11 Feb 2023

Devising Discovery: Behind the Scenes

The final platform of the Devising Discovery outreach programme is a buzzy, packed, full day. It begins with registration in the morning – where students arrive from all across Devon. They gather here at the University of Exeter – some having driven over an hour or caught two trains to get here. (Devon is big!)

This day is about celebrating and platforming original devised theatre work which has been created in secondary and FE programmes across Devon.

The day is staffed by 8 Lead Teaching Artists and 12 students from the University of Exeter.

We begin the day with rehearsals in Roborough Studios – these big, open studios allow for us all to warm up together, to start to get to know students from other drama programmes.

This is such an important part of the day – celebrating the diverse array of performing arts and drama programmes we have in Devon. In the 12 years I have been running this outreach programme, I’ve seen these programmes come under increasing threat – they have reduced by nearly a quarter in that time. The fact that they continue to survive (and thrive) in some schools is thanks in no small part to the committed dedication of specific drama and performing arts teachers who champion their programmes, ensuring students can continue to access this vital provision. I’ve written about this before.

So for me, as the coordinator, this day is partly about visibility. About making this invisible labour of hardworking drama teachers more seen – by platforming their students’ oustanding performances.

This day for me is about amplifying the voice and presence of these programmes and advocating for their continuation – no, I actually mean their growth. Because we need them and more of them.

These programmes are vital spaces – where young people’s voices, agency, authorship and confidence is empowered and given space to manifest. In these programmes, their artistry is respected and nurtured. Skills like empathy, compassion, tolerance, respect, collaboration, leadership, and listening are supported and can grow. Each year, I’m newly astounded by this next generation of courageous critical thinkers, with vivid imaginations, real bravery, and a desire to think outside the box.

Brace for scary stats – according the Drama and Theatre Alliance, between 2010 and 2017, there was a 24% drop in students taking GCSE drama. This is due in no small part of the government-initiated EBACC (English Baccaleurate) programme, which has had a devastating impact not only on drama, but also on dance, music and visual arts programmes across the last decade. This is reversible. It will take concerted, collective action. But it is fixable.

This work needs urgent advocacy – we are facing an epidemic of mental health issues with young people in contemporary Britain and there is a direct correlation between arts/music/drama/dance subject study at the secondary level and young people’s mental health & wellbeing. Investing in arts programmes is a direct action we can take to support young people’s reservoires of joy, confidence, connection and hope. Read more from the Cultural Learning Alliance on this topic here

Our education system is about to undergo a period of intense change as we face the incoming challenges of climate change, economic shifts, global instability, forced migration, and the rapid evolutions of our systems to adjust to meet these very real challenges. Arts programmes are vital work in this period of adjustment. Arts programmes teach the skills that our next generation will need. Now is the moment to make this case, and to make it loudly.

I would heartily encourage you to get involved in the DTEA ‘Seize the Day’ campaign which is taking place from 20-27 March 2023. You can register your interest in getting involved here.

If you are already doing work in either primary or secondary education, providing drama or theatre outreach, workshops, touring shows, classes, talks, or anything else, you can register your event to be included in this campaign. Let’s shout together as one.

Let’s invite our local MPs, councillors, officials, senior MAT leaders, budget-holders, strategic leaders – let’s get them into these spaces to see the work first-hand.

Covid has meant that in-person visits to events have been impossible for a long time. But there is nothing better than actually being in the live room where this kind of magic is taking place.

You can access the DTEA social media package of support here – it’s fab!

And this advocacy needs to begin at the primary level. Here in England, where only music & art/design exist as mandatory primary education in the National Curriculum, we are well behind the curve. The new Welsh National Curriculum for Primary Education now includes Expressive Arts (drama, dance, music, film/media) as one of 6 key subject areas.

Scotland’s primary curriculum has included Expressive Arts (arts & design, drama, dance & music) for some time.

The Cultural Learning Alliance has been driving and advocating for this work nationally in England – you can read some of their excellent and robust briefing docs here.

So… action stations time! 🙂

Here’s the DTEA’s handy checklist of ways that you can get involved in #SeizetheDay from 20-27 March 2023:

  1. Register your interest in hosting an event here.

  2. Check whether your MP has been invited.

  3. If your MP is not listed, Invite them to your event. Use this link to find your local MP.

  4. View our template invitation letter in Microsoft word or PDF. We recommend getting the children and young people you work with to help adapt this invitation.

  5. Invite your local newspaper or radio station.

  6. Post about your event on social media and in newsletters to your community. See our sample social posts template in Microsoft Word or PDF, and use the #SeizeTheDay.

  7. Review the NGA & ACE Guidance for School Governors on the teaching of Drama in schools and share throughout your school community

  8. Read our #SeizeTheDay campaign briefing note for schools.

  9. Download and print the Drama, Theatre and Young People Manifesto and petition to hand to your MP
  10. Film the event and send it to us dtealliance@gmail.com via We Transfer or similar platforms. Please seek the permission of parents of any children filmed.

  11. Whether your MP or local press are able to attend or not, please share videos, photos, participant and audience testimony to them in lieu of a personal visit.

  12. Let us know how it went.


#SeizeTheDay Channels:

All of the above images are from behind the scenes at the Devising Discovery Platform (Saturday 11 Feb 2023). Image credit: Doorstep Arts.

The Devising Discovery Platform is made possible by the University of Exeter Widening Participation programme and Arts Council England, with support from University of Exeter Applied Drama course and the staff at the Exeter Northcott Theatre.