Bounce has the opportunity to be awarded a grant at the moment. This is to work with Anstee Bridge in Kingston upon Thames. It is very hard to put into words the passion one feels for this sort of work to continue. In the current climate, the arts needs more diversity and education needs to be more creative. In this case, the later is perhaps more pertinent. The young people that attend Anstee have often experienced more hardship in 15 years than many of us will as adults. In the hope that you will forgive us if we've clogged up your social media feeds, we're reposting something from a couple of years ago.
Anstee Bridge is a unique programme in Kingston upon Thames for young people who are already or identified at risk of becoming NEET in their final year of school. Students in Year 11 are referred by their schools for a multitude of reasons - they've been severely bullied, are in care, are young carers, have experienced or witnessed abuse or have mental health needs.
Anstee takes small groups of young people and turns a tiny room into a place where they experience everything from magic to colour theory to cartooning to this year mounting a production.
The programme promotes the ethos of 'confidence through creativity’.
Confidence is such a loaded word. At the ripe old age of 35 I think I struggle with being confident at times and I am not the young person sitting on the opposite side of the table, there simply because they've experienced that life is hard all to soon.
When I started this year, out of 24 students, around 4 said they would like drama. I was about to embark on a production project with them. Disengaged with school and about to attempt to make WW1 appealing through drama, my heart sank.
In our early rehearsals, there was perhaps an anti-creativity. Lack of confidence manifested itself in lots of ways - anger, aggression, refusal to participate or talking about anything other than the task in hand as a delay tactic.
There is a funny thing that happens at Anstee though, you get to know the students so well, you become like a little family and you begin to appreciate confidence is such a loaded word because it is such a personal thing. A young person with an inherited drug problem will exhibit confidence differently to a young person who has just been assaulted. So equally their capacity to be creative is such a personal thing to ask them to offer before any scrutiny begins with regards to artistic excellence and product.
This is why it's hard to quantify why our work with Anstee Bridge has worked so well.
My WW1 project became Trench Stories. One of the most challenging, tiring and ultimately most rewarding projects in my 12 years of being an arts practitioner. It was a WW1 tale about courage, survival and dealing with trauma.
I recently saw some footage of the early rehearsals and I looked relatively lost amid a group of teenage boys who never asked to be in a play because theatre is 'moist'. I rewrote the script nightly for six weeks to adapt it to what presented itself in workshops. No one was asked to learn their lines, but some choose to. Some wouldn't speak but agreed to be on stage. I tried to never refer to them as actors and was non committal about how much light there would be on stage. . .
Over the weeks, the students learnt some basic techniques like breathing on full stops to create meaning out of language. Some entertained some drama training activities. Some just read poems over and over and we worked on making them loud enough to hear before they lost their patience.
Although throughout, they also talked and debated war, racism, civic pride, law, police, gangs and ultimately back to war. We spoke about Harry Patch and whether politicians were correct in sending men to war.
The four Anstee groups became a unit and the night before the show 15 young people who disengage from education turned up after school and rehearsed all night. The one that didn't turned up the next day and asked to be back in. He assured me he knew what to do because he had 'done a play in Year 6'. In a tiny moment a tough teenager gave a little bit of child like vulnerability to be excited to be in a play. To his credit he rehearsed all day long without complaint.
They rehearsed all day before their show. 15 young people who struggle to be in traditional education stuck it out, controlled their tempers and maintained enough patience to get to the theatre that night. They did and they were beyond magnificent. Over the years, I have been able to sit with pride at a show but this one made me shed a few tears behind the scenes. Some of the most vulnerable young people I had seen let all their attitude go and they told stories. . .
The stage changed a lot of them. It didn’t make them all actors but it allowed them to stand in a room, infront of people and speak eloquently and beautifully. It made one boy hug another and tell him it’d be alright cause they’d all look idiots together if it went wrong minutes before the show when he almost lost his bottle. One left the stage proclaiming he was ‘gassed’. Girls smiled because they knew they had held their own when the lighting cues went wrong.
Trench Stories revealed a lot of things after the lights went down … One boy went to a college interview to do a BTEC in performance and used his Trench Stories piece for his audience. He has a place in College. Another who started the project by looking at the floor stepped in at the last minute and read a poem in the next event we did. One has revealed the capacity to write beautiful spoken word poetry and just won Ballot Box Monologues at the Donmar Warehouse.
Trench Stories moved onto The House of Anstee - a fairytale story to launch a brand of bags made with the students. Following that there was today-Dream Stories. Students went to a local primary school with a piece of performance we created to represent the dreams the children had made with them before Easter.
Not all the students performed this time, some wrote stories. One girl came into a workshop with a story typed out on her mobile phone. Another boy came on different days when he had exams to tell his childs story. Today, during the performance, a girl who is severely bullied at school stood up infront of other teenagers who would ridicule her and performed so beautifully she had 90 7 year olds in the palm of her hand. Aforementioned shy floor gazing boy performed and his head never went down once. The boy with the college place performed and had learnt his lines before he came. Two boys that never wanted to speak created a shadow play together and both want to come to our next project.
These are but mere observations, but I guess when I look back at this year, I come to remember that confidence and creativity are invisible things. As artists we shouldn’t be so quick to wave away the notion of quantifying our evaluating our work.
Watching the students this year, I have witnessed some real transformation both in their sense of self as they move from project to project to awakening their own creativity.
I think it all comes down to choice though. Every project this year was made in response to the students. In many respects, that was the whole element of the risk of the project, theatre/drama all relied on their participation. We couldn’t rely on ‘here’s one I made earlier’. Not all participated and interestingly some of those that said it would be crap came and watched & said it was better than they thought it would be. Some joined in next time and some might join in the time after that. In some instances they had the confidence to break free from peer pressure and make choices about the type of work they wanted to make.
This was the year really. It was never about making artists (although we found a couple) it was about choice and giving them a safe place to take a risk, to make a choice to participate rather than find an excuse but always expect more from them than they thought they could give. In that choice they found their own creativity and in that they found confidence.
It seems fitting to end the day before the General Election. It is a brief reminder in the need and value of a broad, varied, rich education beyond the confines of a desk and a text book. As for some young people it is clear when you let them learn in a different way you do uncover some of the very best surprises.
Anstee has informed and changed my practice as an artist. It has wound me up, stressed me out and made me let go of my some of my own conceptions of rehearsals and artistic excellence. In its place I think I have found a freedom to take more risks and find a great appreciation of creativity in its very broadest forms. For that I thank every student I have worked with this year.