Senior Project Manager Eibhlish Fleming joined 100 students from Ellis Guilford School as they engaged with local performing arts practitioners as part of Start with Nonsuch.
To learn more about Start, click here

It’s safe to say that Start is well-established in Nottingham. Between Nottingham Contemporary (who began their Start journey in September 2016) and Nonsuch (who began this past September 2017) 650 young people per year from 10 Nottingham schools are now taking part in a high quality arts project in the city through the Start programme. Recently, I was lucky enough to join Year 9 and 10 students from Ellis Guilford as they watched a performance of Tell Me Anything by On the Run Theatre, a local Nottingham company, followed by workshops and discussions with creative practitioners from Nonsuch and On the Run.

A one-man performance the single actor, David, tells the story of a teenage relationship affected by an eating disorder, making it known from the beginning that this is a true story. As a 15 year-old he fell madly in love with a student at a local girls’ school in the city. Their relationship, though typical on the surface, was marred by her illness, and subsequently fell apart once the burden became too big. 

This story wasn’t quite what I expected of a play about anorexia and bulimia. David interacted with the audience throughout, occasionally asking the teenagers to close their eyes and place themselves in his shoes, and talked about the different types of support given to those suffering with the illness by using animals (as boyfriend, his role became the dolphin). He also made it clear that he rarely paints the picture of a young woman in front of the mirror looking sad; because this illness is about so much more than body image.

One moment that particularly captivated the audience came when David drew an imaginary line through the audience - the right hand side was the illness, and the left hand side was his girlfriend – explaining that a sufferer and their illness are two separate things: the girl is doing what she does because of it, but is not defined by it. The students were totally absorbed and enthusiastic about interviewing him in one of the sessions later in the day.

Following the performance, the students were divided into four groups which moved in a carousel through four different workshop sessions. In the first session, after spending some time getting to know each other, students began to tell stories about their hopes, fears and ambitions. By the end of the 45 minutes, post-it soundbites populated the walls of the studio space. This was a playful but insightful introduction to autobiographical play writing.

In session 2 the group had a briefing on the Start programme this year, and began to write about what they had done so far on that day in their personalised logbooks. At this point they also began to speak about DYT (Do Your Thing), and what they would like from an online platform. Nonsuch’s Start participants will get to use the platform at the end of the year to showcase their own performance pieces online.

In the third workshop the students created short movement-based performances, using techniques they were given by a professional practitioner from Nonsuch. In small groups they created a short story using states of tension, and then showed it to the rest of the group and their teachers.

Finally, the chance came for the group to re-enter the auditorium and speak directly to David about Tell Me Anything. Different questions about the show had been bubbling away throughout the day, and so now they could finally hear from the show’s creator, writer and performer just how he came to create the show. Questions ranged from asking how his ex-girlfriend reacted to the idea of writing a piece about her, to eating disorders in general, and to how he came to be a theatre maker. This interview will form part of the journey towards achieving a Bronze Arts Award, and immediately following the session the group spent 10 minutes writing about the session, reflecting on the day. After a group photo, the students left for the day, excited about the next stage of their Start project.

What next?

Nonsuch will be continuing their Start journey in the spring, with a performance of The Beautiful Game, followed by a similar full day of workshops and play. We look forward to it!

"Our Start programme through Children & the Arts allows Nonsuch to develop connections between both our creative and community programmes; linking artists, performance and young people together through amazing arts experiences. We will partner with exceptional physical theatre and dance companies from across the UK and commission/co-commission six new contemporary performance pieces over the coming three years - a really unique opportunity for both our organisation and pupils in Nottingham. For a long time we’ve wanted to explore the relationship between the work we make and the communities we support through our vast outreach programmes - Start gives us the chance to really drive this forward and utilise insight and research gathered from 11-16s to shape performances that are relevant and inspiring for them and their futures."

Izzy Bradley, General Manager at Nonsuch 

Tell Me Anything production images © Alex Brenner