• Cast and crew of the first workshop production, Arcola Theatre 2016

    Something Inside So Strong

    A practice-as-research project into youth musicals by Danny Braverman, Goldsmiths' University of London

  • About This Website

    Sharing practice

    This website is designed to share practice with theatre-makers, educationalists and scholars interested in the insights discovered from creating a new youth musical for young people.

     

    The website will provide some narrative and analysis about the project, as well as links to other sites that are connected to the investigation.

  • About danny braverman

    35 years as theatre-maker and educationalist

    Danny has worked for some of the leading companies working with young people and communities in the UK, including Theatre Royal Stratford East, Theatre Centre, the National Theatre, the Orpheus Centre and Graeae. His critically-acclaimed solo show Wot? No Fish!! has toured internationally and won the Brian Way playwriting award, 2013.

  • Videos Of The Arcola Production

    A new musical for young people

    Play by Danny Braverman, Songs by Labi Siffre

    Direction: Viv Berry, Choreography: Sheron Wray/Dena Lague

    A very short video to give a flavour of the show

    This is the full version of the Arcola show

  • The Investigation

    How can youth musicals best be used for learning?

    The current state of play

    When young people want to be involved in performance, the musical is more often than not their first experience and develops into a passion. Although no statistics can be found for the amount of musicals performed by young people in the UK, it would be fair to say that comparatively large resources are expended on them. This has a great deal of impact affecting how young people view performance, the kinds of training they enter into and the stories that get told.

     

    However, there would appear to be significant pressures to re-produce a relatively small canon of shows. In the USA, where some statistics are available, it is noticeable that Disney and other movies heavily influence programming. In the UK, tastes would seem to differ a bit, with Oliver, Grease and Bugsy Malone appearing to be the most performed.

     

    As a form, the musical has many attractions for young people. Chiefly, it uses an array of popular theatre forms that are compelling for young people of all backgrounds; the same degree of "cultural capital" (Bordieu 1977) is not needed to get involved, as could be said to be the case with, say, Shakespeare. Although there is much to debate about the negative effects of celebrity culture (which may not be as damaging as headlines might indicate), the musical has nevertheless the potential to offer considerable learning for young people. Musicals have often dealt with stories of outsiders from Showboat to Billy Elliott. And yet, for young people involved in productions from the usual canon, content is barely examined. Where there might be rich learning opportunities, for example in staging Oliver, issues such as child labour, domestic violence and racial stereotyping are rarely explored. With other musicals, they are considered (wrongly) almost content-free. It would, for example, be unusual to consider the gender roles in Grease when creating a school production.

     

    Largely, this unexamined programming is due to a "painting by numbers" approach to production. Both schools and youth groups seem to place the marketability of already popular shows as a high priority. Specific interpretations of these musical theatre "classics" are mostly a "given", with, for example, a "correct" version of the choreography and staging. Often, in fact, choreography is replicated from the films.

     

    To explore the state of youth musical, two questionnaires have been compiled. If you're a teacher or group leader, it would hugely benefit the project if you could spend a few minutes answering the relevant questionnaire:

     

    Youth questionnaire.

    Schools questionnaire.

     

    This investigation raises the question: what if musicals with young people were more ambitious in terms of their learning?

    The experiments

    So, we ask:

    • How can young people be more involved with the creation of musicals?
    • How can they engage with production processes that really tap into their creativity and learning?
    • How can youth musicals promote genuine inclusivity and diversity?
  • Why Labi Siffre's songs?

    Rehearsals for "Something Inside So Strong" - Arcola Theatre 2016

    Beyond the well-known songs

    A statement from writer Danny Braverman

    I'd always loved Labi Siffre's best known songs, Something Inside So Strong & It Must Be Love. So, one day I went on a Spotify odyssey to dig further into his back catalogue - I do that with songwriters I like.

     

    Several things struck me. Firstly, just how many good songs there were of different kinds; different grooves, different stories, different voices. Then, of course, it became clear that Labi's music was perfect for a back-catalogue, musical.

     

    • The Vulture was in the voice of a straight male predator;
    • Sparrow in the Storm had a beautiful melody, great poetry and seemed to already have a story behind it;
    • Samaritans was in many voices and spoke about homelessness.

     

    I couldn't listen to his songs without imagining characters and story. Some well-known songs - I Got The ... (the basis for Eminem's My Name Is...) and Bless the Telephone (I heard the Kelis cover version and loved it) were harder to shoehorn into a narrative. Did that matter? Do back-catalogue musicals have to contain all the hits?

     

    Then, I realised the extent of Labi's activism. Here's an LGBT+ and human rights activist. His concerns met mine.

     

    Then, a casual conversation with producer Nick Connaughton in the foyer of the Arcola Theatre ended up in a potential commission for a youth musical. Surely, I thought, someone would have thought of this one. Aren't there endless teams of musical theatre creators sat in coffee bars in the West End trying to land on the NEXT BIG IDEA for a hit musical. Someone must have thought of this one. After all, Something Inside So Strong was up there with My Way as a favourite Desert Island Disc - it's a song that means a lot to a lot of people. I'd have to track down Labi Siffre and ask him if he'd grant me the rights.

     

    And sure enough, after a bit of sleuthing, I tracked Labi down on Twitter. He liked the idea and said yes.

     

    We were off!

  • Creating new insights and sharing them in 7 phases.

    From Labi Siffre's songs to a musical available for groups of young people and a participation framework for evaluation.

    1

    Creating the first draft - Spring/Summer 2016

    Working with young people in workshops

    2

    Exploration through workshop production - Summer/Autumn 2016

    With young people at the Arcola.

    3

    Evaluating the show in performance

    How audiences respond. How young people found it.

    4

    Rewriting and trying it out with a different group - Spring 2017

    Goldsmiths' Musical Theatre Society

    5

    Failed attempts to get a schools production

    Two schools committed to produce the show and then pulled out. An analysis of why schools find this difficult can be found here.

    6

    Developing a participatory framework for evaluation - 2019

    Find the framework here

    7

    A smaller cast TYA version

    A staged reading explores whether a professional TYA production is a more effective way to reach young people in schools.

  • Workshops with Young People

    Leading to the script

    Working alongside Choreographers Sheron Wray and Dena Lague and Director Viv Berry, writer Danny Braverman worked with young people to find the story that mattered to them in the songs.

    Workshops were funded by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

    • 94 attendees
    • A focus group with young LGBT+ people in Hackney
    • 4 x devising workshops
    • 6 x audition workshops
    Evaluation report of workshops can be found here.

  • DIALOGUE ACROSS DIFFERENCE AS DRAMATURGY

    Some findings from the first production

    Using the Dialogue-Across-Difference Framework

    A Writer's Process

    This framework has been further developed since the production, partly in response to the findings creating the piece. However, some key findings were:

    • Socially:  The setting in a TV studio talent contest creates an environment where the audience are put into a playful role.  Could this be extended to create an even greater sense of 'event'?
    • Educationally:  The central theme - finding inner resilience - came through strongly and characters are reasonably nuanced given the form.  Violet's character was thought to be too "author's message" - is there a way for her to use narrative, rather than articulating ideas?
    • Emotionally: A very strong audience journey where they cared about the characters.  Perhaps too weak an ending, with Nicky not getting the comeuppance that the audience craves.
    • Spiritually:  The music delivered a very a strong, uplifting sense.  However, the music could deliver more with better musicianship and stronger arrangements.

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    What was the experience like for participants

    Participants evaluation

  • What do you think?

    Really interested to hear from young people, teachers, theatre people or anyone else with something to contribute.

  • Questionnaire: Youth Groups

    If you are a youth group leader who produces musicals, your view will help the project greatly.

    (It should take less than 3 minutes!)

  • Questionnaire: Schools

    If you are a teacher who produces musicals, your view will help the project greatly.

    (It should take less than 3 minutes!)