Round Midnight Ltd is an award-winning, Birmingham based Theatre in Education company interested in tackling challenging subjects within Personal, Social and Health Education.
The company was founded 30 years ago by Claire Downes and Stuart Lane, who began by using theatre to tackle issues such as youth homelessness – connecting directly to young people to open dialogues about subjects that aren’t really talked about.
“We have always been innovative in the way we work,” says Creative Manager Phil Hyde, “Innovative with the creative methods we use the way we engage our audiences”.
In the past year, Round Midnight have been continuing to push the boundaries with what they offer and have recently incorporated tech into their delivery – with the introduction of Virtual Reality.
“We were looking at ways in which we could advance our work,” explains Sami Cornick, Development Manager, “We explored combining the creative practices we use with modern day technology, and making it accessible to young people”.
Based on the concept of Forum Theatre – which invites audience participation to instruct actors how to play out a certain scene, providing them with alternative suggestions – Round Midnight researched and developed an immersive “choose-your-own-path” VR programme, that enables young people to engage with social issues in exciting and powerful ways.
In 2019, with funding from Innovate UK and in conjunction with BDH Immersive, Round Midnight launched the first Virtual_Decisions programme: Virtual_Decisions: GANGS. Based on research carried out with over 1000 young people, Round Midnight worked with Dr Stephanie Burnett-Heyes (School of Psychology, University of Birmingham) to develop a realistic and relatable script that explores grooming, gang culture and peer pressure. The VR film was then shot in Birmingham using young actors aged 14-25, giving authenticity to the real-world experience. Round Midnight then worked on developing the follow-on resources that would be used in schools, to compliment the VR film. “After the 8-minute VR experience, we discuss the story with the pupils and plot out what they’ve seen – talk about the scenarios they’ve witnessed and the choices that they’ve made. We usually work with about 50 young people in a day.”
Alongside working with 60+ schools across Birmingham – and approximately 1,500 pupils – Round Midnight also work with Youth Offending Services, helping to support young people who are on Out of Court Disposals. “We are currently working very closely with West Midlands Police” explains Phil and Sami, who are delighted to see the positive impact their work is having on young people. “Many of the participants have made serious disclosures throughout the workshops that we’ve been able to pass on to their schools and the police, who can then assist them in receiving extra support. Helping to support vulnerable and potentially at-risk young people is always at the forefront of what we do”
Impact of the Pandemic
Despite school closures putting a halt to their workshops, Round Midnight used this time to advance their offering. “We are soaring because we’ve had the downtime to develop the company,” says Sami.
“It gave us the chance to talk to the police and open conversations with people within the organisations that can actually make a real difference.”
Also, in April 2020, the company received funding from Innovate UK, as part of the Rapid Response to Global Disruption fund, to create an interactive online programme called LINK_UP: Remote PSHE Learning. This exciting new platform allows young people to take part in creative workshops online, either at school or from home. Facilitated by a live host, participants would take part in the workshop by watching interactive videos and then anonymously discussing what they’ve seen through text-chats, polls, and online games. The LINK_UP prototype trialled in schools in February 2021 and currently Round Midnight are exploring the next steps for the programme.
Plans for the Future
Round Midnight are hoping to expand the Virtual_Decisions programme to make it more sustainable, ensuring that the impact on young people is long-lasting. If more schools can use it within their own PSHE curriculum, the lessons learned from the workshops extends and continues beyond the hour.
“We don’t just want it to be delivered by us – we want to make it bigger and more sustainable by teaching schools to use it. If the teachers are able to deliver it themselves, it means we can work on expanding the Virtual_Decisions Universe; we can develop more VR experiences on topics such as healthy relationships, mental health, consent, and county lines.”
Greater Manchester Violence Reduction Unit have recently funded Round Midnight to develop a Violence Reduction Curriculum, using Virtual_Decisions as a basis, in a year-long trial project with 5 schools. “We are excited to take this project outside of Birmingham!”
You can check out the fantastic work of Round Midnight here.