|[This is the text of the nomination for an award under the Creative Britons Scheme, written in 1998]|
Peter Wynne‑Willson has spent most of his working life in Birmingham, involved in, setting up and sustaining a wide range of projects and organisations devoted to bringing the arts to large numbers of young people and community audiences, and building links between schools and artists. His work has also stimulated and encouraged many other arts practitioners in work with children and young people.
Peter came to Birmingham with his parents in 1970, as a schoolchild. After a period working as an actor in Glasgow, and then studying drama at Manchester University, he returned to Birmingham in 1981, where he has remained ever since.
On his return in 1981 Peter knew he wanted to work in theatre for young people. There was no theatre‑in‑education company in Birmingham at that time, so he took the decision to set one up, persuading a fellow student from Manchester to come to the city to help him with the venture. Thus, Big Brum Theatre in Education Company was born, with the aim of providing a high quality service to schools, colleges, and community venues, both in Birmingham and the West Midlands region.
Peter stayed with the Company until l991, keeping it going through a time when many other such theatre companies were closing. In the early stages this was achieved partly by subsidising it with work at weekends [for Central Television as a warm‑up man] while the quality and commitment of Big Brum's work gradually made the case for a proper funding base.
In the ten years that Peter was with Big Brum as actor‑teacher and Artistic Director, the Company established itself as a valued resource in local schools and communities, with more than thirty original projects. All the work was highly interactive, and included a number of significant innovations ‑ in particular, the development of the 'Rent‑a‑Role' method, the use of drama across the secondary curriculum (notably in Maths and Science), and the use of in‑role discussion with adult audiences. In addition to performing and directing, Peter began to develop his own writing with the company. Of eighteen professionally produced plays that he has written, five were for Big Brum. These included works that explored aspects of Birmingham's history, and toured to community venues as well as to schools, thus reaching a wide range of audiences and enabling them to reflect on and learn from episodes in their own and their City's past.
Big Brum Theatre in Education Company survives to this day, and has won an international reputation for the highest standard of artistic and educational work with young people and community audiences. Peter Wynne‑Willson remains an active advocate for Big Brum, and has an ongoing commitment to the organisation through his membership of its management committee.
Peter's dedication to young people and theatre, and his belief in the educational power of theatre, has also led him to play a key role in establishing two organisations to further the links between arts and education. In 1985 he was instrumental in setting up the Theatre in Health Education Trust, one of the very first efforts to attract funds for health‑related theatre in education. The success of this beginning is illustrated by the fact that there is now a flourishing theatre in health education movement throughout the country, and the Theatre in Health Education Trust itself is still thriving.
The second organisation which Peter was involved in establishing, in 1988, was the Birmingham Education Arts Forum (BEAF). The aim was to make links between artists and schools, arid it was set up at a time when the arts and education departments of local councils often had no contact with each other. BEAF was the first organisation of its kind in the country, and was used as a model for further such developments both in the West Midlands region and by the Arts Council of England. BEAF is still very active in Birmingham, promoting awareness of the arts in education, developing models of good practice, and encouraging collaboration between schools and artists, and Peter has continued his involvement with the organisation as one of its Executive Officers.
Since leaving Big Brum, Peter has been working as a freelance writer, director, and performer with several other young people's theatre companies in Birmingham and beyond, including Greenwich and Lewisham YPT, the Half Moon YPT, Merseyside YPT and Gazebo TIE Company. His own body of work is impressive, including the much admired 'Heads or Tails' for Big Brum, 'Roy', 'The Broken Peace', Nora's Ark' and 'Fromů.' He received a special Arts Council Writers Bursary in 1997, and the Sacred Earth Drama Award in 1998 for 'El Mono' a children's musical about the animals of the Andes. He has also undertaken countless projects himself in schools in the City, as well as across the West Midlands. These have been as writer-in-residence, or director or co-ordinator, working in a wide range of ways, but almost always revolving around the creation of new work by and with young people. This work has continued to involve him constantly in activities directly with young people, as well as with teachers and other artists. He also works widely with community groups, and with people with learning difficulties.
In addition, Peter has been on the Birmingham LEA's 'Teachers and Artists Working Together' panel, since its inception in 1993. He is also Education Consultant to Birmingham Opera Company, with a brief to devise and oversee their education work over several years, helping to involve new community audiences in the most challenging and exciting opera work possible. Since 1996 he has been Education Adviser to the Birmingham Hippodrome, writing the theatre's education policy, which forms a major part of the theatre's huge redevelopment. Work for the Hippodrome has also included pioneering projects alongside Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera.
The legacies of Peter's nineteen years work are not only the continuation of the organisations he established, and the large numbers of young people both he and those organisations have worked with; but also the many people in arts, education and health whose own work has been enriched and developed by their involvement in the projects set up by Peter. Very many have gone on themselves to develop and build arts work with children of all ages and with communities throughout the region. In addition, Peter has passed on his experience and expertise through lecturing at the Universities of Warwick and Wolverhampton, and as an external examiner for the Central School of Speech and Drama. Recently he has been breaking new ground for a term as Visiting Professor of Theatre-in-Education at the Korean National University of the Arts, in Seoul. This visit was arranged in order to establish the very first TIE course in South Korea, and is likely to mark the beginning of a wide-ranging collaboration.
Peter Wynne‑Willson sees all his work as dedicated to the furtherance of the use of arts in education. He has said "I took the decision to stay in young people's theatre and in Birmingham out of the sense of belonging that I have found in both areas. I have always found it easy to avoid temptations towards work of 'higher status' (in the eyes of many), simply because I enjoy what I do so much. It has a real straightforward purpose about it, which much of the 'mainstream' of theatre work does not hold for me.'
Peter Wynne‑Willson is widely recognised in the region as having made highly significant and lasting contributions to the development of theatre for young people and local communities, to the practice and philosophy of arts education, to strong and productive relationships between artists and schools, and to the enrichment of young people's learning and lives.