Reflections on Summer Academy 2016

In all jobs and occupations there are ups and downs. There are parts of the work that make your heart sing and there are parts that can feel like trudging through mud. The muddy moments, for me, include the lonely schedule of bouncing from one project to another with no real opportunity to interact with colleagues, the Monday mornings when the world has wound itself back up to another week of work while I sit alone and plan for the week ahead, and the occasions where I let the fear of financial shortfall push me to accept projects that don’t sit well with my values or style of work.

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But this past fortnight has been a heart-singing time. I have spent the last two weeks working on Summer Academy at the Citizens Theatre. For two weeks, I have had a fairly set, normal schedule. I have had a group of colleagues to share the experience and life with. I have had an opportunity to really push myself, test new waters and lead a group of 9-12 year olds on a journey that has challenged them and opened their eyes, hearts and minds to something new. It’s times like these that remind me why I persevere through the muddy moments.

The theme for this year’s Summer Academy was “Shakespeare.” And as my co-leader, Carly, and I discovered in our first planning meeting, that’s a pretty wide and rich theme. There were too many ideas. We discussed and mind-mapped and researched and both agreed that we wanted to challenge the group to use the Shakespearean language and to find the joy that comes with discovering the story, learning the language, and finding its relevance in our modern world. And so we entered the first day of Summer Academy with a collection of extracts – from Act 2 Scene 1  and the epilogue of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the prologue and Act 1 Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet – and a number of provocations and exercises to get the group thinking and discussing what they thought about Shakespeare and his work.


From the get-go the group embraced all that we presented to them. They entered whole-heartedly into discussion and debate. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and they trusted and supported each other to express their opinions and question everything that was thrown at them. Some simple Boal exercises unlocked not only a wealth of interesting conversation, but a physical language that became the lifeblood of our final piece. At every turn they surprised us and challenged us to expect more of them, to take the leap and to push forward with the language and movement without compromising.

Week two brought a change in mood. There is always a transition from week one to two: for the staff it is the transition from facilitator to director, for the participants its the transition from workshopper to actor. It’s a big shift for everyone and it was particularly difficult this time around. As we began to shape all of the work of week 1, it seemed the young people were disconnecting from the story that they had created, so much of their physical language seemed to have regressed, the language started to sound like a school assembly script that had been learned by rote. We began to wonder if we had leapt a little too far.


On the penultimate day we had our first full run of the piece in the studio where it was to be performed and it was a mess from start to finish. Our tech session followed, in the last hour of the day, by which point our cast resembled a galaxy of starfish littered on the studio floor. It was at this point that I was aware of  my training kicking in. Of course I had been using skills that I had learned from my studies throughout the fortnight, but in that moment of fight or flight, subconsciously, all that was learned in my Masters studies came bubbling to the fore. Don’t direct acting during tech; get from cue to cue and go over each cue until they are right. Don’t lose your nerve; when it seems that your piece is falling apart at the seams, hold your nerve and bring it back together. Trust your instincts.

Our group arrived on performance day at the later start time of 10am, brighter-eyed and bushier-tailed than we had seem them for a while. We spent an hour or so working specific notes – problem areas that needed attention. We worked at remembering the story we were telling and who was telling it when. And then it was into costume and into the space. Our young cast were given the final elements they needed to take the ultimate leap. As they donned their costumes and had their make-up done, a transformation took place, this group of young people became a band of sprites and fairies ready to tell their story.


Carly and I squealed our way through the dress run as they committed fully to section after section, as they rose to the challenge and told their story with the skill and maturity of actors beyond their years. They raised their game further still in front of their audience. We had the joy to witness the pride and accomplishment on their faces as they had a ball sharing all that they had worked so hard on.

Saying goodbye to our 18 little spirits was hard. The mix of elation and sadness that follows these projects is hard to describe. I have replayed the performance several times over, celebrating the moments of magic, analysing the sections that I wish we had had the opportunity to push further and reflecting on the process. At Easter Academy I was reminded of how life-changing these projects can be for the participants and how the memories will stay with them for many years. During this Summer Academy it’s not just the participants who are changed by the process, but Carly and I too. I have been inspired by this group of young people to raise my expectations, to go after the projects that make my heart sing and to trust in the power of a story to capture imaginations no matter how complex the language. Anything is possible if it is facilitated well.

Making Memories

I have been working at the Citizens Theatre this week on Easter Academy, where I have been leading a group of 8-10 year olds to create a play in a week based on the theme of Ancient Greece. The theme was picked to tie in with the production of This Restless House (a contemporary adaptation of The Oresteia) which is opening next week on the main stage.


Citizens Theatre Easter Academy 2016, Age 8-10s. Photo by Jen Clokey.

Following on the theme of a modern take on an ancient story, the 8-10s have come up with a modern take on the story of the Greek god Hephaestus. The message of their play is that everyone has different strengths and that we should follow our own path and our own dreams, not feel we ought to be the same as everyone else. Ultimately, the young cast encourage their audience to be themselves.

Today we had the 10-12 year old group in to watch a rehearsal and as we debriefed the experience with our wee group of 8-10s something wonderful happened. One of the children told us:

You know in Inside Out there’s the memories and then there’s core memories? Well, I think I just made a core memory.


On some level, I have always known that the performance work I do creates lifelong memories for the participants of the project. And they are words that the teachers were often uttering during the recent production of Divided City with St Paul’s and Heriot Primaries – “This is an experience you will remember for the rest of your lives.” But today as my little cast member expressed her experience so eloquently I remembered afresh how important the work we do in learning is.


