Your Life: How my life was saved by Belgrade's acting course; In association with Coventry Fostering Service.
IT MAY seem like a cliche, but Danielle Ismay is serious when she's says the theatre probably saved her life.
A teenage rebel, Danielle was offered a place on a performing arts programme run by Coventry's Belgrade Theatre as a last effort to rescue her from drink and crime.
The theatre's Acting Out initiative, now in its tenth year, dramatically helped turn Danielle's life around, as she told KAREN HAMBRIDGE.
FORMER teenage tear away, Danielle Ismay, reckons she'd either be dead or in jail if it wasn't for a drama project run by Coventry's Belgrade Theatre.
Danielle, 18, escaped a spiral of alcohol abuse and violence through an initiative called Acting Out, which works to 're-engage' disaffected youngsters.
Now Danielle is on a course studying radio production at Swanswell College and is looking forward to getting her own flat.
She's also appeared on the Belgrade stage with a professional cast for a two week-long run.
Her story is just one of a series of successes across the ten-year history of Acting Out which offers a chance for troubled teens to learn drama, dance and media skills.
One former participant has gone on to drama school and is now in his third year.
Like him, Danielle has totally turned her life around. No small feat when it appeared she was on a one-way path to self-destruction.
At 14, she was expelled from school following a run-in with a teacher. The incident was a culmination of years of tension and unrest for Danielle - it was so serious she ended up in court.
She was given a nine-month youth offending course and wheels were put in motion to try and arrange some kind of alternative activity for the restless schoolgirl.
With a complex family background it was almost inevitable that Danielle might encounter difficulties children from more stable environments escaped.
Her mum suffered depression when she was younger and she admits this had a profound effect.
She rebelled against authority and was unable to contain her frustration and anger, indifferent to the consequences of losing out on education.
Danielle explains: "I was excluded and told I couldn't go back to that school. The case went to court and me and my mum appeared and I just admitted everything.
"I got nine months on a youth offending course. We did ironing at Stoke House and the youth offending centre and I had to do an anger management course.
"I hated school. I didn't like the way the teachers spoke to me - like they were better than me - and I was happy about being excluded.
"I wasn't bothered about missing out on education and not getting exams at the time - but then you get older and you realise that you have missed out."
As the school and other agencies attempted to find an outlet for Danielle her personal life became ever more destructive.
She stumbled into a spiral of drinking and fighting, expressing her emotions in the only way which seemed available.
"I just started getting in even more trouble, drinking and fighting, I was always in trouble with the police.
"I did feel a bit withdrawn. I hadn't had the best upbringing. My mum suffered from depression when I was younger and it rubbed off on me. It was hard dealing with that.
"I suppose it was the frustration and anger coming out."
Meanwhile she had been given a booklet with options for courses, and narrowing it down to three her caseworker had suggested Acting Out.
She enrolled, turning up at the Belgrade often after appearing at youth court.
Initially Danielle was unsure how about the programme.
Standing in front of a crowd of other teenagers, speaking dialogue and doing drama exercises wasn't that appealing. She felt awkward and exposed.
"I'd done drama at school and it was all right but I didn't think I'd ever do anything with it and when I first started I didn't really like it.
"It was embarrassing, we'd have to say stuff in front of everyone and I felt uncomfortable because I didn't know anyone.
"But after a bit it was fine because we were all from the same kind of backgrounds and had been through similar kinds of things so it was easier to come out of yourself and everyone started getting on well.
"I used to look forward to it and I'd always turn up, which was way different for me - I'd never turn up for anything, I'd never keep appointments.
"At school I'd do anything to stay away. My mum would take me and I'd go in one gate and straight out the other."
With a freer, less authoritarian atmosphere Danielle began to blossom. At first the group played games to build confidence and get everyone used to one another.
Then it was dancing, acting and writing scripts.
She found ways to express her feelings without getting drunk and picking fights and she started to realise just how futile her behaviour had been.
"Everyone worked together - it was really good. I loved going and I felt if I didn't turn up I was letting people down.
"It made me feel like I didn't want to get into trouble and it made me realise it wasn't worth it and that I could actually do something good and worthwhile with my life "I didn't want to let our course leader Tom down either - he'd had have been really upset if I'd got back into trouble."
After two years with Acting Out, Danielle went on to college, inspired to do performing arts and further her acting ambitions.
Her expectations though were not fulfilled and back in a more institutionalised environment among a group she felt were too competitive and unfriendly she dropped out of the course.
It might have been easy for her to slip back into trouble but older, wiser and with a new sense of self-worth Danielle decided to try something different and applied for a place on a radio production course.
"I started that in September and it's great," said Danielle. "I'd love to be a radio presenter, like Fearne Cotton - I love her and she does TV as well.
"I also do an hour slot on a community radio statio, Hills FM, at noon on a Thursday. It's just online at the moment but it's getting a licence to go on air for three years."
Danielle certainly seems determined to carve out a career for herself in some kind of performing art and it's all down to Acting Out. Without out it she dreads to think what direction her young life may have taken.
"Acting Out really changed my life. If I hadn't done it, I'd be dead or in jail - loads of people have said so.
"It's amazing where I am now from where I was going - I've completely turned my life around.
"Sometimes you just need a bit of a support and the right environment and someone to push you and make you see you do need to do something constructive."
'I hated school. I didn't like the way the teachers spoke to me - like they were better than me - I was happy about being excluded.'
JB270209dani-02; SITTING PRETTY... Danielle in the auditorium of the Belgrade Theatre - she says she's amazed how she has managed to turn her life around, and (below, right) on stage in The House of Bernarda Alba. JB270209dani-03
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|Publication:||Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)|
|Date:||Mar 11, 2009|
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