A Second Family

[This was written for the Dorchester Youth Theatre blog but I thought I'd share it on my internet space too]

Walking into a room of strangers is always daunting. When you’re an 11 year old with no friends, no knowledge of the area and the belief that moving to Dorset would be ‘oh em gee the end of my life’, that feeling of daunting is multiplied. I’d always loved drama and singing, attending various groups back in Bedfordshire and always doing well in school plays. So when my parents found out about Combined Arts Week ‘CAW’, the play-in-a-week workshop, they signed me up straight away. We were new to the area and it was the perfect way to make friends before the school term started. But my eleven year old self saw it as suicide, I cried and I begged and I held onto the car door, but somehow I’d made it, and there I was in this room full of strangers. 

The first days flew by, I did exactly what my parents knew I would do and I slotted right in. CAW prides itself on being a programme with no main parts, and they’ve always stayed true to this, but I’d had my eye on a particular part during the script read through and was delighted to have been given it in my first year. There were plenty of other kids who were new, but for the most part CAW is full of children who return every year. And for good reason, after a week of intense singing, acting and dancing, (being rhythmically challenged, I have no idea why I signed up for extra dancing), the girl who walked into the room on the Monday was a lifetime away from the girl who ended the Saturday performance begging her parents to sign her up for Dorchester Youth Theatre, the weekly term time group responsible for CAW.

Combined Arts Week is a family. It’s the annual event where everyone cancels their plans and makes sure they’re available for this one week of every year. One-timers are a rarity at CAW and for good reason, Pete and Julian, the Directors, come back every year with more original scripts and content, each year as wacky and exciting as the last. The volunteers, consisting of family and ex-members (you never truly leave), work through the summer preparing for the first Monday and then relentlessly through the week all the time with a smile of their faces. And of course Combined Arts Week couldn’t run at all without its dedicated members, who return year in year out, full of enthusiasm, ready to welcome everyone into the CAW family, even the 11 year old girls from Bedfordshire. 

Without Combined Arts Week, I wouldn’t have met some of my closest friends. I’ve experienced first hand the impact being a part of such an incredible group can be. Nobody expects too much of you, if you’re having fun and doing your best that’s all that matters. We’re not Stage Coach wannabes and everything is a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s the reason so many people hold a special place for it in their heart (and their annual calendars). 

And so the 11 year old girl who first walked into the room of strangers is now a 20 year old girl walking into a room of family. 9 years later, my younger sister has been involved, I’ve roped friends in through the years, my mother is the chair woman and we really are CAW/DYT through and through. And it might all seem a bit sad if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone is. We’re a community, we’ve seen people come and go of course, but the friends I met on my first day are now some of my best friends. I am so grateful for the opportunities, confidence and second family joining CAW gave me. And from speaking to friends and watching, 9 years later as a volunteer, one little girl on the Saturday, minutes after the final performance, saying to her Mum it had ‘Changed [her] life’, I knew she wasn’t exaggerating, because it changed mine too. 

Ciao for Now!

1 comment

  1. What a sweet post! I love the sense of family that casts, choirs and teams can bring.