Salford stage directions

Stage Directions, a Salford arts programme, has commissioned ThickSkin to work with students from Pendleton Sixth Form College on a new project.

ThickSkin, a nationally recognised and acclaimed physical theatre company that was established in 2010, will work with Performing Arts students from the college on a research and development commission.

Salford stage directions
Neil Bettles said: “I never want to be a theatre company that just gets set in it’s ways.” Image: Neil Bettles

Neil Bettle, the Artistic Director of ThickSkin said: “As a company we put a lot of emphasis on working with emerging talent, and every project that we do has to feature some sort of nurturing element that is about bringing people into the company, matching them with more established artists and then putting everyone on the same playing field, and hopefully everyone learns something from each other.

“That’s why this project is so great for us, it’s exactly the kind of work that we need to be doing with young people who are still training – giving them skills, advice, knowledge, and experience that gives them a really decent grounding in the industry as a whole.

“This project’s­ really about co-creating and collaboration between us as a theatre company, and Pendleton students who are as much part of creative team as we are, so we’ll never be in a position where we’re saying ‘this is what you’re going to do’, it’s always a dialogue between us.”

A research and development project is one that focuses on the process of theatre-making rather than producing a finished product to be seen by an audience.

The first session will take place on Monday, and the project will culminate in July, where students will share what they have discovered with family and friends.

Salford stage directions
A photo of ThickSkin’s 2019 production ‘How Not To Drown’. Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

Neil added: “The great thing about working with students is that they come at things with a completely open mind and a fresh look, so when you ask questions there’s nothing that stops them, which is really inspiring, and also, on the other hand, there’s still so much to learn and I think if we can make it a dual learning experience, where we’re learning from them and they’re learning from us, then the stuff that comes out of that is always fruitful.”

ThickSkin currently have a Virtual Reality production touring online in theatres across the country, and they are keen to build something experimental with the students at Pendleton.

The project is managed by Stage Directions, who will liaise with both the college and ThickSkin about when sessions will happen, student’s progress and wellbeing, staff wellbeing and resources.

Pendleton students
Stage Directions works closely with Salford Local Cultural Education Partnership. Image: Stage Directions

Stage Directions is a cultural education programme funded by Arts Council England and Department of Media, Culture, and Sport, which delivers theatre-making provision in schools and communities in Salford.

They currently work in four Salford schools, with the Pendleton Commission being their latest project, and they hope to expand their reach next year.

Pendleton students
Steph Green said: “Every single person who takes part in Stage Directions has their own expertise to offer into a space.” Image: Steph Green

Steph Green, the Programme Producer for Stage Directions said: “We recognise Pendleton College as a beacon for young people aspiring to learn more and launch careers in arts and media and in response to our growing partnership we wanted to launch a Stage Directions group at the college.

“Recognising Pendleton’s specialism in Performing Arts we wanted to launch a commission to ensure that the Stage Directions ensemble at Pendleton was something different than some of our school’s work. We also saw the difficult landscape for theatre companies during the pandemic and wanted to support the wider industry through our work in creative learning.

“Stage Directions is a 3 year programme so everything always feels new and exciting. This commission in particular is a new way of working for us and we’re really curious to see not only what happens for the students as they learn to make work with a professional company but also how this commission might alter or enrich the way theatre companies see working with young people.”

ThickSkin were selected following a panel interview involving Stage Directions, Lucy Huntback, Head of Performing and Production Arts at Pendleton Sixth Form College, as well as 3 students.

Pendleton students
Pendleton Sixth Form students from the Performing Arts Department. Image: Pendleton Sixth Form College.

Lucy said: “The Pendleton Sixth Form College Performing Arts department is excited to see this collaboration with ThickSkin and Stage Directions. This initiative has come at a time when the performing arts students are eager to get back into studios and on stages to develop their performance technique and we are looking forward to seeing the work generated by this project. It is a fantastic opportunity for our students to work alongside industry professionals in developing a show.”

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