Post written by: Erin Walcon
We’ve just completed our first year of our Arts Council-funded project Stepping Stones, which will continue until April 2018. It’s been such a joyful year, full of buzzing activity in Torbay for children and young people… but I think my favourite success story from this first year has been the response to our Open Doors outreach programme.
As I’ve written about before, schools relationships have been a long slow process of bridge-building in Torbay.
With this Arts Council funding, we feel like there’s been a big breakthrough. Open Doors is a consistent, reliable offer which schools are learning to trust. This year has included primary outreach and secondary outreach. From January to March 2017, we worked with 760 students, across 18 schools, delivering 30 workshops and 2 large-scale platform events. It was a very busy three months.
This meant going to schools we’d never visited before, as well as returning to some committed partners. Applied Theatre students from the University of Exeter were invaluable in delivering secondary devising workshops alongside professional artist mentors.
With their help, we ran a platform event in late February with the Exeter Northcott Theatre, where a diverse array of secondary students from 10 different schools across Devon and Torbay came together to perform their original work on a professional stage.
Watching a young person perform their own story on a professional stage for the first time? It is like watching a fire be lit, right in front of your eyes.
The really important thing about the platform event was that it wasn’t a competition. It’s an open free platform which any school can engage with – no matter what resources or staffing they have in their drama department. The story is the same across all the schools visit… arts education budgets are shrinking. It’s getting harder to resist government initiatives which are emphasising test results and diminishing arts programmes. Mandates like the new EBACC are discouraging students from taking theatre, music and dance at GCSE and A-level. Drama programmes are losing staff and the positions are not being rehired. We have to get smarter about how we fight.
Because this is worth fighting for.