Throughout the year the OPEN Youth Trust, a city centre youth charity, holds a wide variety of classes ranging from dance to creative writing, all for young people under the age of 19.

In a heart-warming yearly tradition, the attendees of OPEN's classes along with members of the Youth Team come together to organise an annual ‘Summer Showcase’ – a performance amalgamating the range of activities and talents into one single evening. This year’s showcase named “OPEN at the Big Top” was to be circus themed, in conjunction with the national celebration of 250 years of circus.

The stage was set – OPEN’s grand Banking Hall had been transformed with bunting, table decorations, themed food and costumes into a setting that encapsulated the tradition of the circus and was the first indication of how much work and planning had truly gone into the event. A huge variety of acts found on the programme, promised everything from dance and musical theatre to drama and poetry readings. Successfully incorporating around 25 acts into one show would be an impressive feat for any event, but OPEN’s Youth Team and young people achieved just that and the showcase was a huge hit. The evening was split into two acts, separated by a short interval and finishing with a grand finale.

The showcase began with the first of many impressive dance routines that would feature throughout the night, performed by OPEN's Jazz dance group, the eldest group to feature in the evening. Their song choice – ‘The Greatest Show’ – was a grand opening for the evening and set the bar high for the acts that would follow. The maturity and dedication of the young performers was clear from the beginning, it was obvious that the showcase was the product of hard work over many months. In a second creative performance utilising the medium of drama, the audience was introduced to the various ‘members of the circus’ played by each of the young people. These included classics such as the ringmaster, the lion tamer and the strongman. A personal favourite was the ventriloquist, which was creatively attained through the use of one of the younger performers as their puppet. What followed was a collection of dance, creative writing and musical theatre performances by young people, some as young as four. Some were tear-jerking, touching on the realities of issues such as mental health, whereas others aimed to inspire and uplift. All were unique expressions of emotion and talent which were a joy to watch, and as someone who is neither family nor peer to any of the performers, one can only imagine the sense of pride and happiness that the evening brought to said people. This event was clearly about the young people, celebrating their hard work over the year and perhaps unbeknownst to them, providing them with organisational skills that most do not learn until later in life. One of the most impressive acts was 'Come Alive', performed by reengagement students from both the City of Norwich School and the Open Academy. They were given only 5 weeks to learn the routine, and pulled it off brilliantly. It added to the overall message of the evening, proving that young people who may be unsuccessful in mandatory education can excel in other areas when they find their passion. 

The finale, featuring the entirety of the cast and members of the Youth Team, was the highlight of the event. An emotional rendition of ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman brought the message of the showcase home – that regardless of the obstacles that present themselves or pressures placed on us by others, we should follow our passions. Overall the evening was inspiring, and it is pleasant to see the young people at OPEN outdoing themselves and challenging the stereotypes placed on various identities, as well as on young people in general.

Copies of OPEN at the Big Top DVD will be on sale for £5 this Autumn, to purchase a copy email activities@opennorwich.org.uk.

Photo caption:  Young people of OPEN performing in the finale of the Summer Showcase, credit: OPEN Norwich. 

Review by Matthew McKillop