I remember it as if it were yesterday. Nervously I walked through the doors of Coventry University to start my theatre degree, hoping one day I would be able to perform and possibly create my own work. We were guided through the process by some brilliant lecturers, many of whom I have the privilege to now call friends.
As the sun begins to set earlier and earlier each day and autumn blows in, tempting us to turn the heating on, I think back to those early university days. Each year would start towards the end of September with an outline and plan for the year; the modules we would be studying, performances we would be directed in and others we would devise ourselves. We were the first ever year to study the excitingly titled Theatre and Professional Practice Degree at Coventry University. Its aim was to not only develop the performer but to also teach the lesser-known element of the performing arts: tax returns, business admin and…. say it quietly….. spreadsheets!
We always felt so lucky to have a such a wealth of experiences given to us, although our teenage faces may not have shown it. Having the opportunity to work with companies such as Complicite, Frantic Assembly, DV8 and Motionhouse. Working with practitioners and lecturers who had trained and performed with Jacques Lecoq, Pina Bausch, Grotowski, experts in mask theatre, Commedia del Arte and Shakespeare all tasked with the challenge of inspiring and challenging a group of students, at the start of their theatre journey.
The course, being so new, grew with us as students. Constant dialogue and feedback between students and the authors of the degree course allowed us a sense of ownership over our learning and thinking back, I relished every single moment and am eternally grateful for all that the course gave me both personally and professionally.
This week marks 25 years since a teenage Sarah and a gawky teenage Mark arrived at Coventry University for the first time. 3 years later Highly Sprung was created. 22 years further on, we are doing exactly what our training lead us towards – finding our own creative path, touring, and teaching, up and down the country and across the world but we always return to our creative roots and home, Coventry.
You can only imagine our excitement when this year we were approached by the university to see if we would be interested in working with the current and LAST EVER degree students of the Theatre and Professional Practice students on their final year project. The delight in being invited back to create work with the students has been tinged with nostalgia and just a little sadness.
The chance to return to where we it all began for Highly Sprung was one that we felt obliged to take, to support the students who find themselves at the beginning of a journey we remember so well. The faces may have changed, the rehearsal rooms may be different but the hunger and enthusiasm for experiencing new work and working with new practitioners remains the same. It is this attitude that is so incredibly important for any aspiring artist.
Only 3 years after we started Highly Sprung we established Sprung Youth, delivering weekly workshops for children and young people across Coventry and Warwickshire. Fuelled by a passion to instil in all of the students that same attitude and enthusiasm about their own potential. For us it doesn’t matter if our young people move into the arts professionally or if they venture into something else altogether; the want and desire to be their best and achieve beyond their potential translates. Looking back, I think that is what Sarah and I took from Coventry University. More than the course, the people, the lifelong friends we made that will always hold a special place in our hearts, it’s the hunger and desire that was instilled in us which has fired our practice and still drives us today.
Highly Sprung’s current residency with the students at Coventry University’s Theatre and Professional Practice course seems to perfectly round the circle and our hope is another group of aspiring performers are inspired like we were 25 years ago!