Cultural Democracy in Practice – Scene & Heard

Scene & Heard

Scene & Heard delivers a fundamental element of cultural democracy: creativity in the hands of the participant, facilitated by the host organisation. A unique mentoring project in Somers Town, Camden London, Scene & Heard uses high-quality theatre as a tool to boost the self-esteem and raise the aspirations of young people from one of the most deprived wards in England. Initially inspired by New York’s 52nd St Project, theatre created with and for an underserved community is at the heart of what Scene & Heard does.

“Scene & Heard is the most fun I’ve ever had in a theatre, I’m not kidding.

It’s simply joyous.”

SAMUEL WEST, Actor, Director and Scene & Heard Patron


Children are referred by their local primary schools in year 5, aged nine or ten. Each course has ten participants and each participant receives intensive, one-to-one adult attention throughout the course, providing the support they need to write their own play for professional actors to perform.

Each play is rehearsed by professional actors and a director, making each child the creative focus of four positive adult role models. The plays are produced with the highest possible production values by experienced designers and technicians.  Children join the actors for company warm up sessions before the shows and sit in a special playwright’s chair during the performance of their play. Each child takes a bow with their actors in front of a capacity audience.

All of the characters created at Scene & Heard are non-human, based on animals, objects and objects of nature. This strategy avoids the mundane and embraces the surreal. It also allows child playwrights, actors and audiences to freely explore themes and issues from the personal to the global, from loneliness to international conflict, at a safe distance. The golden rule is that the children’s scripts are not edited or altered in any way; the words spoken on stage are their words, elevating their vision and celebrating their imaginations.

“There’s nothing I do that is more completely creative than Scene & Heard, you feel swept along by the ideas, it’s complete freedom and the outcomes are massive.”

JONNY FREEMAN, Actor & Scene & Heard Volunteer


The plays are electrifying to witness: direct, energetic and frequently hilarious. The actors turn the authenticity of the children’s unedited scripts into dramatic and comedic moments, a testament to the production standards that Rosalind Paul, CEO & Artistic Director, demands. Audiences are made up of the community of Somers Town, theatre professionals and the wider theatre going public.

Scene & Heard is committed to the communities they serve, offering their courses, performances and all aspects of their work free to everyone, promoting equality of experience and access to culture for all. Performances are in Theatro Technis in Camden on the participants’ doorstep.

The work you are doing is invaluable for the local community – community engagement at its best. I was particularly impressed by the impact you are having on local families and the effect it is having on their community integration.”

PAUL MORRIS, Superintendent, Metropolitan Police, Camden


Scene & Heard has been working in Somers Town since 1999.  “There are two elements to our success,” says Rosalind, “a highly evolved process that leverages the volunteer support of over 400 skilled theatre professionals for a successful, democratic outcome and a deeply embedded and trusted presence in the community.”

Somers Town families experience multiple disadvantage and the community does not generally participate in London’s cultural scene. 51% of Somers Town children live below the poverty line and 71% are on the social care register.  Scene & Heard establishes trusted relationships with these hard-to-reach families over the long term. Children return for further courses tailored to their developing needs over several years; “once a Member Playwright, always a Member Playwright”.  Siblings of existing members are prioritised for places in the first course and Rosalind strives to ensure that each child’s family attend a performance and participate in their child’s success.

This is the arts as an enabler and facilitator, empowering individuals with both creative and life skills. 86% of Scene & Heard’s Member Playwrights go on to higher education and all members report improved self-esteem and confidence.  Success is measured by a robust monitoring system that records the experience of the children themselves via a “distance travelled” process. Their progress is monitored by the staff and volunteers, and feedback is collected from teachers, parents and audience members.

Scene & Heard wants to maintain their dedication to excellence in both their support of the children of Somers Town and the quality of their artistic work, and is committed to sharing their knowledge and experience with the wider educational and artistic world.  A teacher’s pack that applies their method to the classroom has been downloaded over 2000 times and has been used in classrooms from Rio to Mumbai. Rosalind and her staff offer advice and support to any practitioner or organisation that wishes to learn from their experience and skills so that more people can achieve successful outcomes.

“If you are glum about the state of the world and haven’t laughed in weeks, recover some hope by seeking out a performance from Scene & Heard. This Somers Town scheme gives intensive, targeted help to children in difficulties. It increases confidence, helps make strong relationships, teaches teamwork and co-operation, and brings out hidden creative potential. It commits to its members, sticking with them through their school life and into young adulthood. It is effective and, unlike other worthy interventions, it comes with songs, dances and jokes. It is huge fun for everyone involved – I think that is the secret of its success.”

DAME HILARY MANTEL, Author and Scene & Heard Patron


Actors Phillipa Peak and Nigel Anthony with Scene & Heard Member Playwright