Ideas Test: theatre for young people, by young people
A Creative People and Places case study for AMAculturehive. Ideas Test takes us through how they worked collaboratively to co-create theatre that prioritised young people's voices.
Image created by Will Adams Centre students and Marie Horner (Dante or Die)
Ideas Test, alongside other local theatre organisations and Local Cultural Education Partnerships in Medway and Swale, helped create Medway Council’s successful bid for £1 million, awarded by Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This was part of their Youth Performance Participation Fund which aims to support new opportunities for children and young people from areas of low cultural engagement and high levels of deprivation to design their own programme of workshops, events and productions as well as developing backstage and technical skills.
The successful bid, called Theatre31, is managed through Medway Council and Icon Theatre.
Ideas Test continued to support the Theatre31 project via Youth Panels on Isle of Sheppey and by the Morpheus commission.
With Morpheus we aimed to :
- Engage with Students from alternative provision education settings.
- Support students to value their own ideas and skills and to create a collaborative piece of theatre.
- To enable students to gain confidence in their abilities e.g., to initiate their own projects, develop skills.
- To prioritise young people’s voices.
- Create a piece of theatre devised by the students and supported by professional theatre-makers.
- Support school staff from Will Adams Centre so they are better skilled to deliver projects that encourage co creation and collaboration.
We also wanted to create:
- Reflections from students, staff and artist/practitioners capture process.
- Performances based on small group work, potentially using multimedia.
- Documentation of the workshop sessions (photos, recordings).
- Creation of props/costumes as relevant.
- A sharing session for teachers, students and practitioners as professional development and for legacy in Medway.
- Pupils from years 10 and 11 in alternative provisions in Gillingham
- Teacher/s from Will Adams Centre
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, the project had to change drastically to address the needs of lockdown restrictions and health and safety concerns.
The creative team - Ideas Test, the Will Adams Centre’s lead teacher, Dante or Die - met each week to develop the project and discuss a way to deliver during lockdown, all overseen by Theatre 31.
As many of the students began to attend the school in-person, the decision was taken to develop delivery via video. These sessions were designed by Dante or Die facilitators and delivered by their art teacher. We held a creative meeting and session each week with the teacher where we explored the lesson plans and actively sought evaluation and reflection to shape the project.
To meet the needs of the students, sessions were planned around their availability and learning needs. The sessions were highly flexible, and could be delivered around their school day in bitesize chunks if needed, rather than at fixed days and times.
We also planned in ‘settling back’ time where students could return to schooling and not feel pressured by the project.
To recruit young people to take part in the project, Ideas Test’s Director Lucy Medhurst met with the Head of Will Adams Centre to discuss the possibility of running the project with their students.
We had £14,000 available for the project, to cover everything from project management to session delivery, planning, and evaluation. Additionally we were able to secure a further £500 in funding from the Bounceback Festival (details below) which enabled us to engage a website designer to create our bespoke Morpheus website to showcase the final product.
- 8 pupils participated weekly, and completed the project.
- 2 Artists facilitated the sessions, contracted through Dante or Die (a playwright and an audio specialist).
- 14 delivery sessions in total.
- 1 sharing session (this was a low key event designed to alleviate any pressure on the students – it involved the two facilitators, the students and their teacher, who were the first people to see the final version website, and share snacks and reflections).
- We made additional successful bids for Morpheus to be part of The Gulbenkian Theatre’s Bounceback Festival, and Electric Medway Festival, raising the profile of the project and reaching wider audiences.
‘This project has changed our lives for the better! If we hadn’t done this, I think we’d all still be the shy kids we were, not really putting ourselves out there’.
‘It’s hard to describe really. We’ve learnt imagination skills. We’ve learnt how to be more confident. How to stand up for ourselves. How to put ourselves out there when we didn’t think we could. Seeing how our stuff has grown through being planned from beginning to end. Now we can plan projects a lot easier and perform our work a lot easier with all that we’ve learned and done through the Morpheus project.’
The art teacher:
- In our creative meetings, the art teacher reflected that she feels that the students have really got something from the project. They are proud of it, and have shared the website with family and friends. This is notable as they do not usually engage with school projects outside of school. It brought out the childlike side of ‘playing’ and ‘wanting a turn’ etc.
Successes and challenges
- A substantial and perhaps surprising success was around the virtual delivery method. Although it was born out of necessity, it became an incredibly creative, flexible and successful model. The art teacher reflected on this, saying that if we were to do the project again, even in different circumstances, this would be her preferred way of doing it.
- Challenges included lockdown restrictions, students’ availability and willingness to engage with learning. The idea to have the art teacher as a trusted intermediary figure who could deliver the project in a flexible way tailored to each student was very successful.
- Much of the project’s focus was on the process of creating, and with this came some exciting discoveries. It also meant that due to the nature of the work and students, we were not 100% sure what the final product would be, or even if we would have one. There is real value in creation for its own sake of course, but actually, through gentle encouragement and small achievable tasks the students were able to produce a very effective final interactive story map.
- Build in room for regular discussion and reflection - the weekly creative team meetings were invaluable to share best practice, evaluate what was and was not working, and enabled a flexible and highly imaginative approach.
- Partnership working - building really strong partnerships and a sense of trust with the Will Adams Centre, the art teacher in particular and the facilitators meant that we were able to collaborate very well.
This project was unique, creative and succeeded in prioritising young people’s voices. It was not without its challenges in terms of all discussed above, but ultimately it has provided a template for a new and exciting method of delivery which could be transferable to other scenarios and settings. Most importantly, it has encouraged creativity and self confidence in the participants :
‘If I was telling another young person about Morpheus and Theatre31, I’d tell them it would be a fun thing to do. You can see all of the work that we’ve done online. All of the effort that we’ve put in it. They will then think to themselves ‘If they can do it, I can do it as well!’ They would want to do a project like this too and that will make it more popular. A domino effect!’.
Morpheus participant/Will Adams Centre student
Ideas Test is a Creative People and Places funded project that aims to increase opportunities for people in Swale & Medway to take part in arts and creative activity in ways they choose.