Starting the Summer off with a slam!

Monday 24 July saw the beginning of Start Up Slam, our creative two-week programme for anyone aged 14 to 16. With a fun, interactive workshop led by an industry professional each day, the programme is a great launchpad for young people in Swale and Medway who are considering embarking on a creative career. Here’s a short round up of the first week’s workshops…

DAY ONE

From the start, it’s clear the cohort is a creative bunch by way of their discussions. Current fashion trends, what Netflix shows they all watch – no topic is left uncovered. As soon as the activities start, it’s obvious they’re all keen to learn and Freya Briley’s drama activities are an immediate hit. With acting activities, cup stacking and chain making all on the agenda, the first Start Up Slam session was off to a great start.

Following most of the workshops is a talk by either an industry professional or an Ideas Test staff member (who sometimes cover both titles). On the first day it was Kath Abiker who spoke to the group about Foundation degrees at Canterbury Christ Church university, a new way to access Higher Education in Kent. Even though the majority of the group had not been to No.34 before, they were quick to pick up the feel for the building after having a very in-depth tour of No.34’s many rooms (something that can in very handy when it came to Tuesday’s activities). The session started off with word association games led by Freya, in which the group had to complete a series of sentences by writing different body parts in the gaps. This was followed by a few team building exercises, including guiding one another across a room scattered with obstacles. The person being guided had their eyes closed, meaning they had to rely only on the instructions of their partner. A real exercise in trust!

Photo credit Frances Chiverton

After lunch, it was time for some dramatic reenactments, only the challenge was to perform fairy tales with a new alternative ending. Collectively they chose Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, which resulted in some great dressing up and even better acting, to everyone’s amusement! If there were ever any doubts that this cohort would commit to the programme were quashed in the first day. It was a great first session that really set a strong tone for the rest of the two weeks. “I enjoy doing art and drama pieces and I learned a lot,” Sherry told us when we asked her about the workshop.

Reenacting fairy tales
Photo credit Frances Chiverton

DAY TWO

The second day of anything is always quite exciting; the routine is already in place and starting to become familiar, while dialogue falls into easy patterns of friendly conversations. Led by illustrator Molly Fuller Abbott, the session revolved around visual communication. The way images and visuals can help promote, advertise and spark conversations is an interesting topic. It’s certainly a relevant one, too. Communication is becoming more important as the world becomes more connected, and our understanding and empathy towards our differences as humans is (hopefully) growing every day. Social commentary aside, what exactly did the six-strong group get up to on Tuesday? Well, it was a series of seriously creative challenges. From a blindfolded version of pictionary to making mind maps, there was no shortage of activities for the group to get involved with. From this followed an interesting discussion of the most memorable adverts the group had seen, and why they felt they had stood out in their minds. It sparked great interest and helped explain why visual communication is such a big market that’s growing all the time.

The second part of the workshop involved team work with a twist. Splitting into two groups, the teams were each given a small box to hide somewhere within No.34 – a tricky endeavour given how busy the building was on this given Tuesday! After hiding the box, the teams were tasked with planning a scavenger hunt for the opposing team, using visual clues as a way of leading to them to the hidden items. Both teams really committed to the activities thought up by Molly and there was an abundance of enthusiasm bouncing around the building (quite literally when the groups were trying to search for places to hide their objects!) Despite early reservations and protestations of doubt about their drawing skills, the worries quickly disappeared when it came to creating their own visual communications. One group created a comic strip while the other devised a treasure hunt. What started in a humorously competitive vein soon became far more collaborative, with the two groups cheering one another on to find the hidden boxes. The activity was then revised for a second time, this time with each group not only using a different method of visual communication but also curating their own object to be hidden.

Drawing of a map
Photo credit Frances Chiverton

After a brief lunch break it was time for Steph Fuller, Director of Ideas Test and the first member of staff to give a talk on their role within the organisation. Not only was this proposed to show that even in a small arts organisation in Sittingbourne there’s such a varied assortment of roles, but also to shine a light on the different pathways different people take to get to a job they enjoy. It’s always worth reminding people – young and old – that the working world is something to explore, not settle for. Changing careers used to be unheard of – you’d go to uni or do an apprenticeship and be expected to know at 18 how to pick your job for life. Nowadays, we get to be a bit more flexible by trying out different careers and testing different industries. What better way to get introduction to all these careers than a programme like Start Up Slam?

