Fake it till you make it, I guess?

11 April 2022 | Rhianna Thomas

I’ve always been involved in theatre groups ever since I was in primary school. It felt like a place I absolutely, definitely belonged. I was good at it, I got along with everyone else who was good at it, and it felt like a place for me no matter what. So, drama was my thing!

I decided to pursue my passion, after all nothing else could ever compare to how much I enjoyed and excelled in theatre. And that was it, I was going to university to study the subject! However, moving from my community-based, small town theatre groups and GCSE performance exams to studying at university was a big shift in how I felt and experienced theatre. Not only was I thrust into an educational institution which I was far too naïve to understand, I also discovered a sense of uncertainty and hesitancy towards theatre which had not experienced prior.

I think that feeling out of place is pretty easy to understand and describe, it’s the awkwardness, the alert, anxious feeling that everyone around you knows something you don’t, and they’re looking at you, and they’re judging you for not knowing. When I experience a sense of being unwelcome in a space, my natural instinct is to get the hell out of there. Or, to keep my head down, ignore the stares, and try to say the right thing.

My first few weeks at university had me feeling this way, out of place, and I was way out of my depth. Imposter syndrome is certainly not uncommon in university students, and I was feeling its full, unwavering force upon me as I set foot into my university theatre building. It seemed that everyone had an answer for everything, everyone kept up with ease, somehow everyone had already found their cliques and connections before they’d even arrived. Everyone was from a big city, had experienced more culture than I knew was even out there, everyone was so talented. Was anybody else feeling at all out of place?

Turns out, yes, yes, double yes! Everybody was well and truly faking it till they were making it through the first weeks, even months, of university, and if you think you weren’t, you’re probably lying. You may think I’m just saying this to make myself feel better about the awkward, confused personality I had at 18, freshly into my studies, but that is simply not true. Now being in third year, I’ve had many reflective conversations on first year and how people felt, and surprisingly, and I guess reassuringly, most others had a similar feeling to me. I do feel it important to note that also, luckily for me, I have found a new love for theatre and performance through my university experience, and have since shed the imposter syndrome, and I have learnt so much about my passion of theatre and also myself.

To conclude this, I feel that what I’ve learnt from my experience of moving to a new city to pursue something I love, is that there is actually no need to ‘fake it till you make it’, because nobody even cares half as much about you as they do about themselves. This doesn’t just apply to moving to university, but practically anything that may be new and nerve-wracking. You deserve to be there just as much as anybody else, so own it and forget anybody else!

An Interview with Beth Immy and Katie

25 April 2022 | Emma Monnickendam

This week I interviewed Beth Adams, Immy Lowe and Katie to learn more about their experience in working/volunteering for AppleShed. They also offered their opinions on how drama is taught within the more mainstream culture of schools and other youth-theatre companies. They have provided a great insight into AppleShed’s practice and ethos, proving how wonderfully unique and creative the company truly is. Here’s what they had to say…

What does your role at AppleShed involve?

Beth: As AppleShed’s Arts Practitioner, my main focus (and in my opinion, the most exciting part) is facilitating and leading workshops for young people. This takes the shape of our weekly AppleShed Youth Theatre workshops, but it also extends into outreach, which means working in schools or other facilities to bring AppleShed to as many people as possible! Facilitating workshops takes lots of planning, and being present and adaptable whilst the workshops are running. I also help to run our various social media accounts, alongside supporting our volunteers and placement students on their own creative journeys with AppleShed.

Katie: My role as a volunteer involves helping with the running of the weekly sessions. I help the children to create their performative pieces and often end up being involved in the performances myself!

Immy: As a volunteer I help explain the activities to the children in more depth. I will sometimes join in if it will help them produce a piece that they will enjoy performing. 

Why did you start working at AppleShed?

Beth: After I graduated from the University of Bristol, I was really excited to start working in the arts in whatever way I could! Through my education and my own lived experiences as a chronically ill person, I knew how important it was to have inclusive and accessible spaces that invite everybody to participate. When I applied to work with AppleShed, it just felt like the perfect fit for me. AppleShed’s ethos aligns with my own personal values in regards to theatre and performance, and being able to share my own skills and knowledge in a space for young people felt like a natural progression. Even know, I’m thrilled to be able to work with an organisation that values inclusivity, and to have that level of access built into the bones of what we do.

Katie: I started volunteering for AppleShed because I have always loved theatre growing up, but I had sadly lost my passion for it during university. After hearing about AppleShed I thought volunteering would be a great way to get back into theatre again, as well as trying to help children enjoy it as much as I do.

Immy: I started at AppleShed as I missed doing theatre outside of college. I also wanted to help the children regain any confidence or social skills that may have been affected by the pandemic. 

What are the core aims of AppleShed’s practice?

Beth: The obvious one is inclusivity! This runs through everything we do. But to expand on that, it’s more than just inviting everyone and anyone to participate. It’s about creating and sustaining a safe space for young people in which their needs aren’t just tolerated, they’re actively understood, celebrated and any work we do is moulded to work for a variety of different needs. I would say that our other core aims would be creativity, confidence, and accessibility. All of these things we strive to implement in every aspect of AppleShed. But we’re still learning, and that’s a good thing. We’re always learning new things and adapting our approach.

Katie: I believe AppleShed’s core aim is creating a safe space where children of all ages and abilities are free to express themselves through the art of theatre. Theatre and music bring so much happiness in to the world and should be accessible to absolutely everyone, which is why AppleShed’s ethos of inclusivity is so important.   

Immy: To encourage anyone to become more confident in their skills and talents. 

As an inclusive theatre company, how does AppleShed differ to other, perhaps more mainstream, youth theatre companies?

Beth: It’s a good question, and I think oftentimes the difference is incredibly subtle to a lot of people. I would say that the main difference is something I’ve already touched on, and that’s that at AppleShed we focus on sustaining that inclusive space and adapting as we go. In other youth theatre companies, I think that there’s a tendency to invite people to participate but then not do the work afterwards to ensure those invited are actually able to engage to the same extent that others are. This, in turn, pushes people out and perpetuates an exclusive environment that isn’t accessible to so many young people. Something else that sticks out to me is the notions of ‘good’ performance and ‘bad’ performance, or the ‘right’ way to do something in performance and the ‘wrong’ way. These notions are, for the most part, utterless pointless. We know that art is mostly subjective, but aside from that these standards are usually based on dominant voices in the industry, those voices largely being from white able-bodies. At AppleShed, we focus more on the creative process rather than judging whether we personally see the work as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It isn’t useful to look at it that way, and ultimately it leads to young people feeling inadequate, which is the opposite of what we should be encouraging.

Katie: By being an inclusive theatre company, AppleShed is unique in allowing a wide range of personalities to come together, each bringing their different ideas and imaginations. This allows the creation of many more creative performances and brings people together who may not usually cross paths, allowing new friendships to form! I believe it also creates a more welcoming environment where more people feel like they can give theatre a try, regardless of their ability.

I’ve noticed in my time spent at AppleShed that the workshops tend to centre around child-lead creativity. Do you mind elaborating on this and, if you agree, why you think child-lead creativity is important?

Beth: We definitely centre child focused creativity! I think this links back to what I mentioned before, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. If as a practitioner, I’m running a workshop or curating a performance based on my own interests, strengths and ideals, then that work is not going to reflect what our young people care about or how they feel their own creativity should manifest. By centring our young people, we’re allowing them to have agency over their own processes and explore what it is about performance that they enjoy. I’m there to help, but I’m not there to dictate how anybody’s creative process should play out. We ask the young people what they would like to do, and we focus our workshops around those ideas. This kind of approach is important, it gives young people control and agency. Oftentimes children and young people aren’t afforded those opportunities in school or even at home, especially disabled people or those with additional needs. Allowing children and young people to have agency over their own practice ensures that they’re developing skills in a way that’s useful for them, and having a sense of control is important for them in all walks of life, it extends much further than just the rehearsal room.

Katie: During the workshops each week a theme is chosen and an exercise is given to the children to get them brainstorming about their ideas surrounding the theme. They are then asked to create a performative piece in small groups. We offer ideas and suggest improvements if needed, but ultimately the performance is created entirely by them. This is important as it allows them to express themselves in any way they choose and doesn’t limit their creativity.

How and why is drama at AppleShed explored differently from drama (or creative) lessons at school?

Beth: Again, this crosses over with some of my previous answers. Agency, agency, agency. It’s so important! Art based subjects at school are often overlooked in the curriculum, especially when you move into secondary education. Giving young people the ability to explore drama and performance in a space that isn’t monitored by school standards is crucial for them to develop their own skills and interests. At AppleShed we have our own standards to ensure everyone is able to engage, but we keep an open dialogue about what we expect from our children and young people when they’re in a creative space. And these standards are so different from traditional education, they allow young people to make their own judgement calls without fear, and they’re encouraged to think about how the ways in which they work and create affect themselves and others.

Katie: At school there is usually a curriculum that needs to be completed which doesn’t allow much flexibility when deciding lesson plans. The school environment can also be very high pressured environment and focused on getting good grades, rather than being creative. There is no set curriculum at AppleShed and the relaxed environment allows the children to focus on using their imagination and creative skills, rather than trying to reach a target.

Immy: I feel as though at college the expectations very high on what we produce and we’re just given a piece to perform and learn wheras with Appleshed you can create your own stories and own characters 

What are your opinions on how drama lessons are taught at school currently? Does anything need improving?

Beth: State schools follow a strict curriculum and often there isn’t room within that for young people to fully explore their creative side. Drama lessons are often tied into other studies, like literature and history, and that can be useful but it doesn’t really allow for children or young people to explore drama in its own right. There is value in drama, and all arts subjects, that should be appreciated more within schools. Drama helps us understand ourselves and others, it allows us to analyse and review, it aids in reading comprehension and understanding bodies. We should be encouraging children and young people to explore their creativity, in whatever chosen medium, and that this exploration can be beneficial in a number of ways. 
Katie: The school environment is generally a place of rules and many children have negative connotations with it due to past bad experiences. Students can often feel like they can’t express themselves for fear of being teased or rejected by their peers. Therefore, I believe careful judgement and the use of feedback is needed when grouping classes together so that everyone feels comfortable to be creative in a safe space.

Don’t Tell Me Off For Daydreaming

01 March 2022 | Emma Monnickendam

School for me was an interesting time, to say the least. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I didn’t excel in academia or sports. In retrospect, school was perhaps the hardest few years of my  life. I was not given any forewarning at my 13th birthday that the next couple years would be so  difficult. I struggled. A lot. As most people do at that age. An age where you are still trying to figure  out who you are, who you want to be and trying to navigate where you stand in this strange and  confusing world. At a time where I felt the extreme pressures to ‘fit in’, look a certain way, be liked by  boys, have lots of friends, have a social life and do well at school, it seemed like the only thing that  helped me to not lose touch with myself was drama. 

In many ways, drama has been a form of escapism in my life. Particularly amidst the chaos and  stress of my school days, I am thankful for my weekly drama lessons. It was in that sole hour of my  school week that I was able to de-stress, be creative and break the rules- qualities that seemed to  lack in my other academic subjects. My drama teachers encouraged me to be myself and to  embrace my individuality despite my lack of confidence, and for that I am eternally grateful.  

From a young age investigating identities has been a favourite pastime of mine. This interest very  much manifested itself into an ability to daydream throughout most of my school lessons. Going to  school in a big city meant that I could observe millions of faces possessing millions of different life  stories from my classroom window. Whilst my daydreaming abilities were not highly encouraged at  school, my overactive imagination and fascination with people has proven to be a useful tool in my  acting. In daydreaming I tend to observe, unpick and learn about the people around me. This same opportunity to delve into and explore the lives of many characters is one of the many reasons why I  love theatre and acting. Despite being quite a shy and introverted teenager, I was able to express  myself freely and confidently in my drama lessons. Stepping into a character’s shoes and becoming someone else with a completely different story, provided me with a tool in which I could openly  communicate with confidence. I thank my classroom daydreaming in helping me to embody different  characters.  

I’m 20 now, in my final year of university and am in the middle of auditioning for drama schools. I am  surrounded by beautiful friends and have a great social life. I can think and do creatively. Theatre has  played a large part in providing me with confidence to achieve all these things. As my confidence in  drama grew, so did my confidence in myself. Acting for me has been the best way to express myself,  creatively and unapologetically. My love for reading, acting and watching theatre has helped me  learn a lot more about my own identity.  

To anyone who is on the fence about whether they want to get involved with drama, I cannot  recommend it enough. It’s a brilliant tool to have in life and AppleShed is a great place to start.

Volunteers wanted!

🍏 AppleShed are looking for volunteers! You can be part of our mission and help creative children and young people on their journeys by joining us as a volunteer!

Hours are totally flexible and can work on a week to week basis! If you’re interested in signing up, contact love@appleshed.org.uk