Students take ‘demystifying university’ show on the road

Drama students using their creative powers to demystify higher education are taking the ‘show on the road’ to more than 2000 young people across the county.

For the past 8 months, 10 University of Northampton (UON) Drama students have been busy rehearsing a production for the ‘I Don’t Even Know’ (IDEK) group.

IDEK Theatre Company was founded in 2017 by UON Senior Lecturer in Acting and Drama Rory O’Neill and UON Theatre Technician Tim Halliday. The aim with IDEK is to provide extra-curricular experience on and behind the stage to UON Drama students as they inspire the young people they perform to.

This performance – aimed at years 8 to 12 students and funded by UON’s Schools Engagement team and Aspire Higher* – is an aspirational piece centred around what can be a multi-layered and bewildering time for young people, the transition from secondary school to higher education. The production includes fun messages about making positive life and educational choices, where to find information about going to university and underlining how their situation is no different to anyone else their age.

After performing to students from Abbeyfield School last week, the UON team are preparing to head out on the road for the first time since pandemic restrictions. This week and next, they will perform to more than 2000 secondary school students across Northamptonshire.

For this show, Rory has led the production but with buy-in from the students, making the final show truly collaborative and one that can evolve to meet the needs and feedback of their audience. Rory sets the scene: “Firstly, well done to our UON students who have all given first class performances.

“What we are doing is creating something very physical, externalising the internal. Their audience is in a whirlwind, pushed and pulled in all directions. The actors’ movements signify and physicalise their experiences as they remember their own journey from school to higher education.

“The lifting of bodies represents the feeling of floating through a space of difficult, pressing, perhaps life-altering decisions. But all presented in a safe space that lets the audience know they aren’t alone and helping them on their individual journeys. It is important that the audience understand that their peers are likely to be feeling all the same mix of emotions about growing up”.

IDEK 2022 Drama students

Neave Madden is one of the UON performers and talks about why this approach to explaining new issues to young people works: “There’s not much of an age gap between ourselves and these young people, so we are more relatable. I feel it’s a better experience because they don’t have someone talking to them from Powerpoint slides.”

Tioluwaniyin Ekogbulu hails from Switzerland and reflects on the cultural differences between her home and England with preparing for higher education: “It’s interesting seeing British students and how they receive this. For many, they won’t have encountered international students like me.

“Back home, when I was their age, we were told about UCAS and how to apply. The information and support were almost overwhelming. I think I’m a confident and outgoing person, but even I felt stressed. Young people can feel a lot of pressure to make important decision at a young age – that’s why I think IDEK is important. We approach kids in a way that is a more ‘homely’ and give them information in a different, humorous way.”

Amalah Allen talks about helping secondary school students not to feel isolated: “Everything can feel so rushed and with so many deadlines all at the same time. This little play of ours helps students see it’s ok if you don’t have everything sorted out and ready and perfect. We show you that everyone is different, that all of us have own pace and journey, and it’s OK to go at your own speed.”

Daniel Blight handles the all-important ‘backstage’ functions of the shows – lighting, sound and projection controlling and on-screen visuals. He adds: “This is all about helping young people have conversations they might not have had with their teachers. As their teachers are sitting with them and seeing the performance at the same time we hope they both see something new, or get a new perspective on something and learn at the same time.”

Lucy Garner sums up the thoughts of the group: “When I look back on the planning that Rory and the students have put in – about two and a half years of work – you appreciate the gravity of everything. The preparation has been intense, and I think that shows in the final product.”

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