Bronze Arts Award in improvised theatre
BY: Guest Writer
24 Jul 2023
Continuing our theme of arts in the community on the blog this month, Gill Simmons, Artistic Director of Brave Bold Drama in Bristol tells us about running a Bronze improvised theatre project in partnership with a local secondary school and a local theatre. This is a great example of involving live arts performance in Arts Award delivery, working with young people from a working-class community.
Student: Doing this course I learned to manage my adrenaline and anxiety.
Adviser: And how do you feel about yourself now you're through it?
Brave Bold Drama is an award-winning theatre and community arts company based in south Bristol, and is currently the only Trinity Champion Centre in Bristol for 2023-2024. It is run by myself and Paul Lawless; both full-time theatre makers. We recently delivered a Bronze Arts Award programme working with a small group of 15-16 year olds from a local secondary school, Bridge Learning Campus in Hartcliffe, and with the Bristol Improv Theatre, which is the UK’s first full-time dedicated improv theatre, based in Clifton. Improv is short for improvised theatre, a performance form where actors create scenes or even entire shows without the security of a script.
We trained the students in improvisation techniques and devised a structure that reflected the group’s genre interests (which turned out to be horror-medic drama). Towards the end of the course the students gave two performances of an improvised show called Nightmare on Ward 13 at their school and also at Bristol Improv Theatre to the paying public. Brave Bold Drama also performed at Bristol Improv Theatre, doing an improv set ourselves before the students went on. In improv culture, this made us the warm-up act, and the students became the headliners. We did this because Brave Bold Drama doesn’t ask anything of young people they aren’t prepared to do themselves. It was an important act of solidarity.
The performance was heartily supported by family, friends and most importantly, many teachers from Bridge Learning Campus, including the Head. I’ll suspend humility for a moment and say that it was a deliriously joyful night of positivity and creativity, and as one of the students said afterwards ‘I will never forget this, ever!’
Embedding arts enrichment within school hours
This project emerged because Bridge Learning Campus has made the bold decision to suspend academic timetabling every Thursday afternoon to allow for extra-curricular and enrichment activities to happen during school hours. In predominantly working-class communities like Hartcliffe, many older teenagers need to provide childcare for younger siblings after school so parents can access paid work. Embedding enrichment within designated school hours in this way addresses this socio-economic constraint and enables young people to develop their skills and interests.
Not just an enrichment activity
That said, not all elements could be delivered during school hours. Early on in the course, we took the young people to the Bristol Improv Theatre to watch a set of improv shows. This required families, and some legendary teachers, to assist in transporting students to the theatre. It’s important to say that all the families were hugely supportive of the project because this was not just an enrichment activity, it was also enabling the young people to gain additional qualifications. Again, in many working-class communities, art for art’s sake is a luxury that families simply cannot afford. If we had offered a theatre improv course without the additional element of a nationally recognised qualification, some families would have felt less able to prioritise their young people attending an evening performance.
Part D arts skills share with primary aged children
Another element that was necessary to arrange out of school hours was the arts skills share (part D). This had to happen out of school hours because by the time we got to this part in the course, the Year 11 participant was sitting GCSE examinations and couldn’t attend Thursday afternoon sessions during school hours. We arranged for the young people to lead an improv workshop for primary aged children. Bridge Learning Campus has a primary school within the same site, so this made things logistically simple. It also meant that students who had to usually provide childcare after school for younger siblings could still attend, because the younger siblings could join in with the workshop.
Most of the evidence for this course was gathered through film and sound recordings. We opted to limit the amount of writing students had to do because all of the young people said at the beginning of the course that they felt that due to GCSEs, they were doing a lot of writing. The exception to this was the arts inspiration element (Part C).
Part C arts inspiration
The students agreed to find time outside of our sessions to investigate our website and social media, and after finding out more about other aspects of our work beyond improv and community arts facilitation, the students emailed us some questions to give them a deeper understanding of our work.
We are hugely proud of this project, and are actively investigating ways for Brave Bold Drama to continue to work in partnership with both Bridge Learning Campus and the Bristol Improv Theatre.
I will leave you with the words of Kierann Shah, artistic director of the Bristol Improv Theatre, who had this to say about the project:
‘I was blown away by the courage, focus, and professionalism of the young performers. All the performers had great comic and theatrical instincts that they had obviously worked on developing and using to support each other, and the result was a very funny show that had the audience howling with laughter and grinning pretty much all the way through.’
To find out more about Brave Bold Drama, visit www.bravebolddrama.co.uk.
Photos by Gill Simmons of the young people during a dress rehearsal at Bristol Improv Theatre
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