It’s been a difficult year all round for arts organisations with many having to close their doors, everyone grappling with moving online and a growing need for funding and support.  
 
Amongst that, we’re pleased to bring a success story to this week’s blog as we return to Trestle Theatre Company, who featured in 2017, to celebrate their 40th Birthday. 
 
Trestle is a mask and physical theatre company that has been making innovative physical theatre since its inception in 1981. Helen Barnett, Creative Director at Trestle Theatre Company tells us about the organisation and their work: 
 
“Through our internationally renowned mask and physical theatre practice we aim to open up opportunities for everyone to engage with the arts, unleash their creativity, and increase confidence and general wellbeing through participation. We have been situated at our home in the Highfield Park estate since 2002; following a huge refurbishment of the derelict chapel. Today we run Trestle Arts Base as a hub for our work and other community arts programmes. Regularly attended by over 100 members of the public each week, Trestle Arts Base offers a wide range of creative classes, workshops and events both directly run by us and other creative groups. We also make and export our masks to companies and educational institutions around the world and deliver high-quality training and workshops to theatre-makers, teachers and schoolchildren. 
 
This year has really been about adaptability and flexibility for the arts, with organisations working tirelessly to find new and inventive ways to ensure that everyone can continue to access high quality creative opportunities. We have seen more than ever, from the success of the wealth of online content produced in the first lockdown, that art really does make people feel better and that creating and engaging with the arts can help us collectively deal with the experience of the last two years. 
This year, Trestle celebrates its 40th Birthday and we were adamant not to let the pandemic dampen our spirits. So in May, we opened our Behind the Mask | Celebrating 40 years of Trestle Theatre Company exhibition at St Albans Museum + Gallery. The exhibition charts the history of the company and invites the public to discover the extraordinary theatre and education work that we have created over the past four decades. The exhibition is open to the public until 5th September 2021. Thanks to our learning from the last year, we are thrilled to be bringing the exhibition online after it closes at the museum. This is to enable those who weren’t able to make it to St Albans to experience the work. 
The news around the arts and education in the last year has often been difficult to read so it is important to celebrate what we have achieved. For us at Trestle, the development of our digital offer and ability to work in the digital sphere has brought us huge amounts in terms of access and inclusion. We have been able to deliver projects and workshops online with schools as far flung as Singapore, as well as working closely with schools in Hertfordshire on a hybrid online and in-person project. As Part of our Behind The Mask exhibition, we were able to bring four schools together to create a film presenting short mask performances culminating in an online event to share the work. 
 
One teacher commented 
“It was so lovely to work with other schools in a time when we have felt so distant.” 
 
In her study exploring how arts and cultural activities conducted as part of Hertfordshire’s Year of Culture impacted on the wellbeing of individuals who are lonely or social isolated in 2020, Jordana Natalie Peake identified that taking part in cultural activities “has been like a lifeline over the past year, allowing individuals to be themselves, to forget about everything else and be in a world of their own by providing a safe space for expression, connection and a focus and an enjoyment that goes beyond the class.” 
We have seen, first hand, the difference that being able to access the arts has made to regular participants as we continued to deliver our regular classes as a mix of in-person and online. The importance of continued engagement has really shown through strongly, particularly in delivering our M-ASK Health and Wellbeing Projects and Creative Mind Projects.  
 
One participant commented: 
” It’s been great taking part in a mutual creative process and having fun together.” 
 
A participant of our weekly inclusive groups for adults with physical and learning disabilities stated “I absolutely loved it and loved seeing everyone too, great to keep the contact even If on screen.” 
As we move into this difficult time of navigating a variety of needs for different people, with some feeling comfortable accessing arts outside of their home and some still isolating, it is important that we use what we have learnt together to ensure that these creative experiences can continue to be provided for everyone.  
 
We are committed to continuing to work with our local audience, schools and the wider cultural community to share learning and to find new and innovative ways to provide a mix of engagement opportunities to suit all needs. If we have learnt anything from looking back over our 40 years it’s that embracing change, and always exploring new possibilities for working, leads to resilience and a stronger creative process." 
 
 
Helen Barnett 
Creative Director, 
Trestle Theatre Company 
Behind the Mask | Celebrating 40 years of Trestle Theatre Company is open at St Albans Museum + Gallery until 5th September and will go online from 6th September.  
 
 
You can contact Trestle Theatre Company at admin@trestle.org.uk or find out more at www.trestle.org.uk 
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