or well known, but when I really think of it it’s people who aren’t famous. Those who aren’t in it for the recognition or the money, but for the passion of it and because they’ve got drive and are thoughtful of our clients. It’s those women who I get to work with who I admire.

EKL: That’s a really great answer.

MC: Thank you! It’s true!

EKL: So what’s next for you? And for Screech Arts? You mentioned Anywhere

MC: Yeah, we’d love to get more involved in public festival and things like that. Get a little bit more in the public eye, for the professional development of our creatives and participants. For myself, I don’t like to plan. I prefer to go with the flow and see where my career takes me. But it’s safe to say I’d like to see Screech Arts across the whole state of Queensland. Bringing meaningful creative programmes to people who wouldn’t have had the opportunity otherwise. Also, creating some really thought-provoking projects for the public and challenging misconceptions of people with disabilities in the arts. Just making a little bit more of a stamp on Brisbane and Queensland creative arts. Applying for Anywhere and festivals like that is a start.


Images provided by Screech Arts

Transcribed and Edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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