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What does Arts in Education practice look like? Read about the processes and partnerships behind current projects happening around Ireland.


Tenderfoot


Tenderfoot Project, courtesy of Civic Theatre

Briefly tell us the story of your project – What was it about? Who was involved? How did it get started?

Veronica:

Tenderfoot originated, with the support of South Dublin County Council, in The Civic Theatre in Tallaght ten years ago. Bríd Dukes, the Artistic Director of The Civic, wanted to develop a programme to involve transition year students in the art of theatre. Tenderfoot @ The Civic, the parent programme, annually provides forty five students from eight different schools the opportunity to learn about theatre in a hands on way. Tenderfoot operates on a model of apprenticeship. Students learn by doing. They learn about theatre by making theatre under the guidance of working theatre professionals. Each year a number of the students, usually sixteen, write original plays for the stage. A selection of these plays are then produced and students can opt to act, do costume design, take part in the film for theatre module or they can be part of the stage management team. The final productions are seen by two distinct audiences. A general theatre audience and an audience of the students’ peers. Over the years the reaction of the peer audience to the work, work made by people their own age, has been remarkable. It has resulted in a profound level of engagement. Tenderfoot @ The Civic is entering its tenth year.

Tenderfoot is a replicable model and Tenderfoot @ The Garage, championed by Niamh Smyth of CMETB, is the first reiteration. Tenderfoot @ The Garage serves schools in the Cavan/Monaghan region. Five schools participated in the inaugural year with a focus on writing. Twenty students wrote original plays for the stage. Five of those plays were publicly acknowledged in rehearsed readings in The Garage Theatre. Audience was twofold – general theatre and peer audience.

Response from Sarah Doyle/Holy Family Community School Rathcoole

I was lucky enough to be teaching in Rathcoole when the Tenderfoot programme was first set up. My school was one of the South Dounty Dublin schools chosen to partake.

Response from Gabrielle Tuomey/Our Lady’s Secondary School Castleblayney

I was delighted that our school was accepted onto the Tenderfoot programme following our application through the Garage Theatre. The project had appeal due to its emphasis on creativity, and integration with others, coupled with learning about teamwork and skills required for writing and performing outside of the school timetable. I was also excited about our students being guided, nourished and encouraged by theatre professionals and out of school drama facilitators. Veronica was encouraging and her visit to our school whetted the students’ appetite.

How did the ideas develop? How did the children, artist and teacher work together?

Veronica:

Apprenticeship is the model upon which Tenderfoot runs. The students learn alongside experts in their field so, for instance, professional writers facilitate the students’ learning about writing for the stage. Students are provided with a structure within which they can give voice and form to their own creative ideas. Students are not censored. They can write about any topic. They can utilise any form. The guiding principle for Tenderfoot mentors is to enable students realise the best version of their work.

Response from Sarah Doyle/Holy Family Community School Rathcoole

Very simply, many of our students blossomed. They learned new skills, and many uncovered hidden talents in writing and acting. All of them gained confidence and a greater sense of self-assurance. They made fantastic friends and even better memories. They were a part of something special and very few will ever forget the Tenderfoot experience.

Response from Gabrielle Tuomey/Our Lady’s Secondary School Castleblayney

I noticed a remarkable growth in confidence and self-assurance in the five selected students who quickly adapted to the project and to the process of meeting deadlines and submitting required pieces when asked. The rehearsed readings on the day of performance were absorbing and entertaining.

What aspects of the project made you smile? What aspects of the project made you feel challenged?

Veronica:

The young people make me smile. Their enthusiasm, their engagement and their work. The work they produce is very often surprising. It can be sobering. It can be eye opening. It is really interesting to see the world through their eyes. And I feel that something important is happening in that space where young people encounter the theatrical work of their peers. This is a unique space. Also, the willingness and enthusiasm of the countless teachers I deal with restores my faith in the education system. Year after year I deal with teachers who care only for the best interests of their students. The only major challenge I can think of is the ongoing battle to maintain funding.

Response from Sarah Doyle/Holy Family Community School Rathcoole

I love the annual January trip to see the plays created by the students. Their peers and I, always come away from the theatre impressed and awestruck about what their classmates have achieved. I don’t find any aspect of the process challenging.

