20 years on: Highly Sprung’s return to Smithswood Academy

20 years on: Highly Sprung’s return to Smithswood Academy
By Mark
10th August 2022

Just over twenty years ago, when Highly Sprung was still in its infancy, we had one of the most important phone calls of our careers: a researcher from Warwick University was in desperate need of a company or artist to join them in delivering 2 weeks of workshops in a school in Birmingham. As you can imagine, our diaries (unlike now!) were empty and we jumped at the chance. Little did we know that those next 2 weeks would define Highly Sprung’s ethos, methodology and practice, even to this day.


With this in mind, you can only imagine our excitement when we were recently asked to return to the same Birmingham school where it all started for us and to deliver a small festival of work featuring their Year 8s.Taster workshops, themes and venue sorted, we looked into how to inspire a group of 12- 13 year olds about performance when many of them haven’t been to the theatre, or can’t remember the last time they saw something live  – a growing issue for countless young people up and down the country as we discover more hangovers from the pandemic and countless lockdowns.


Our outdoor performance of CastAway was booked into the school forecourt and as the year groups filed in, anticipation in the students eyes was mirrored in the fear and worry of the unknown in the performers. The show started to raucous cheers and jeers towards the larger than life ‘Disposable’ characters. However, when Emily was raised into the air on our flying machine, mouths opened, gasps were audible and I may have even heard the odd expletive from perplexed teenagers. It worked.  Students were inspired and willing to work under the tutorship of performers they had seen in action the day beforehand.


“If we can do it, so can you…” became a mantra as Colleen, Emily and I coxed, cajoled and encouraged the students to achieve their potential. By the end of the first week we had 3 performances exploring climate change, pollution and our dependence on the environment, alll ready to be shared in front of family, friends, teachers and the biggest critics of all, their peers.


“I can’t believe that we made these shows in such a short time.”
“I’m really proud.”
“My mum couldn’t stop telling me how good we all were.”


As we all sat down and heard the audience feedback we had been given from our performances, I was taken back to 2002. I don’t know if it was the accents, their smiles or the same sense of accomplishment the students of 2022 showed that reminded me of that first residency. Maybe it was all of the above. What I do know is that these students, much like those twenty years before them, achieved something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It may be as a nice memory to look back on, or a seed of confidence planted in their brains by the crazy man with the moustache but, this experience WILL change their lives; once again proving the power of the arts and it’s importance in schools.


The teacher spoke of how one of the original students, now 35 (think how old that made me feel!) has just fixed her roof. He didn’t talk about the classes he went to or the exams he sat. Instead he spoke about creating a performance, taking it to Solihull Library Theatre, how much he enjoyed it and how much he got from it. Do we really need any more proof that the arts are key to our young people’s development?


Following that original residency in 2002, Highly Sprung made working with children and young people central to our work. The students back then changed us, as much as they changed, they themselves change…. It should also be noted that the researcher was Dr. Jo Trowsdale, has been a friend of twenty years now and for the past 3 years a proud trustee of Highly Sprung….maybe that little old arts project back in 2022 was life changing for more than just us?… I wonder what will transpire from this residency? I hope I’m still around in 20 years to find out!


The power of the arts eh?!…