Iffley Road is not obviously interesting, certainly not when compared with the buzz of its sister roads, Cowley and St. Clement’s. But go far enough down, and nestled among the staid elegance of three storey red-bricks, a dark-gleaming box-like building emerges. It is the Pegasus Theatre.
But to call it a Theatre diminishes its uniqueness. Certainly, Pegasus does theatre, but not like anywhere else in Oxford.
The driving force behind Pegasus is to get young people into theatre. “All our projects aim to work on self-esteem, building confidence, inspiring people to be creative,” explained Angharad Phillips, Youth Arts Leader at Pegasus.
The range of projects Pegasus involves young people in is impressive in and of itself. There’s dance, drama, music technology, technical theatre work, creative writing, and the occasional course on filming, all of which end in performances. Most of the classes are based in the theatre itself, but a lot of the time Pegasus takes drama elsewhere, to schools and community centres across Oxford and Oxfordshire. The aim is to help those who would not, otherwise, be able to access theatre, whether because of socio-economic disadvantages, or because of living in the depths of the country.
Last year they ran an international arts festival called Mesh, “where we had young people coming from Croatia, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Thailand, Iran, and they all came together and they worked together for ten days to produce a full scale production using music, drama and dance and lots of languages,” said Phillips, with a chuckle at the end of the sentence, as if having so many languages all under one roof might have been a logistical nightmare. “We worked mainly in English, though we had translators, and in the final show we tried to represent the different languages.”
Pegasus’ youth projects tend to be grouped under themes, this year’s being Food and Justice. “We’re looking at themes of how our decisions impact others, and global themes of waste and food miles and asking lots of questions around the ethics of food,” said Phillips. The groups then interpret the theme as suits them best; “one of our groups is taking inspiration from the King Midas story of the golden touch, of wanting everything but then that not actually being everything it’s cracked up to be.”
Pegasus gets results, too. Young people from their courses tend to come back for more; some even end up working for the theatre, like Phillips herself. A member’s committee, comprised of young people, takes part in the governance of Pegasus, helping with sub-committees and sending representatives to the Board of Trustees.
The building was “redesigned” just a couple of years ago, though it was actually more of a slash, burn and rebuild – the only original part is the shell of the theatre proper. The architects consulted both the staff and the young people, one of the results of which is the floor’s colour scheme; “the young people commented… that Pegasus was like an enchanted forest where you never knew quite what was round the corner – so the dappling on the floor is to reflect sunlight coming through dappled leaves.”
Theatre that makes young people think, where the courses are not run merely for them, but also partly by them, all housed in a stunning new structure – it should make for a pleasant change from underfunded and understaffed pretentious drivel. And if you don’t want to pay to see their shows, their numerous volunteering opportunities include ushering.