Response from Gabrielle Tuomey/Our Lady’s Secondary School Castleblayney

I smiled at the independence of my students strolling out onstage to take their seats and perform in different roles in different plays. Yes, some themes were challenging and clearly revelatory of their needs and focus in this period of their young lives. Sex, freedom of behaviour and speech, rejection of social norms that seem to apply pressure on teenagers were among the challenging themes addressed in their short plays.

What insights from the project are worth sharing?

Veronica:

It is really valuable for young people to have opportunities to learn in contexts outside of school and in ways different to how they learn in school. An important feature of Tenderfoot is that each group is taken from a number of schools and the work environment is a professional arts environment – The Civic Theatre in Tallaght and The Garage Theatre in Monaghan. The value of such an experience is immeasurable. It provides those students lucky enough to take part an opportunity to see themselves in a new light.

Response from Sarah Doyle/Holy Family Community School Rathcoole

Tenderfoot offers students a more relaxed environment to express themselves. This can sometimes contrast to the school environment where as teachers, we have to place restrictions on bad language or on adult subject matter. This can be a liberating experience for a lot of students and can help greatly in their development of self-confidence.

Response from Gabrielle Tuomey/Our Lady’s Secondary School Castleblayney

Overall, most worthwhile as evidenced by the close attention paid by the attentive and engrossed teenage audience who sat through one and a half hours of readings without asking for a break!

Response from Robert Barrett/Participating Student Tenderfoot @ The Civic

Tenderfoot was easily the highlight of transition year. There was never a dull day; they ranged from doing improvisations in the little theatre upstairs, to building a full sized guillotine. It was a unique experience to see plays, some of which were my own, go from their most conceptual stage in the writers minds, to first drafts and then go through production.”

Response from Seoid Ní Laoire/Participating Student Tenderfoot @ The Civic

Writing A Piece Of Me developed me as a writer, but it was watching the director shape my words into something new, something physical and outside of myself that I learnt the most. My writing’s weak points were suddenly glaringly obvious, as were its strengths. I remember peeking out from backstage and seeing the audience respond to words I had written and experiencing a connection that is impossible to achieve from a page. It is difficult for me to adequately describe the impact of my few weeks with Tenderfoot. It was one of those experiences that, when I look back on my life so far, carves out a milestone.

Sarah Hannon/Participating Student Tenderfoot @ The Civic

Tenderfoot made me come out of my comfort zone and most of all have confidence in my writing. It was one of the most fun and rewarding things I did throughout my secondary school experience and I’m very glad I got the opportunity to do it, and I greatly appreciate and am thankful to the people of Tenderfoot for seeing potential in me when I did not, both then and still to this day.

Tenderfoot is a replicable model and Tenderfoot @ The Garage, championed by Niamh Smyth of CMETB, was the first reiteration. Tenderfoot @ The Garage served schools in the Cavan/Monaghan region in 2015. Five schools participated and twenty students wrote original plays for the stage. Five of those plays were publicly acknowledged in rehearsed readings in The Garage Theatre. Audience was twofold – general theatre and peer audience.

Response from Levana Courtney/Participating Student Tenderfoot @ The Garage

Thanks a lot for the wonderful experience you’ve given me and helping me along the way. It’s been a brilliant couple of weeks and I think I speak for everyone when I say I’ve learnt a lot of new things, had so much fun and made a lot of new friends who I won’t forget. Before tenderfoot I would have never spoken in front of a crowd, so I really appreciate the confidence it has given me.

Response from Caspar McCabe/Participating Student Tenderfoot @ The Garage

You can really tell a lot about a person based on what they write about: their experience, their beliefs, their thoughts, their opinions, their dreams … it’s extremely insightful. When you’re writing, even if you have the clearest idea of what you’re going to say, your words take on their own mind and you can end up writing something that is totally different than what you intended to. Knowing how to accept criticism is important, but so is knowing how to accept praise.

Has anything changed as a result of the project?

Veronica

Each year the students who take part in Tenderfoot are changed by their experience. Some find new interests. Many find new levels of confidence. In a number of cases some even find their future professions.

