Over 1,000 pupils across Hampshire saw a brand new play exploring gender and sexism in society this July, devised and performed by a company of Year 11 and 12 students taking part in Forest Forge Theatre Company’s work experience scheme, elevate.

The play, Man Up, Girl Up, was the culmination of an intense two week project where 20 students from Ringwood School, Burgate School and Bournemouth School for Girls worked together with Forest Forge to explore an important social issue through the medium of theatre. During the first week, the students devise, write, design, rehearse, tech and stage a brand new issue-based play, before touring it to secondary schools across the region in the second week.

This year, the elevate students performed Man Up, Girl Up 11 times to over 1,000 young people across the region. After each performance the young audience members are given an opportunity to discuss, challenge and explore the issues presented in the show, giving unique platform for peer-to-peer learning.

India de Lancy Green (16, Year 11), from Bournemouth School for Girls commented:

“ELEVATE is such an important project both for those participating as actors and for the school audiences who will see our show. It’s given the cast a chance to explore the struggles and prejudice that both genders face, as well as how easy it is to create and conform to stereotypes. Hopefully by presenting Man Up, Girl Up to other students, more and more people will be able to discuss and challenge the issues of gender and sexism that exists all around us in society today.”

Arnie Petty (16, Year 11) from Burgate School said
“I feel privileged to be part of this project and work with such a wonderful group of people to create a piece of drama that can hopefully challenge the way people think about gender.”

Forest Forge Theatre Company’s Creative Learning Director, Lucy Phillips, runs the project and commented:

“I’m really proud of our elevate company for how they’ve approached such a complicated and controversial issue. In a week where the Spice Girl’s ‘Wannabe’ video has been reworked and gone viral to raise awareness of gender equality across the Globe, it’s an issue that really resonates with the students and affects them in many different ways on a daily basis. They’ve worked incredibly hard to create an insightful, dynamic and exciting piece of theatre that both challenges gender stereotypes, body shaming, and equality, and looks at how everyone could be more accepting of each other. We can’t wait to share this work with local schools, and see what discussions come from it with our audiences.”

Elise de Lancy Green, Ringwood School’s Subject Leader for Drama added:

elevate is an incredibly special experience for all students involved.  The benefits of working alongside theatrical professionals and participating in a tour are immense for the performers and technicians alike. The students return to us as more assured performers and technicians; they are empowered by the collective devising process. Ringwood School are proud to be associated with such a unique opportunity.”

Now in its sixth successful year, Forest Forge’s work experience scheme elevate enables students to learn about all aspects of theatre from a professional theatre company, from lighting, sound and set design, to stage management and performance techniques – opening their eyes to the variety of employment opportunities within the arts. The project also counts towards Year 12 students taking BTEC in Production Arts.

Ruby Manners (17, Year 12) studying Production Arts BTEC at Ringwood School added:

“It’s a great opportunity to be part of such an interesting project, and putting what I’ve learnt from my BTEC in Production Arts into practice. I’ve learnt an enormous amount from working with Forest Forge’s professional set designer and technical team and will take away lots of knowledge from this experience for my course.”

Previous elevate projects have explored cyber bullying, body image and teenage pregnancy. In 2009, the project focused on a performance about knife crime, which was described by one teacher who saw the final performance as; one of the most positively influential things to occur in my time here and I have been here for a decade”.

elevate is generously supported by the Zich Trust, Ringwood School and Hampshire County Councillor Stephen Rippon-Swaine.