Theatre shouldn't only be available to a few privileged people. None of the arts should.
Project SLAMbition was launched in July 2018 with the aim of improving accessibility for young theatre-makers and goers in situations where their ability to take part may be otherwise limited or not encouraged.
These limitations are the result of a cacophony of factors, ranging from massive cuts in schools' funding and attention for the arts (as explored by our first branch of the project in September 2018, which you can read about HERE) to the current expectations of the industry on supposed meritocracy, or on the ability of young artists to be self-sustaining whilst taking unpaid work.
Project SLAMbition aims to highlight these problems and biases and work with foundations which help the industry at large and individuals work through them. Through our work in the first branch with schools, we also looked at encouraging access to higher education, and through our second branch at the Edinburgh Fringe in Summer 2019, we are hoping to work with organisations which aid those hoping to get into the arts sector who otherwise might be discouraged or not given the same resources as those more fortunate, inspired by works such as "Panic! It's an Arts Emergency" and their focus on social and class biases in breaking into the industry.
-- PHASE ONE: SCHOOLS AND ACCESS --
University is all about training for the future and finding your feet. But a high standard of higher education shouldn't be exclusively for those who are fortunate enough to be privately educated.
When we set out to launch Project SLAMbition, we had these figures at the forefront of our minds:
In January 2018, 90% of schools reported cut backs on lesson time, staff or facilities in creative arts subjects
3 in 10 schools feared they might have to drop at least one creative arts subject at GCSE
[ source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42862996 ]
In 2017, more students were admitted to Oxford from the top twelve independent schools than from all the state comprehensives combined
[ source: https://www.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxford/Oxford%202018%20Annual%20Admissions%20Report.pdf ]
With our own privileges scrutinised and thoroughly checked, we wanted to use the platform we had through our production of The Threepenny Opera to enable more students to see live theatre, with an emphasis on improving outreach and access in the University of Oxford, and to other Russell Group universities.
As a result of this, we developed a plan comprised of two parts:
PART ONE: WORKSHOPS
In September 2018, our Director (Georgie), Musical Director (Matthew), and two other team members visited state schools across the country, including the ones in which they were educated, in order to do a series of theatrical workshops and Q&A sessions about the arts and Oxford admissions.
967 miles travelled
5 hours of Q&As done
10 hours of workshops given
This project was at no cost to the schools and aimed to encourage students to see the arts as alive and relevant in a variety of different settings (including ones that are achievable to them), and to encourage more students to apply to Oxford and other Russell Group universities. This encouragement is vital as the vicious cycle of the private-education bias leading to fewer state school students applying has to be disrupted in order to stop its self-perpetuation. Furthermore, it’s important for students and teachers to see arts subjects as valuable in an academic setting. So many choices are made by students from the age of 14 based on how they are viewed by future universities and employers, with the rhetoric that arts subjects are the least desirable as they’re the least ‘serious’. This leads to the skills instilled by creative arts subjects as being academically de-valued, when in fact they are exceptionally important for individuals and for society in a larger context.
Through the combination of these workshops and Q&As, the project aimed to inspire students and schools to see the value of arts, and the possibilities that are available to them through further education, as well as give them an opportunity to see more live theatre, as schools were encouraged (where appropriate and possible) to see Threepenny at a discounted rate.
Director Georgie and Assistant Musical Director Josh outside one of the schools visited. Photo taken from the Lady Manners School Facebook page, with the caption:
"Last Friday we welcomed back one of our former students, Georgie Botham, together with Josh Cottell. Georgie is an Oxbridge student who has formed the SLAM Theatre in Oxford. Their visit was as part of their ‘Project SLAMbition’. Georgie and Josh provided a drop in session for Sixth Formers, answering questions about the Oxford admissions and the arts. This was a warm up for the afternoon, during which they delivered a theatrical workshop for our lucky Year 11 drama students.
Thank you Georgie and Josh for providing such valuable input for our students."
PART TWO: ACCESS DAY
Further to our target to encourage Oxford access to state schools, our Access Day in collaboration with Oxford Playhouse, invited state schools in the surrounding areas to a day comprising of the following:
Lunch in an Oxford college hall, kindly provided by New College
A chance to meet lecturers, tutors and fellow and talk to them about theatre, the university and admissions
A lecture given by an Oxford academic on The Threepenny Opera
Matinee performance of the show
Q&A with the cast and crew of the show
Similarly to the workshops, this was to encourage applications to Oxford, and put friendly faces to the name of an imposing institution, whilst putting the arts at the heart of education. The Q&A was open to all schools that attend this performance in order to reach as many schools as possible, not just those that attended the Access Day.
-- PHASE TWO: THE FRINGE --
In Summer 2019, our original musical How to Use a Washing Machine is travelling to the Edinburgh Fringe with tour stops on the way. The show follows Cass and James, siblings who've taken very different paths to one another and have both been faced with decisions about the feasibility and reality of reaching their dreams. Inspired by recent cultural events and conversations, along with the recent paper "Panic! It's an Arts Emergency", we're hoping to pair with organisations to discuss the difficulties young artists face in breaking into the industry, and the ways in which we can help, as well as creating webcasts about the issues and insights into creating. Whilst industries like the theatre continue to insist on unpaid internships, there will always be a class divide on who gets the jobs and who doesn't. For more information, check out the Panic! paper HERE, or follow us on social media as Project SLAMbition grows and progresses.
Photos from the original BT run of How to Use a Washing Machine