At 76, it’s fair to say theatre has been a huge part of Jenny Shryane’s life. Since 1969, she’s taught drama in schools, colleges and universities, as well as helping to create community theatre productions.
In her retirement, Jenny has participated in People’s Company sessions at Theatre Royal Plymouth. It’s her way of being able to continue her love of theatre-making.
People’s Company is a TRP project which offers weekly workshops exploring aspects of theatre-making such as writing, storytelling and performance, with the aim of building confidence and allowing participants to develop new skills.
Jenny recalls her first experience of theatre.
“I grew up in Torquay, and my first memory of being excited about theatre was when I was chosen to be the swallow in Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. We performed it at Oldway Mansion in Paignton and that’s my first positive memory of being in front of an audience and being involved in theatre.”
Jenny worked in the South West for several years, teaching drama and making community theatre.
“My husband and I then did a crazy thing and took a very, very late gap year and bought an old motorcaravan and took our four-year-old daughter off to North Africa. When we came back, we settled in Chester for about 35 years continuing teaching and drama work.”
Teaching drama was Jenny’s passion and something she found incredibly rewarding.
“When you see a student who in some way wouldn’t have fitted into the normal run of school, succeeding in that subject, and coming to life and having the confidence to do things. It’s that life skill aspect that I find so important.”
In 2019, when it was time for Jenny and her husband to retire, they moved back to the South West and settled in Plymouth.
“Our son was working at TR2 and we immediately joined People’s Company. It sounded like our sort of theatre. It sounded as though it was about theatre as a life skill, as a social tool, about the community. Then Covid happened and no sooner had we joined, everything shut.”
Before sessions went online, Jenny recalls her first in-person People’s Company workshop.
“It was a bit dubious at first. I was a bit like ‘am I a bit too old for this, or am I going to get bored?’ but far from it.
“It was so refreshing to be on the receiving end of it and not the giving end that I had been for decades and decades. It was just so much fun. I’m always, always learning which is what I love about theatre. There’s always something that takes me by surprise, something I hadn’t thought of, another way of looking at something, or another voice to hear.
“There was an atmosphere of safety, fun, accepting but the atmosphere was always incredibly disciplined. There was a lovely work ethos in those first workshops.”
Wherever Jenny and her husband Paul have lived in the country, they have always worked on community productions about lesser told stories. This was something they continued after retiring to Plymouth, having put on plays about the Plymouth Blitz and the murder of Charlotte Dymond on Bodmin Moor, to name just two.
“An aspect of theatre that really interests me is that idea of giving voice to the voiceless.
“We’ve picked up a few incredible people from the People’s Company who have worked on these productions too.
“I’m not a performer myself. The last time I did any acting was at university. I’m much more interested in the creative side, the directing, the writing, and working with actors to put my ideas into flesh and blood.”
Jenny has recently completed a 10-week People’s Company course on puppetry. Despite having been involved in theatre and drama for almost all her life, she’s still learning new things through the project.
“There’s always something to learn. It’s also about being with like-minded people. There’s this sense that they all care about theatre.”
Find out more about People’s Company: https://theatreroyal.com/peoples-company-2023
Watch Jenny’s video: