By Adele Waites and Hannah Proops

Along with many other teachers in lockdown 1.0 we were worried about how to keep the magic of the drama classroom alive via a long distance, web based teacher-student relationship. We were determined to ensure that our students were still able to flex their creative muscles and be immersed in the arts and knew that many depended on them to maintain their well-being. Despite the challenges and constrictions of remote learning, we were determined that our subject would continue to inspire and develop those important life skills of empathy, collaboration and creativity. So we challenged our students and made the lessons as exciting as we could: in drama practical lessons, students relished mastering the art of special effects makeup from bruising to open wounds. Costume design exercises challenged the students to raid their wardrobes and create a well researched and historically accurate outfit for a certain time period.  Prop making lessons used coffee granules, cheese graters, salt dough and mud to produce realistic and well designed apothecary bottles, ancient maps or delicious fake food. Our Drama Online subscription  provided us with a plethora of live theatre to keep our students immersed in the theatre. All of these activities were designed to lift spirits and provide contrast within what seemed like identical days stuck at home.

On return to school post lockdown 1.0, the future for the arts seemed bleak, and with the Government’s message to ‘retrain’ we were worried about the impact on the next generation of aspiring artists. The arts are so vital for our nation’s mental health, as has been proven by the way in which people have increasingly sought solace in them during these times. We were determined too to show our students that a career in the arts is not just viable but vital and fulfilling. In collaboration with our new Head, musician Kirsty von Malaisé, we decided on a plan of action. TuneUp Tuesday was designed as a way of celebrating the impact of music, drama and art to our mental health, our communities, and our future careers, and with the help of networks such as ASCL, we were able to engage hundreds of schools to join us and connect with the incredible range of professionals who provided content.

TuneUp has three main strands. Upskill is a series of arts activity videos designed to encourage students to have a go at various different art forms, whether that be a lighting design masterclass looking at the use of shadows, a Birmingham Royal Ballet dance warmup, or a songwriting workshop from a Hip Hop producer. A video which proved particularly popular was the costume design exercise working with a paper maquette as SIX’s designer Gabriella Slade explains how to begin to test out and fashion your designs out of paper.

Upcoming is a huge collection of careers films made by industry professionals from stage managers, film producers, musicians, playwrights, puppeteers, graphic designers, costume constructors and music producers to name but a few. By outlining their career paths and training, each practitioner offers unique advice on forging a career in the creative arts, Dame Darcey Bussell’s advice on pursuing a dance career being a firm favourite.

Uplift is all about bringing a community together to enjoy the power of performance. A number of theatre companies including Bloomsbury and JCS online Resources were generous enough to donate digital screenings on our launch day. It was an inspiring thought that thousands of students were able to sit and enjoy the National’s Peter Pan or Vamos’ Finding Joy or The Globe’s Romeo & Juliet and absorb the uplifting and life affirming experience of live theatre.

TuneUp Tuesday was a resounding success with over 450 schools and over 110,000 students taking part in an online ‘arts school’ with workshops and career talks from Dame Evelyn Glennie, Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire, Comedian Greg Davies and playwright James Graham. (quotes from schools) Schools were uplifted by the plethora of recorded live theatre on offer, with JCS Online Resources and Bloomsbury allowing full access to the extensive Drama Online library for the day.

I thought it was a great way to encourage young people to engage in the performing arts and for them to realise that it is more than singing, dancing and acting. I think the value of the arts is sometimes lost and by taking part in this event I have had a number of staff and students say how much they enjoyed it. Ninestiles Academy Birmingham

The energy, enthusiasm and willingness of the arts world and industry professionals to give their time has inspired us to continue with our mission to keep arts alive in schools.

TuneUp Arts now aims to continue to enable as many young people as possible in the UK and beyond to participate in uplifting arts activities, aiding social mobility and supporting the development of good mental health. TuneUp will:

  • Provide a virtual platform for schools across the UK in the delivery of Arts curricula and activities, including an annual day of celebration
  • Facilitate teen Arts Ambassadors to lead outreach activities in their own school and schools in their regions
  • Engage professionals and arts companies to share expertise with and support the programme’s activities
  • Set up a youth Arts steering committee of national influence

If you would like to be involved in the next stage of the TuneUp journey, either as a school who did not register first time round, or if you think you can help us achieve these important aims, we would love to hear from you. Please contact tuneup@kehsmail.co.uk.

As TuneUp patron James Graham OBE says, ‘Our particular landscape can feel precarious, but that won’t always be the case. When we open up, we will need lots of brilliant, inspiring young people to come and forge careers and take jobs in our really exciting sector.’ Follow us on Twitter @TuneUpArts and join in with the mission!