The Emotions looking out from Headquarters at the Islands of Personality Image Source

The analogy that this girl brought points to the Disney Pixar film Inside Out. In particular, she referenced the way memories are portrayed in the film. What struck me as I pondered what she had said is the function of core memories which, in the film, create “Personality Islands“. Effectively, core memories are ones that shape the person into who they are.

Again, wow!

Often in community arts practice we find ourselves trying to prove how the work we are doing is having an impact. As practitioners we know the truth of this. We know that participants will grow in confidence, they will learn how to express themselves, they will develop their social skills… we know the positive effect of participation. But it is rare to have a young person able to express the impact that taking part has had for them and it is an incredible reminder to me of the importance of this kind of work.

I might be feeling ridiculously tired, and I might be looking forward to putting my feet up once the show is over, but it is 100% worth it when I remember that my 12 little theatre makers have been changed by their experience this week. An experience that for them will be remembered for many years to come.


Citizens Theatre Easter Academy 2016, Age 8-10s. Photo by Suzanne Brady.

Divided City Renfrewshire

Last Tuesday was show day for Heriot and St Paul’s Primaries as they took to the (specially constructed) stage to share their production of Divided City with peers, friends and family.

These two classes really grew throughout the 8 sessions of rehearsal and it was lovely to get to witness their blossoming in confidence. Check out these few photos (by Angela Smith) and what some of the audience had to say about the performance.


An honour & privilege to attend. Inspirational & heartwarming. Challenged me to be better.

Audience Feedback

This has allowed my daughter to educate & broaden minds of older family members. Very proud mum.

Audience Feedback

Cally was fab in . confident and his asd didnt get in the way. Well done to St. Pauls and Heriot cast.

Parent on Twitter

Text and Performance

Tonight I start a series of master classes with the young people at Creative Spark in Bishopbriggs. I love workshopping on bringing text to performance and especially love seeing scenes come to life when young actors take big leaps.

I’ll be putting to good use all the teaching I received from John Adams (co-founder of Paines Plough and a previous Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep) and Max Stafford-Clark (co-founder of Joint Stock and a previous Artistic Director of the Royal Court, London) during my MA studies. With script extracts lined up from Scarfed for Life by Martin Travers, DNA by Dennis Kelly, The Beauty Manifesto by Nell Leyshon and Passing Places by Stephen Greenhorn, and some games and exercises to get right into what is really happening, it is sure to be a fun few weeks with this exciting Young Company!

Just Go Endgame – Citizens Theatre


David Neilson as Hamm and Chris Gascoyne as Clov in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at Citizens Theatre. Photo by Tim Morozzo.

On Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne in Beckett’s Endgame at the Citizens Theatre. Thursday was the first preview, and while Beckett isn’t normally my cup of tea, I was there in the audience because I am going to be delivering a Just Go workshop for the production with S5/6 pupils at King’s Park Secondary next week.

Just Go is an initiative funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation that seeks to engage fifth and sixth year pupils in the work of the theatre. Students get to see 3 Citizens Theatre Company productions during the year and each comes with an introductory workshop. I’ve worked on a number of the workshops in the past – 1984, The Slab Boys and Rapunzel – and I love that I get to be a part of a project that enables young people to access theatre, many for the first time.

But I have to say, this play feels like the biggest challenge so far. We had a team meeting on Friday to plan the session and, somewhat unexpectedly, I left feeling really excited about Tuesday’s workshop. I mentioned before that Beckett is not my normal choice for a night at the theatre; I would usually favour something more narrative-based. But as we discussed our research and our thoughts on Friday, I found myself falling in love with the complexity and genius of Beckett’s work. Here’s hoping on Tuesday I can ignite that spark in at least some of the young people in my workshop!

Endgame runs at the Citizens Theatre until 20th February and you can book tickets here.

Revisiting an old favourite

A new year and a new term have found me revisiting a project that has stayed close to my heart in the year since I last worked on it. I was lucky enough to be asked back by the Citizens Theatre to direct another pair of schools on the Divided City project, this time in Renfrewshire.


We are two rehearsals down out of 8 and it’s like I was never away – it really does amaze me how our brains and our muscles retain information, in this case a whole show!

This time around I am working with St Paul’s and Heriot Primaries who will perform on 15th March.

Photo by Angela Smith from Sacred Heart and Lawmuir’s Divided City 2014

A few more photos from The Rifles

It’s nearly a week since our final performance of The Rifles at Hamilton Town House and I couldn’t resist posting a few more of Alex Brady’s fab photos!

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The Rifles was produced by South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture in association with Citizens Theatre.

The Rifles

Emotions were running high last night as we closed The Rifles at Hamilton Town House. The 27-strong cast of high school pupils gave 5 performances of the new musical play by Martin Travers with original music by Claire McKenzie. I was privileged to co-direct the piece alongside Guy Hollands.

The Rifles was produced by South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture in association with Citizens Theatre.

Below are a few photos by Alex Brady and some audience comments from social media.


Powerful stories of the Cameronians in – beautifully staged; stirring music. Congrats to schools’ cast+choir.

Audience Member on Twitter


Brilliant show tonight at Hamilton Town House the kids were all so professional, I cried my eyes out!

Audience Member on facebook


Amazing show and wonderful cast. A night to remember!!! 

audience member on facebook




I am really pleased to be able to launch my new website:

photo Having got married in June this year and changed my name, it felt like a good time to give my online presence an overhaul. Having previously been a Smith, it’s an added bonus to be able to have a domain that uses just my name. Plain and simple. And I hope that the new site reflects the same – plain and simple. You can find out more about me and my work using the menu tabs and you will find links to my CV on the “About” page.

If you’d be interested to work with me or have any questions then please do get in touch at