Teaches Kids About The
Theatre And Each Other
"This has been the best year of my life," says
Aine. "I have made so many friends - although she and
Ricky come from different neighbourhoods - they still keep
in touch. Their parents make sure of that.
1993, Project Children volunteer Cindy Roberts of Toledo
Ohio, contacted Monica Culbert, a Project Children volunteer
in Northern Ireland. Cindy wanted to create a spin-off
of Project Children that would celebrate the works of
Shakespeare. Monica loved the idea, so Cindy got in touch
with actor Kenneth Branagh in London. The idea sounded
great to him, too. He was starring in the Royal Shakespeare
Theatre's production of Hamlet later that year and offered
Project Children sixteen great seats. Monica could hardly
believe her good luck. She recruited about a dozen Belfast
teenagers to fly to London for the day and see the show.
with Project Shakespeare kids.
The teenagers were not privileged children or high achievers
with bright futures. They were just regular kids growing up
in tough Belfast neighbourhoods. Half the children were Protestant
and the other half were Catholic. The teenagers studied Hamlet-in
their separate schools.
When the time came, they got together to fly to London for
their whirlwind day It started off with a private meeting
with Kenneth Branagh himself. He regaled them with stories
of his childhood in Belfast and inspired them with his love
of the theatre. When the teenagers finally sat down to see
the four-and-a-half- hour (!) matinee of Hamlet, they were
enthralled. "Not a murmur from them," says Monica
Culbert, co-ordinator of Project Shakespeare. Shortly after
the show, they rushed to the airport for one of the last planes
Sharing such an exhilarating experience gave these teenagers
a special bond. "We were strangers at the start and twelve
happy tired friends coming home," says Monica. It went
so well that the following year-with help again from Kenneth
Branagh-Monica took twelve more kids and decided to stay overnight.
The kids saw Sir Derek Jacobi in Macbeth. Again, the Protestants
and Catholics got along fantastically They talked \with each
other well into the night-much too excited to sleep or care
||Ricky Armstrong: "It
was a magical weekend!"
Co-ordinator of Project Shakespeare
Project Shakespeare is still going strong-in large part because
of Kenneth Branagh's continued patronage. He still guarantees
good seats and private meetings with the actors. "This
is an excellent venture which I've had the privilege to bc
associated with in a small way," Branagh says, modestly
underestimating his role. "Its tireless workers and its
laudable aims deserve the support of all who believe in peace,
co-operation and the future of the children." Things
are going so well that the outing has been stretched to two
days in London and includes follow-up reunions for the kids-and
The last outing was a little different; they didn't see
a Shakespearean play but the old bard's presence was still
felt. Here's how Monica Culbert describes the trip: "We
went to Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare, to see
The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe by CS. Lewis. To celebrate
the centenary of CS. Lewis, The Royal Shakespeare company,
performed Lewis's beautiful children's fairytale. CS. Lewis
was born in Belfast so it was great that we shared in the
celebrations. We decided to take slightly younger children
this year-10 to 12 years old-so they would have the opportunity
to go to America together in the summer. The show itself was
totally amazing. And then to the delight of all of us, the
stars of the show joined us for tea! What a day! That night
we sat around and talked about it and the children really
bonded. There was more fun the next day as we toured Warwick
Castle and then flew home. All I can do is echo the words
of Ricky Armstrong, one of the children, "It was a magical
A few months later, most of the children did go to America.
Two of the kids, Aine McVeigh and Ricky Armstrong stayed with
the same host family! When the kids returned from America
there were more get-togethers. "This has been the best
year of my life," says Aine. "I have made so many
friends". Although she and Ricky come from very different
neighbourhoods -she's Catholic and he's Protestant-they still
keep in touch. Their parents make sure of that.
||Monica & Michael Culbert, Sally &
Jack Brennan, Ian Glen and group of 12 young adults who
went to London to see Henry V.
On Wednesday, September 6, 1995, four chaperones, Sally &
Jack Brennan and Monica & Michael Culbert, took twelve
young adults from Inner City Belfast to see Henry V at the
Barbicon Theatre, London.
The group consisted of five Protestant and seven Catholics
(4 boys and 8 girls). They came from five schools and one
training centre, Springvale. The two girls from Springvale
were Anne Marie Weir, age 20, from a tough loyalist area called
the Shankill and Breige Cahill, age 18, from a Catholic area
called Ardoyne. Michael Culbert is their tutor. These two
girls are doing courses at Springvale and only met because
of Project Shakespeare. They were an asset, looking after
the younger ones and becoming fast friends.
We left home at 5:45 PM on Wednesday and arrived at the London
Hotel by 9 PM. It was lashing rain but, undeterred, the 16
of us ventured out to see London. Each chaperone was in charge
of 3 teenagers. Picadilly at 10:30 PM was a sight to be seen.
Outside Planet Hollywood who did we see but Tom Hanks. He
was there after the premiere of Apollo 13. Did we hear squalls
of delight from the girls!! On the way back to the hotel,
we passed the Colombian Football Team who had just played
a soccer match against England. We got autographs and photographs
and there was no angering the group.
Mrs. Culbert and Mrs. Brennan did bedtime patrol. The girls
all ended up in one room, talking the night away. Religion
and polities meant nothing-they had a great night.
On Thursday September 7 at 9 AM we headed off for the theatre
where we had a backstage tour, a talk with two education officers,
a workshop and finally an interview with Ian Glenn, the star
of the play. After lunch, we watched the play which lasted
three hours. Not a word was spoken by anyone in the group
as they watched this highly powered, fully explosive show
|Andrea McDonald presenting Ian Glenn,
star of Henry V, with a Belfast Crystal water jug from
| We flew home exhausted, happy and friends on
a 9:30 PM flight.
Some comments by the teenagers;
George Mellon-"I never saw anything like it in my life."
Andrea McDonald-"The play became alive, I loved everything."
Susan Doherty, Sarene McDonell, Karen McGinley-"We
had a great time, especially everyone talking last night,
all the girls were so nice, we made good friends."
Ann Marie Weir-"If the peace process works at home,
we could always be like this."
As usual, the trip was a success. We saw a wonderful play
but more importantly, 12 teenagers became friends as they
mixed, talked, and made some lovely memories. This is our
third year. We have touched 36 families and slowly, we hope,
we are helping young people to see how much alike all of us
living here are and what good friends we can be.
January 1996 - We have met our Summer Interns, our Project
Shakespeare group, and our Pilot Scheme children again and
the friendships they made are still intact and giving.