We are so delighted to be partnering with children’s theatre company, Brave Bold Drama, to deliver an Improv & Drama Summer School for primary aged children. We chatted to their artistic director, Gill Simmons, about their company and what we can look forward to!
Hi Gill! We’re so thrilled to be partnering with Brave Bold Drama on our Improv & Drama Summer School! Can you tell us a little bit about Brave Bold Drama and what you do?
Brave Bold Drama is an award-winning theatre and community arts company which I started in 2013 in response to the fact that the area I grew up in, near Hartcliffe in south Bristol, has almost no local arts provision for anyone.
It is a constantly evolving entity. When I started, it was just me, running early years imaginative play sessions in children’s centres in south Bristol. Now, 8 years on, we have made 11 shows for families and for people living with dementia (with 3 new shows in the pipeline), have run numerous community arts engagement projects for everyone from the very small to the considerably older humans, and have collaborated with over 70 other artists and creative groups in the process.
Our core principle has always been: “people deserve high quality arts in their lives, even if they can’t pay.”
What bit of the Summer School partnership are you most excited about?
Actually working in real space and time with other humans! We have been pivoting and re-shaping like so many others during the past year to ensure people could still create and feel in some way connected. We’ve used zoom, the postal service and, where we could, the great outdoors. Working in a rehearsal room again after all that we’ve gone through is going to be pretty special.
What impact do you think lockdown restrictions and school closures over the past year have had on young people?
A seismic impact. School used to be a rock-solid constant in so many children’s lives, providing structure and precious opportunities for children to connect socially. Now, children and young people live with the constant thought that perhaps all of that will be taken away from them at a moment’s notice.
On the reverse, the restrictions have generated incredible innovation. Our energy to connect with people creatively did not switch off with the lockdowns, it flowed around the barriers, finding new routes. We learned how to make film and audio walks so we could provide digital content. We made ourselves an alter ego, “The Company of International Artists” which has given create-at-home packs, run live online creative missions, and reached children all over the country and beyond as a through-the-post subscription service. We reached people living with dementia in care homes by creating sensory story boxes which are on constant rolling loan to care homes around the south west for care home staff to use with residents, and we’ve made radio dramas over zoom with older people.
So I hope the innovations that we and so many others have shown will give young people confidence that, even if some of life’s givens are again taken away at a moment’s notice, there will still be space for fun, playfulness, creativity and connection.
Why do you think play, theatre & improv can offer Primary school kids outside of the classroom?
The most precious thing that creative activity gives anyone is an open-ended environment where there is genuinely no right or wrong answer. So much of life, especially for children and young people, is not about actual exploration and enquiry but about receiving information. They are very often in an environment where questions are asked not in the spirit of genuine enquiry but simply to test their knowledge.
I do not level any criticism at teachers here. I taught secondary drama for 13 years prior to setting up Brave Bold Drama and have nothing but respect for those still in the profession. But the expectations currently placed on the education system means there is currently almost no space for open-ended creative exploration where young minds are free from the pressures of achieving specific outcomes.
And finally, what’s your favourite part of your role with Brave Bold Drama?
The variety. I don’t thrive in repetitive, structured environments. I constantly pushed back against that when I was a teacher and that’s why Brave Bold Drama works organically, responding to people rather than establishing too many off-the-peg offers that people have to take or leave.
Brave Bold Drama enables me to make shows, music, sound designs, creative postal missions, workshops, films…The opportunities it gives me have been hard-won. I’m a solo parent. Doing anything beyond surviving the day sometimes feels like a bit of a miracle. I couldn’t do any of it without the energy and dedication of my colleague, Paul, who joined me on this journey in 2016. The logistical limitations that being a solo parent impose on my life mean we often can’t work in conventional ways, and I’m grateful for his flexibility, imagination and patience which means Brave Bold Drama continues to find new ways to work. I’m also grateful for all the other collaborators who jump on board (when funding allows) to enrich our offer to people with a myriad of creative skills.
Brave Bold Drama likes making things happen. Especially for people who are experiencing challenges. Space to create gives people joy, agency and confidence. Everyone deserves that.
Our 5-day Improv & Drama Summer Schools with Brave Bold Drama are taking place between 26th July and 6th August, with separate classes for ages 6-8 and 9-12.