DAY THREE

By midweek, energy was still high (helped of course by a few healthy – and unhealthy! – snacks, creativity is all about balance after all). Kevin, who had been in the building less than 24 hours previously for both our Young at Heart and Creative Job Club projects, started the morning by introducing how the day was going to run. It would be split into four sections that covered all aspects of the music industry, including technical set up, promotion, merchandise, crowdfunding and more, it was clear from the moment the instruments came out that this group was certainly a musical bunch.

Photo credit Frances Chiverton

Frequent mentions of twenty one pilots and Panic! At The Disco aside, the group actually had a lot of cohesive and comprehensive comments to make when Kevin quizzed them about two different crowdfunding campaigns. The group also adapted quickly to all of the technical skills required when setting instruments up for a performance (though getting to play the instruments might have bolstered their enthusiasm!) Kevin went on to teach the cohort how to set up a microphone stand, how to use various pieces of equipment safely and how to use an amplifier without causing that oh-so dreaded feedback sound. Technical skills are often overlooked part of music that non-musicians probably don’t think that much about, although the increased accessibility of apps such as GarageBand mean skills such as mixing music are actually more common than you might imagine.

Moving onto public promotion, Kevin asked the group how they might self promote if they were a band. They were quick with their responses, listing merchandise, social media, busking, traditional flyering and more. The most humorous moment might have been when Kevin asked the group to explain Musical.ly – as it turns out, the group had a lot of strong opinions surrounding the app! After that, it was task time. The group was given twenty minutes to get creative. Their challenge was designing a promotional t-shirt for the merch store of a new hip-hop band. Creativity unleashed, the group quickly got to work and the imaginary band quickly became significantly less imaginary when the group became the hop-hop band themselves (figuratively at this point, although it was clear that given half the chance, the group would snap up the chance to literally be the band!) Even when the temptation of lunch nearly lured them away, Kevin gave the group some fun feedback on their designs. Choosing to coordinate their designs was a really wise design and it shows how much they had absorbed just from the morning session.

To round off the day, there were two talks given to the group, one by Kevin on his journey to becoming a professional musician and Bethan, our Touring and Operations Manager at Ideas Test. Kevin’s talk was the epitome of the being a DIY musician, from teaching himself to play instruments to studying music production at university, to gaining commissions to compose music. The talk seemed to be an interesting one that drove home the significance of business skills, networking bust most importantly a great balance of hard work and fun. Bethan’s talk followed on after, talking with great enthusiasm about her dream of being an actress from the early age of 2. She spoke of her journey from joining youth theatres, to auditioning to drama schools, to eventually getting a place at the Central School for Speech and Drama. Even though getting places on these courses is as competitive as ever, Bethan was sure to highlight that success is possible but that no two pathways are going to be the same. It was really helpful for Bethan to share that so many different jobs can and have taught her something different. Being able to enjoy virtually every job is a skill in itself and hopefully showed the group that you never know exactly what you’re going to do throughout your career but that enjoying the journey is a big part of the process.

DAY FOUR

The morning started with much excitement as Greg Stobbs, the workshop leader for Thursday’s session, started to unload the many bags and boxes required for the street art and graffiti workshop. Highly anticipated, the day kicked off with an introductory presentation from Greg. In it, he explained about his history with drawing and asked the group lots of questions about his various pieces of work. What did they think each one symbolised? The part of the presentation that generated the most giggles was without a doubt Greg’s illustrations of his interactions with his children, and the profound (and profusely funny) things they say. “I think he put a lot of effort into his PowerPoint,” Fadhila told us. “You could really see that, so he put in loads of jokes and made it interactive.”

Greg’s commissioned work showed a progression of style, something that Greg says he is still working on even now. And the only way to improve your style is by practising, something it’s never too early to do (literally or figuratively!) So as soon as Greg’s introductory presentation was finished, it was straight up to the Chevron Room for some free-hand illustration and embracing the freedom that comes with drawing and sketching with no restrictions. In Greg’s opinion there’s no such thing as not being able to draw, because drawing is such an individual pursuit. Everyone’s style is going to be different and that is something to be celebrated. Greg taught the group about the alphabet of graffiti and they had a go at writing their own names. As Greg explained in his introductory discussion, it is this foundation with letters than separates graffiti from street art. Moving from words to illustrations, the group then practised sketching a design they would later create into art. “I really like graffiti now,” Sophie told us excitedly.

