Blackpool’s Grand Theatre have developed their first Technical Theatre Bronze Arts Award. Phil Fairhurst, from the Creative Learning department, tells us all about how they consulted with young people to create their Arts Award offer and how the young people picked up real-life skills and experiences along with gaining a qualification which recognises their achievements…
Blackpool’s Grand Theatre is a ‘Presenting House’, a technical term for a theatre that only presents work by companies rather than creating work itself. The theatre receives over 100 requests a year inquiring to work with its technical team from those seeking a work experience role. The Creative Learning department saw this as an opportunity to develop an extraordinary experience that would give young people the chance to learn some of the key technical skills needed in theatre and gain an insight ‘behind the curtain’.
Consulting with young people
We consulted with a small group of young people from across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre to gain as much feedback as possible about what they wanted to learn and experience and what would make a great Technical Theatre Bronze Arts Award. The aim was to respond to the needs and interests of the young people with an emphasis on quality and giving them a real-life experience by using actual theatre equipment and technical experts in a unique arts venue. These young people became the first ever ‘Grand Young Technicians’.
The first experience was a tour of the magnificent Blackpool Grand Theatre given by our Creative Learning Producer and the theatre’s Stage Manager. They had a hands-on experience of going behind the scenes to explore how lighting and sound is created, as well as how scenery operates. Following this, the young people then fed back on the key elements they felt offered a real-life experience in technical theatre. These elements were then formulated by the Creative Learning Department into an engaging and immersive Bronze Arts Award.
Technical Theatre Bronze Arts Award – overview
Q&A with theatre staff
Young people met with the theatres’ Chief Executive and Heads of Department in a Q&A session, where they were given the opportunity to ask a theatre that operates over 120 shows a year any burning questions. The Q&A was a great opportunity for the young people as over the past 125 years, the theatre will have had over 60,000 actors, dancers, choreographers and musicals through its stage door!
Meeting arts professionals
Our first Grand Young Technicians had the opportunity to meet with international award-winning choreographer Joss Arnott. The group could ask questions and Arnott explained how he and the lighting designer Fabiana Piccioli created a stunning, serene landscape of ever-changing asymmetric lighting for the production ‘V’.
Attending a technical rehearsal
The group sat through a technical rehearsal and were challenged to come up with their own lighting design, which Arnott then fed back to them on. After this opportunity to work directly with Arnott and watch his work, they felt confident to voice their opinions and questions at the post show discussion.
Working in a production team
Each young person was given a role to take on as part of a production team. They read through a script and looked at different roles within the theatre including; staging (props, lighting, scenery, sound, costume), producing and casting. They made props that could work within the production and developed an understanding of the difference between a real-life object and a prop for the stage (differences such as size, durability, weight, materials).
The group had the opportunity to see two shows so they could compare two very different dance productions and realise that not all dance productions are the same and have very specific technical requirements.
The Grand Young Technicians had two practical experiences; the first was creating a lighting plot for a scene of their choice using gobos and gels (colour). The second was lighting for a live band performance, where the group had the opportunity to share their knowledge and exchange what they had learnt.
The impact of Arts Award
A highlight for the young people was that they had a hands-on experience of using real theatre equipment, with no restrictions enforced on them and that they were able to gain knowledge from theatre experts in sound, lighting and staging.
Arts Award has supported the participants to develop new skills, gain confidence and have their achievements recognised by receiving an Arts Award at a closing event. Their attendance at school and motivation in learning has improved, they have joined other groups, selected creative subjects at GCSE and A Level and some have gone on to become Grand Young Ambassadors.
As a result of the programme, 80% of the young people reported that they have gained confidence, 100% say that they have begun to develop their own artistic voice, ideas and have learnt new skills. The experience was not only enjoyed by those taking part, but also by the theatre team and managers! It was great to see the group get so involved and the theatre team being able to pass on their knowledge and experience so these young people could get real life experiences.
Due to the success of the Technical Theatre Arts Award, we are now working with Future U and Blackpool & The Fylde College with a new group of young people to develop a Digital Silver Arts Award. The Grand will again aim to offer authenticity and real-life experiences, taking into account the young person’s interests and feedback.
The Blackpool Grand’s Creative Learning Department has invested time in planning and developing our Arts Award offer and we understand the value it has for young people. We believe that Arts Award enables young people to develop skills, personal growth and well-being. The development of our unique programme has given us a format to engage with young people, offering our strengths as a working theatre and inspiring young people in Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre to engage in the arts, whatever the role.
For more information about our Creative Learning Programme at the theatre, please see our website.