Alice Chutter, Children and Young People Producer at Diverse City, marvels as 4 young artists embark on an extraordinary personal and professional development journey, in collaboration with coaches from Damn Cheek.

On a cold Saturday in February 2022, a group of 4 emerging artists gather in the studio at Lighthouse, Poole. Cocooned in the black box studio for a day together, facilitated by the Damn Cheek Theatre company, these artists consider their hopes for the future, their challenges, their aspirations. It’s an opportunity for them to emerge from the pandemic and dream about their personal creative ambitions.

Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists is Diverse City’s inclusive performance training company for young people age 16 to 30, based at Lighthouse in Poole. The 4 emerging artists in this project are an eclectic mix of writers, actors, dancers, choreographers, aerialists and activists. They are all disabled and in their late 20s.

The pandemic has hit them at a difficult time – shows had to be cancelled, opportunities put on hold, the emotional impact of the last 2 years processed. This collaboration – a series of workshops over 4 months where the artists work with coaches to enhance their personal developing – was made possible by the Arts Council’s Cultural Recovery Fund and designed to support emerging talent at a pivotal time in these artists’ lives.

At the February opening workshop, 3 Damn Cheek coaches greet our 4 emerging artists with warm smiles and plenty of energy and humour. Together, coaches Darren, Kate and Brad bring to the table experience not only in personal development, but also in psychotherapy, performing, writing and directing. They run the opening workshop with games and role play, getting to know the participants and figuring out who clicks with whom. Because the workshop is carefully facilitated and ground rules set, there’s space for desires and vulnerabilities to be spoken out loud…

“To ease my anxiety before I go on stage or audition.”

“To start working professionally and learn how to get an agent.”

“I want to stop stuttering.”

Excitement brews as the participants embark upon 5 one-to-one coaching sessions across the next 4 months, sessions to support them in the next step of their professional pathways.

Zoom invitations sent, mics on, cameras on and the deep work of the one-to-one coaching journey begins. Coaches in London and Frome, participants in Poole and Bournemouth. Some support workers listen in to support with communication and note-taking where needed. Each journey is led by the emerging artist and with open questions, time and space, their coach supports them to realise their ambitions and what might be holding them back. “It felt like my coach was standing beside me” said Jess, one of the participants.

Tasks are set between sessions, notes taken and shared. The participants start to complete research, challenges, meditations. CVs and bios are drafted, audition pieces prepared, showreel material reviewed. Dreams start to get bigger and yet more within reach. Coaches keep the work real and grounding – “You know it took me 4 years to get an agent!” – but manageable, with tasks set in little chunks. Getting closer to the goal, step by step.

On a warm June day we come together again for the closing workshop. There is a sense of confidence in the space as well as some nerves and excitement. Through a series of games, the group warm up and start to share their individual processes.

It is incredible to see how far, with the nurturing support of their coaches, these young artists have come in the last 4 months. I scribble notes on flip charts in wonder at how brave and articulate the group is. The ‘New Skills’ page, where the participants communicate new skills and learning, is literally overflowing! From initiating work experience placements to writing biogs, from approaching agents to managing anxiety.

New skils page
New Skills page: overflowing!

There is a sense of a profound impact and growth. We share what is coming up next for the emerging artists. Clarissa and Jess have landed professional, paid performance work. Kira is taking part in the Unexpected Leaders national training programme. Josh is starring in a film titled A Snapshot being released this year alongside his own creative projects.

The day is rounded off with dance, performance and improvisation. So much joy. So much ambition, determination and talent.

Alice Chutter is the Children and Young People Producer at Diverse City.