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.