Response from Sarah Doyle/Holy Family Community School Rathcoole

Many of them grow in confidence. In terms of their education, a better understanding of drama helps with their study of drama at senior cycle. For the budding writers and actors, there is almost always a greater desire to be involved in their chosen field after completion of the Tenderfoot project. They will often go on to engage in drama or writing outside school.

Response from Gabrielle Tuomey/Our Lady’s Secondary School Castleblayney

I noted a growing maturity in my five participants. It was good for them to be pushed beyond their usual boundaries.

Response from Caspar McCabe/Participating Student Tenderfoot @ The Garage

Taking part in Tenderfoot has developed my social skills: I realised while taking part how truly complex everyone is, how everyone has their own individual thoughts and experience and beliefs and this has helped me to connect with people and make friends.

Spotlight


Artist(s):

Veronica Coburn

I have worked in theatre for over thirty years. I was a founder member of Barabbas Theatre Company and with Barabbas toured to New York, Wellington, London, France & Denmark. I now concentrate on writing. I have a long history of working with young people. I was a voluntary leader in Dublin Youth Theatre for fourteen years. I have acted as artistic director on national programmes for the National Association of Youth Drama and have been commissioned by them on a number of occasions to write plays for young adults. I believe in the transformative power of art. I believe that young people are capable of making great art. In developing Tenderfoot I have found a way to provide a space for young people to do just that.


Teacher(s):

Sarah Doyle

My name is Sarah Doyle. I teach English to teenagers at Holy Family Community School in Rathcoole. I teach the Junior Cert English course, the Leaving Cert English course, the new JCSA English course, the English & Communications LCA course and the transition year English course. All of these courses involve the study and appreciation of drama. Tenderfoot is of huge benefit to my students and I because it is anchored in drama.

Gabrielle Tuomey

I teach drama to TY and to JCSP students weekly.  I would like more time for drama on the timetable but it is difficult to facilitate all areas of school life given timetable constraints. I also teach English and usually run drama rehearsals after school if I have a production coming up. We produce a play most years and also extracts from plays for Open a Night and Awards Night.

Hitherto we have taken part in Cooperation Ireland Film and Documentary projects with a school in Northern Ireland. Like Tenderfoot it was very worthwhile. The TY drama class researched, wrote and acted out local historical events and Cooperation Ireland filmed and edited the DVD, which was then exchanged with our partner school.


Other:
(Curator, agency, etc):

Civic Theatre, Tallaght

The Civic Theatre’s Mission is to mount an artistic and challenging programme of contemporary and classical Irish and international work in Theatre, Dance, Opera and Music for the community of South Dublin county and environs. - Read more.

Cavan & Monaghan ETB

CMETB is an educational authority providing a comprehensive range of full-time, part-time education, training and support services. It aims to provided education for life in an innovative, responsive, caring and flexible learning environment.


Image of Veronica Coburn

Artist(s)

Veronica Coburn

Teacher(s)

Sarah Doyle

Gabrielle Tuomey


Artforms

Theatre

School Level

Post-primary

School/
Participant Group

Multiple Schools


No. Participants

45 / 20


Region

Dublin County

Age/Class

Transition Year


Dates

September 2014 - April 2015


Weblinks


Leading Agency

Civic Theatre Tallaght


Other Partners and/or Funders

Arts Council Young Ensembles Scheme, South Dublin County Council Arts Service, Cavan & Monaghan Education and Training Board

Key themes/ lines of enquiry

Personal expression. Creativity. Creative articulation. Artistic form. Young person as artist.


Curriculum Strands

Cross curricular with a particular link to English.


Research or relevant publications



It was a unique experience to see plays, some of which were my own, go from their most conceptual stage in the writers’ minds, to first drafts and then go through production.

Robert Barrett, participating student

Tenderfoot Project, courtesy of Civic Theatre

Tenderfoot Project, courtesy of Civic Theatre

Tenderfoot Project, courtesy of Civic Theatre

Tenderfoot Project, courtesy of Civic Theatre

Tenderfoot Project, courtesy of Civic Theatre

Tenderfoot Project, courtesy of Civic Theatre