The community programs at the Unicorn Theatre in London inspire Artist Development Fellow Madison Deming '18 on her arts education mission.
By Madison Deming '18
Sally Pembroke is a one-woman department – really: a one-woman machine – working tirelessly to create and run programs for at-risk communities (children in care, young carers, young mothers, low-income families, children with disabilities – the list goes on). The hours she spends inside the office are packed with planning her next big community project, writing anonymous case studies on children in her programs, documenting the journeys of those who participate – not just for the sake of institutional memory, but in an attempt to demonstrate to funders that her programs are worthy of their time and resources. The hours she spends outside the office are no doubt filled with much of the same, despite being off the clock. Pembroke never stops fighting for young people and theater.
If you have the honor, as I did, to observe her in her natural habitat – inspiring children from even the most difficult backgrounds to crack a smile during a comedy workshop or offering to take a turn carrying a young mother's baby during a tiring but exciting tour of The Unicorn – the source of her bottomless motivation becomes obvious. And you can't help but catch the bug.
I spent four days with Pembroke watching children take ownership of their talents and leave every day with something to feel proud of. The resilience I saw in each of them was beyond anything I could've imagined especially in the face of incredible struggles at such young ages. This program gave these children something that belonged to them. Nothing feels quite as incredible as hearing a child in care introduce himself by saying, "Hi. I'm ____. And I am part of The Unicorn." I could spend hours writing about how each and every child in the Unicorn Young Creators program captured my heart in just four days. They deserve far more. They deserve hundreds more programs like these, programs they'll only receive if we dedicate more time, passion and money to incredible community projects like these.
One day, I accompanied Pembroke's Creative Young Mums program on a tour of The Unicorn building. While the mums and their babies were sitting down for lunch, I offered to hold one of the babies to give a mum the chance to eat. After the baby determined that his mother was safely in reach and that my arm could be trusted as a pillow, he began to fall asleep in my arms (and I began to float swiftly up to Cloud Nine). I saw relief wash over the young mother's face. I cannot possibly understand what it's like to be a struggling single mother under the age of 23, but I have to imagine that a moment of peace is hard to come by.
The only thing that might be harder to come by are programs like the ones Pembroke runs: free, fun and focused as much on the well-being of the mother as on the well-being of the baby.