“Find and Overcome Your Limits” – A Theatre Laboratory in Bielefeld for Disadvantaged Children

Children acting on a stage
“All the World's a Stage” - Theatre Laboratory in Bielefeld

In Germany, educational success and cultural and social participation remain closely tied to background and country of origin. Developmental opportunities for children and teens vary widely; often, poverty and a lack of resources result in limited opportunities for participation. This is where the theatre laboratory in Bielefeld, with its project “My World - Our World - Bielefeld”, comes into play. It is primarily aimed at disadvantaged children and youth from Bielefeld, both with and without disabilities. The project focuses on strengthening and fostering the children's inherent talents and abilities. The initiators consider it crucial for children and young people to be able to develop their own independent sense of self. To do so they need inspiration, movement, and physical and mental challenges. “We want to give children a secure, trusting space in which they are supported, but also challenged,” said Karin Wedeking, co-founder of the theatre laboratory. The goal is for participants to develop confidence in their own abilities. Acting is an ideal activity for this purpose, because it promotes interpersonal interactions on many diverse levels. “Drama depends on people reacting to one another, responding to one another, helping and supporting one another,” says Karin Wedeking.

The theatre-focused teaching method brings participants' personal biographies into play, so that real life circumstances are addressed on an artistic level. Children expand their spectrum of forms of expression through targeted language training, body exercises, rhythm work and choreographic elements. The program length is planned for three years, and each year is dedicated to a different main theme. This has two advantages: the children and youth can participate continuously for three years, and new participants can start each year. Around 200 children and young people between the ages of eight and 27 are involved in the various theatre courses and workshops. A very important factor is the experience of working together to develop a theatre project from conception to public performance: “To stand on stage, being watched by everyone; to have done something well despite excitement and a racing heart - that boosts self-confidence tremendously”, says Wedeking.

Multi-generational and integrative
With its motto “Faces of a City”, the project also takes a multi-generational approach: adults and seniors also integrated into the performance. “By integrating the life experiences and situations of different generations into the creative process, children and young adults gain new ideas and expand their worldviews”, Wedeking explains. This promotes mutual understanding and respect between the generations. At the same time, the project is also designed to demonstrate the diversity and creative potential of the city to a wider public audience.

“The project “My World - Our World - Bielefeld” is really exemplary because it answers a real need and is, at the same time, anchored in its local environment,” said Jana Weische, who managed the project on behalf of the Software AG Foundation. The approach is also sustainable, because it raises awareness about the possibilities of just and equal ways of living together.