Fresh Ink is a four to six week creative writing course from Sherman Cymru, designed for primary and secondary schools. It aims to stimulate each individual’s voice and curiosity in both the written and spoken word. The theatre makers work with two schools per term and eight learners from each school at a time. Sessions can be offered in English or Welsh.
The students’ five to ten minute scripts are then brought to life in the Studio at Sherman Cymru, performed and directed by professional actors and directors. To encourage peer learning and reflection, the whole class, parents, carers, family and teachers are invited to the Sherman for the whole day, to experience their creations as well as offering support to the other school involved.
Sherman Cymru felt that, as a producing theatre, it could offer young people in mainstream and non-mainstream education a unique learning experience. The team wanted to offer accessible opportunities for young people of all abilities to explore literacy through creative involvement with professional theatre makers.
Fresh Ink was also a direct response to ‘The Arts in Education in the Schools of Wales’ http://gov.wales/topics/educationandskills/publications/wagreviews/arts-in-education-review/?lang=en
The Arts Council of Wales’ report on young people’s involvement in the Arts, which indicated a reduction in the number of young people having a creative involvement, either in school or independently.
The project aimed to deliver relevant sections of the national Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF), specifically in Literacy:
Collaboration between Sherman Cymru and schools is seen as vital in ensuring that the right learners are engaging with specific projects.
Through teacher consultation group meetings, it became apparent that the theatre has a vital role to play in the delivery of the LNF - contextualising the learning and reinforcing to learners why literacy and numeracy play a vital role.
Teachers also perceived that aspects of the practice professional theatre makers’ work could help upskill them and influence their teaching of the LNF.
Each school involved identifies a group ofyoung people that they feel will most benefit from being involved in the scheme. These may be More Able and Talented (MAT) students, or students that are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) or other another groups identified as a strategic priority (e.g. boys needing support with literacy). Over the course of the course of a year, the Fresh Ink team aim to work with a variety of students.
Planning involves ensuring a space is available to deliver the project at each school, and ensuring that learners and their class are available to visit the Sherman Theatre on the day of the performance.
Learners write a play for the first time, following a structure with their writing by adhering to a script layout. They are also encouraged to read their writing on more than one occasion, leading to redrafting and editing on the basis of self and peer assessment, having explored their work as a group in a constructive way. There is also a focus on understanding dialogue, which is appropriate for writing scripts and the writing of introductions to establish context.
The project gives learners the opportunity to lead with their imaginations, make creative choices and express their ideas clearly to the whole class, developing skills which connect all their ideas into one short script.
Throughout the sessions a gradual build in confidence with reading occurs. Learners volunteer to read aloud their ideas and scripts to their peers and show huge enthusiasm in wanting to continue to develop their script writing skills beyond the classroom. Confidence also increases as soon as pupils hear their words brought to life by the actors.
Many students chose to introduce their script in person during the ‘show back’, standing in front of up to 100 people in Sherman’s studio space and presenting their work. During the first year of the project’s existence, over 90 young people have written short scripts that have been performed by professional actors at the Sherman Theatre.
Teachers involved in the project describe it as ‘giving a purpose to learners’ writing’, ‘improving learners’ oracy and creative writing skills’, and ‘allowing learners to reflect on their inner thoughts’.
Fresh Ink gives teachers the opportunity to take a step back and observe their pupils from a distance. The project is seen as providing an insight into the learners’ world beyond the classroom and teachers are encouraged to observe each session.
“The biggest impact I have witnessed is the sheer pride that teachers feel whilst watching their pupils’ achievements, and a sense of real fun encompasses their learning. Attitudes shift towards individuals in the class in a positive fashion”. Creative Learning Associate, Sherman Cymru.
Teachers receive Creative Writing toolkits, introducing them to the methodologies that professional writers use to develop scripts for the stage, and are encouraged to introduce specific tasks into their teaching.
According to one of the teachers involved in the project:
”I felt that some of the exercises were adaptable to teaching and I have used some exercises as starters to sessions for others. Many students have difficulty in thinking creatively - or allowing themselves to do so out of fear of being wrong. It was great to see some of my most anxious students letting go and writing about something they cared about”.
The Fresh Ink scheme has now been extended to encompass Foundation Phase learners. The team also now provide CPD training to teachers.
The six week creative writing process that the Sherman delivers is now designed to spark learners’ imaginations. Learners are provided with a useful toolkit of how to approach script writing. This provides brief information on structure or how to lay out a script - but is elaborated upon in the workshops, if the learners feel ready.
The facilitators who deliver the project have been asked not to edit any of the students’ work. What they receive is what they perform. Natalie Paisley, one of the actors sums it up as:
“a huge opportunity to engage in an un-self-conscious way both with text and with audience. The children produce scripts that defy and challenge the often ego-driven genre of theatre. Basically, it’s a roller coaster of fun, energy and importantly, honesty. That last bit especially. There’s no hiding. It’s bare bones, think on your feet, 100mph memory recall, breathless and breath taking.”
According to the Creative Learning Associate at Sherman Cymru:
“The project helps pupils move away from the memory game of learning attached to literacy. It motivates and encourages two essential skills that are vital to succeed in any walk of life; attitudes and aptitudes. Change these two key ingredients and you will change that young person’s life for ever”.