Artist explains graffiti letters on flipchart
Photo credit Frances Chiverton

After lunch, which was devoured hungrily, it was time to take their artwork to the streets. Well, sort of. The group took their stencils and their cans of spray paint outdoors – a safe and sensible decision on all accounts! Greg explained the use of colour and how to use the cans effectively, before everyone donned a face mask and old . The stencils were the girls’ own designs, invented just before lunch in Greg’s sketching session. With care and precision, the group transferred their designs to canvas bags under Greg’s expert supervision, all of which turned out fantastically. With stencils of palm trees, cats, wolves and more, Greg’s encouragement helped the group formulate the start of five distinct styles of art. To end the day, Jane Pitt gave a talk about her career journey to Creative Producer here at Ideas Test, something the group really found interesting. “I knew what a producer was and what they did,” Fadhila explained, “But the creative part, I had no clue what to expect. That really changed my view.”

Spraying a stencil
Photo credit Kyra Cross

DAY FIVE

The final day of the first week was one that many of the group were looking forward to trying out. Experienced make up artist Kate Griffiths came to run a theatrical make up and special effects workshop, that was highly anticipated from the word go. Kate, who originally trained as a speech therapist, took a year out to train in theatrical make up and has continued working as an artist since. In fact earlier this year Kate worked on the film, Logan – an anecdote that impressed the entire cohort. It was interesting to see how grounded in science the workshop would be – something that appealed to the group as many of them have an interest in science as well as art. It’s imperative that make up artists who create special effects have this foundation of knowledge so that when they are called on to design a realistic looking bruise or flesh wound, it appears as convincing as if it were real.

Starting with a bruise, Kate asked the girls what colour they expected to see in a bruise. They were quick to call out the colour red, which Kate explained is because when you fall and hit a part of your body, the veins and capillaries burst bringing blood to the surface of the face. After bruises, Kate moved onto the technique for creating other injuries. The announcement “I’m going to give her a black eye,” is something that out of context might sound strange but in the make up world is probably relatively common! Before moving on to anything too gory, Kate was quick to list the two rules that she has for every workshop she leads. The first is to always have fun, that’s Kate’s number one priority. The second is to be safe with social media – that means no uploading unexplained photos and freaking our family members! Ensuring that everyone knows it is make up is fundamental for making sure the workshop remains fun.

After a brief introduction of a few more technical skills, Kate let the group get creative. Splitting off into pairs, they used the skills to create all manner of special effects with Kate’s extensive equipment. While they were experimenting, the girls asked Kate a number of questions, including where she studied. Kate explained that when she trained at West Kent College, not many institutions offered courses in make up or theatrical special effects but now the industry has grown dramatically over recent years. As the morning progressed, the group looked the worst they had done all week (although thankfully this was only as a result of their impressive make up skills and nothing else!)

When the session broke for lunch, it was time for a quick reflection of the week. We sat down and asked the girls what had been their favourite workshop so far this week and whether they had been introduced to any careers they didn’t know much about before. Their answer was a resounding yes. Of the five girls – Fadhila, Sophie, Gabriella, Sherry and Lucy – both Fadhila and Gabriella learnt a lot about the Creative Producer role. Sophie told us that she really enjoyed Kate’s workshop. “I think it’s career that you don’t really know about and it’s just really fun to play around making stitches and everything.” Sophie went on to say that a career as a special effects make up artist is something she hadn’t known much about before taking part in Start Up Slam and that it became her favourite workshop of the week. Gabriella also enjoyed the make up workshop because it was fun and sociable but Greg’s graffiti workshop was also one of her favourites, “because it’s very creative and you can express yourself.”

Despite not having tried most, if not all, of the workshops ever before, all of the group have made some really fantastic creations and will be building on all of these skills in the second and final week of Start Up Slam. Closing off the first week was a talk by Cassandra, our Programme Coordinator here at Ideas Test. Or rather, it was a task for the group to complete – what else is there do to at 2pm on a Friday afternoon?! Cass gave the group a giant list of activities and asked them to identify which of them they think fall under her role as Programme Coordinator (hint: it was all of them!) The group’s response? “You poor person!”

Check back in next week to find out what happened on Week 2 of Start Up Slam..