Recently, Damn Cheek partnered with Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists (EBYA) on a 4-month mentoring project to support a group of young, performance-based artists with extraordinary ability. Here, 2 of the mentees – Kira Procter and Josh Ward – give their experiences of the project, explaining how it’s helped them take crucial steps towards their artistic aims.

Kira Procter

“At the time of the mentoring programme, I had a lot of stuff on my plate. This helped me learn new ways of coping with my anxiety. Recently, we did a show in Brighton which Darren saw. I got told some very bad news and I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to cope getting though the show’. I felt really surprised because I was able to use methods we spoke about in the coaching sessions. It really helped me feel less anxiety when I was on stage.

“Just before Christmas last year we started doing ariel training – working with silks and hoops and trapeze and everything. It was surprising because I didn’t think I could do it because of the thought of being off the ground and out of my comfort zone. We’re currently going to a festival in Cumbria. The show’s about showing people our true selves – because it feels in reality that we have to put a mask on to fit in with people. My role, my ‘unmasking’, is my guitar. I have a scene where I walk into the audience and my guitar’s there and I start playing, with the audience around me. The song I’ve written is about going to the lake – when I feel really overwhelmed with a lot of stuff on my mind and just need to escape it all.

“I’ve also got a job as a volunteer usher at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. It’s been an amazing opportunity, because it’s exploring the theatre and doing something other than acting. I’m also working as a support worker at my old junior school, running a drama group.

“I would say to other performers that the mentoring programme was definitely worth it. It’s amazing how much it’s helped me reach my main goal of trying to stay calmer pre-show. I haven’t had a show recently where I’ve suddenly had to come out of it because of my anxiety being so high.”

Josh Ward

“I remember the very first in-person workshop we did. Getting to know the other coaches and the person that would be mentoring us. Obviously, I knew it was coaching and mentoring but I didn’t know how it would run. Those games where we were finding out about each other were really helpful and fun.

“And then of course I remember the final workshop, which felt like a nice conclusion, a celebration of the journeys we’ve been on and what our ambitions are – and how perhaps we could be supported by Diverse City for future coaching projects.

“[Since the programme] I’ve done quite a bit with Dave Young, a local disabled artist. Last year there was the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Basically, any person in any country who’s neurodiverse or disabled can put together a short film. This year I was a cameo background artist. I had these two sticks on the sand and I was pretending to, what do you call it… metal detect. It was all improv.

“The biggest thing that’s happened since is Salt [a community theatre project], with about 80 to 100 people in the cast. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done because it’s a lot of people to get into costume and then to do hair and makeup, notes, warm up, check props are in the right place, and then start the show. It’s been really good to mix with other people and connect. I’m quite shy and introverted, so I keep myself to myself. I only open up to a few people who can see me shine and say ‘you’re amazing, you’re watchable’, because they understand how I feel.

“I’ve done some roleplay on Microsoft Teams working with clinical psychology students in Southampton. I get given a scenario and then I improvise with this character. I was playing the part of someone with a learning disability and this incident at a bus stop has happened. And that was paid, so I feel really good about it! There will be an in-person one in November, so I’ve said yes to that.

“Darren was a good person to talk to. Because I’d say that 80% of it was just about how overwhelmed I’m feeling, mixed in with what I want to do career-wise. He was very good at setting me the goals, but he was very much like, you know, ‘if you can’t do the goals, it will be fine – it will still be there after the mentoring for you to look back on, and when you feel able to then you can go about tackling those’. Spotlight [the actors’ directory] was one of them. Sorting out my Mandy profile.

“I would say do the mentoring programme because it’s a really good opportunity. You get to talk to someone in the industry. They understand, they know how you feel. They will be able to guide you towards some goals. And do you know what? It doesn’t matter if you don’t complete those goals. There will still be ongoing support you can access. They will always be there at the end of an email for help and support and guidance.”

More about the project

Read more about the progress of the mentees during the project and one mentor’s perspective: