In the first of a new blog series, Lauren Prentice tells us about being awarded a No Strings Attached grant by Farnham Maltings

Farnham Maltings

Farnham Maltings

Two years ago I had graduated from East 15 Acting School and, fresh out of the door, I had high hopes of changing the world through theatre. I saw an application for The Farnham Maltings’s No Strings Attached fund and, tempted by the fact that there were no lengthy forms to fill in, I was convinced that I would get the funding simply by turning up. This wasn’t the case and when I received the phone call to say that my application had been unsuccessful I pondered, and realised that actually I hadn’t put in nearly enough work for the pitch and vowed to put in more effort to these kinds of things in the future.

I went on and pursued other avenues, starting up Sense Theatre, which, with extra effort and plenty of (occasionally back-breaking) hard work, I grew from just myself running four classes in a week to employing 20 staff and running clubs in over 30 primary schools each week. Not satisfied with working 20 hours a day, I started a second business, Sense Parties, running children’s birthday party entertainment – employing professional actors to entertain children and their friends on their birthdays.

In the summer I saw a post on the Farnham Maltings’s Facebook page advertising the No Strings Attached scheme again, and saw an opportunity to redeem myself for my previous under prepard-ness and quickly emailed to apply. Next I had to decide what I wanted to do – the brief was very open (great but not so easy for someone who is decidedly indecisive). My first thought was to put on a verbatim piece purely because it’s my favourite form of theatre, but I had no subject matter to do it on and also no real audience to show it to. Everything I know and have focused my energy into for the past two years has been to do with schools; it seemed wise to stick with what I know and produce something theatre-in-education (TIE) based.

Now I am the first person to say how awful TIE can be. I have seen some dreadful TIE, I have been in some ghastly theatre-in-education shows; in fact the defining moment in my fledgling acting career was waiting in a school hall, when a six-year-old boy walked in and said “oh no, not another show about bullying”. It was another show about bullying. If it hadn’t been so funny then it would have been devastating.

I went back to the newspapers, I trawled The Guardian like any good young liberal and one subject matter kept cropping up. Technology. Not just technology as in Apple’s latest device but the impact of technology on young people, in particular cyberbullying (yes I know – bullying…). I delved into the cyberbullying topic and what I found was pretty shocking: young pre-teens are naively sending pictures of their private parts and being blackmailed to doing all sorts of things in order for these photos to be kept private. I had my subject matter.

Next came the form: verbatim wouldn’t work; people don’t know enough about cyber bullying to talk about it and without having people to talk to verbatim fails to work. Forum Theatre kept calling to me, a Boal technique whereby the play is performed twice; the first time with disastrous consequences and the second time involving the audience. The audience have to get up and solve the oppression in the piece by taking on the role of the oppressed actor, perfect for an educational piece.

So there I had it, a well-formulated, planned piece. Next came the act of selling it to the panel. This time, instead of being nervous and wondering whether I would have enough to speak about in my 10 minute pitch, as I had been two years ago, I was actually remarkably prepared and more concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time for all of the points I wanted to make. I left the pitch feeling like I’d done a good job and waited until the evening to find out if I’d been successful.

The call came at around half past six and – hoorah! – this time my hard work had paid off and they granted me £500 to use towards research and development of the piece. This is great news, as not only does it give me a leg up to get this next project going for Sense Theatre, it is also really handy that the money has been pigeonholed just for research, as with this kind of piece, the research and psychological understanding of the characters will be what makes this a fantastic piece of theatre and not just a piece of awful TIE.

Photo by Flickr user tawalker under a Creative Commons licence.