Teenagers rarely learn about Live Art. It’s no surprise really, given the way curriculums are set and the way Drama is taught in schools, that the most rebellious, experimental and subversive performance style is omitted, likely without consideration.

And yet therein is the rub: surely of all age groups, Live Art would naturally appeal most to teenagers. The performance of new and unashamed identities; the autonomous exploration of social boundaries; the sheer energy, anger, presence and liveness – surely such a precocious form would find its perfect hosts enacted by teenage minds and bodies? We wanted to find out.

We began development of Teenage Kicks in Summer 2017. As we had no experience of working directly with teenagers in this way, it was important for the company to get it right, which meant working with the right people. We immediately enlisted Shabnam Shabazi, a Pacitti Company Think Tank Associate and experienced artist and workshop facilitator whose knowledge would prove
invaluable to the process. The company was fortunate to be joined, on a Step Change scheme, by Beth Nesbitt, Youth and Participation Outreach Co-ordinator at the National Theatre, who brought a wealth of experience in working with young people to the project and became the engine for finding and engaging the participants. Finally, we were thrilled that Hester Chillingworth joined the project,
bringing with them an exceptional track record of working on and directing Live Art and participation projects throughout their career.

Things were taking shape, but recruitment, as expected, was proving to be the biggest issue. How do we reach the teenagers who we think will most benefit from our offer? Once we find them, how do we then convince them to come and spend time learning and practicing an art form that they likely had never heard of. We reached out to many local organisations who provide social support for teenagers. Although the value of the scheme was recognised, they were often busy with their own important practices. With persistence, relationships began to grow, trust was gained, and the breakthroughs came when we were invited into their spaces to meet and make presentations directly to local teenagers, many of whom immediately understood what we were offering. Signup sheets were filled in enthusiastically. Hands were raised in promise of attending.

The first workshop at the Think Tank was scheduled for the following week. After months of planning, we were on. The afternoon before the first workshop the team gathered to finalise the plans. The first half would introduce the work of seminal Live Artists. The second half would be a practical session making original work in part inspired by the artists covered and by the imagination of each teenage participant. The table was covered in pomegranates - a suitably provocative and messy material for the practical session. (We had bought loads of them because, even with the six confirmed bookings, we didn’t quite know how many teenagers would turn up.) At six-o-clock the door opened and to our relief and excitement the room quickly filled up with nine young people. Some people we’d met, some were new faces who had responded to the event online. We were thrilled to welcome everyone and launched into writing a shared agreement, signed by everyone, which was to guide the thinking and behaviour of everyone who would participate in the next 10 weeks:

Teenage Kicks: Shared Agreement

  • To have respect for one another
  • To be open minded
  • To listen to each other
  • To not know is OK
  • To have fun
  • To be supportive
  • To question everything
  • To be creative
  • To respect each other’s boundaries, differences and expertise
  • What happens here stays here
  • Ask for what you need
  • To take time out is OK
  • To be confident in your ideas
  • To take a risk and challenge yourself (my risk is not your risk)
  • Respect each other as individuals
  • To create a supportive and safe space where everyone feels comfortable

The six sessions were a frenzy of ideas, concentrated learning and making. The group ebbed and flowed. Some had commitments and couldn’t make it. New people joined and were welcomed into the fold under the shared agreement of artistic experimentation in a supportive environment. Often, the team were astonished by the maturity, commitment and sheer ability displayed in the workshop sessions. Some of the work made would, in another context, pass for experienced performance.

Now the workshop has run we are reflecting on the past to plan the future. A lot of learning took place in a few short months and how we take the project forward into the future is a whole new project for 2018. What we do know is, with the right team and the right context, Live Art and Teenagers are a match made in heaven.