Royal Court Theatre

This case study is from our Sharing the Stage initiative, which was part of the Foundation's Participatory Performing Arts strand (2014-18)
Royal Court Theatre The Boys’ Project: Boot Camp

The Boys’ Project: Boot Camp

 “It has made me focus more on making change for people and using a forum to express my voice” Participant

This case study looks at Boot Camp, which produced a sharing for the Royal Court Stage and nurtured young creative talent and activism at an early stage, supporting 11 thriving careers. Find out more about Boot Camp by watching the film and reading the project summary below.

The UK Branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Sharing the Stage initiative ran from 2014-2018. It supported arts projects in which vulnerable and under-served groups of people ‘share the stage’ with professional performers, and projects that are based on partnerships between arts organisations and social partners.

Phase One supported the research and development (R&D) stage of 14 consortia projects. Phase Two ran from 2016-18, supporting 10 consortia projects to full production of the work created through the participatory process. 

The Royal Court Theatre is based in Sloane Square, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. In recent years it has placed an emphasis on developing and producing international work and cultivating new writers. Its development activity encompasses a diverse range of writers and artists, including an ongoing programme of writers’ attachments, readings, workshops and playwriting groups.

The Boys’ Project was a UK-wide participatory creative and activist project for young men, conceived by Bryony Kimmings, with six UK partners: Royal Court Theatre, Roundhouse, mac Birmingham, Lowry, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Wales Millennium Centre. Over three years, The Boys’ Project engaged young men from council estates all over the UK, including Leeds, Cardiff, Peterborough, Birmingham, Manchester and London, who have created, trained and experimented with art in a political context. 

Phase Three: Boot Camp had the aim of developing Bryony Kimmings' vision of inspiring an army of young men from council estates across the UK, to become peace-warrior-artists for positive social, political and media change.  Because of personal and professional challenges, Bryony stepped away from the project and the Royal Court took on the lead producing and delivery of Boot Camp, co-ordinated by Royal Court Associate Artist Chris Sonnex, who had been working on The Boys’ Project since inception.

The intended outcomes were:

  • Practical job skills in their chosen specialism and work experience, providing the chance to evaluate their work, and signposting to extra training or experience.
  • Artistic and creative skills training and acquisition, including 1-2-1 mentoring with a suitable team of people doing the jobs they aspire to.
  • Support in finding work through building strong CVs and interview skills, built-in networking opportunities as a group and individually with the overall support of the Steering Group.

A key part of this phase was the residency, which had a number of planned outcomes, building on the work that had taken place previously:

  • A deeper, more intense period of development and training
  • A more sustained, professional creation process leading to evidence of their work - both live and captured digitally
  • Business and personal coaching
  • Mentoring and workshops with world-class artists from different disciplines
  • Exposure to and provocations about the process of making world class art - career journeys and training
  • Enriching and embedding the ongoing network amongst themselves and with the partner organisations
  • Sharings of work on the Royal Court stage

These outcomes were achieved through a week-long residency in a live-in workshop facility, Hawkwood College, Gloucestershire in February 2017, followed by a week of creation and sharing at the Royal Court Theatre in 2017. Both weeks were captured by film-maker Pierpaolo Inga. Boot Camp culminated in a performance of The Undergrowth at the Royal Court, the work which had been developed during the residency.

The Boot Camp achieved its intended outcomes, with 11 boys attending the residency and eight the Royal Court week, all of whom are developing flourishing creative careers in their chosen specialism.  The Royal Court, Birmingham MAC and the Roundhouse continued to support and nurture The Boys’ Project, and the Royal Court stepped up to a leadership role when Bryony Kimmings had to step away, all of which have strengthened relationships, extended organisational experience and skills.

Sustaining long-term partnerships, finding new ones

Of the six original partners, the Royal Court, Birmingham MAC and the Roundhouse committed their boys, artists and staff to the Boot Camp.  West Yorkshire Playhouse, Wales Millennium Centre and the Lowry had all experienced significant staff change in addition to a re-focusing of resources and their boys elsewhere.  The Royal Court points out that this is a notable outcome of a longitudinal project like The Boys’ Project, and certainly the particular challenges of long-term partnerships of this nature remain a barrier.

A new partner was Hawkwood College, an ethical centre providing courses, facilitating training, offering venue hire and home of the Centre for Future Thinking, whose vision is about creating the world we want for now and our future, a place that convenes people and organisations from many disciplines in support of creative endeavour, a flourishing society and a sustainable environment. Hawkwood sent its information to the Roundhouse in 2016, and the team immediately thought it could be a good fit for Boot Camp. The Royal Court reached out to the Principal at Hawkwood, who was an enabler and active partner from the outset. Hawkwood’s subsidy of the provision to the boys enabled the Royal Court to deliver Boot Camp on the resources available.

Nurturing talent for the future

“It has integrated me with a variety of people and a range of artists from across the country. I feel from this I can take my art forward.” Participant

 “It has made me focus more on making change for people and using a forum to express my voice.” Participant

The Boot Camp was supported by a strong team of artists and facilitators, led by The Royal Court’s Artistic Associate, Chris Sonnex, together with a Royal Court Associate Director, the Young Court Manager, poets and playwrights, radio presenters, theatre makers and creative practitioners and facilitators, captured by a professional film-maker.  Together with an intensive timetable, the residency supported the boys:

“Made me feel relevant; a creative individual, ready to tour my talents around the world.” Participant

Feedback indicates that the residency – the structure, content and artists and facilitators – fulfilled its aims of enabling intensive creative and professional development for the cohort and encouraging them to be activists for positive social, political and media change.

“It has given me the intellect I need to be more engaged in politics in my area and I feel enabled and established to be part of something like this.” Participant

On a practical note, the boys also took away the technical skills and know-how shared by their mentors and tutors, to develop their own practice.  The opportunity to meet others, share their experience, create connections and networks was frequently commented on by participants:

“It's brought me closer to good networks in the industry.”

“Working with other members from different cities and understanding similarities.”

“It brought me closer to my bros in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, London. Also, through this I'm closer to VICE, Roundhouse etc.”

Developing practice and thinking

“Art and performance brings people together (heart drawing), it is amazing collaborating with these beautiful artists. I would never have this opportunity if it wasn't for the Boys' project.  It brought out my strengths and allowed me to collaborate with other people. Good experience!” Artist

It is also evident that The Boys’ Project and the Boot Camp had an impact on the thinking of the team of artists and facilitator; notes and feedback indicate that the experience caused them to reflect on how to sustain and grow the group, the challenges of continued development and fundraising, in addition to how to creatively grow the boys’ talent to the point where they could ‘self-drive’.  There was also considerable reflection on how to manage the boys’ expectations and to continue to guide, not lead or imprint other agendas onto the cohort’s development, so that they could achieve their expressed wish:

“To be paid as artists, funded or sponsored, as well as supported with space and in creating work.”

These conversations also reflect a harsh environment in which to fundraise or seek additional funds to support long-term, focused, small-scale interventions that have future creative and social impacts, combined with the challenge of obtaining funds for projects that appear to support small numbers of individuals.  This challenge was reflected in other Sharing the Stage reports.

Maintaining meaningful, well-resourced partnerships in order to deliver longitudinal projects like The Boys’ Project and within that, Boot Camp, remains challenging because of two main issues: rapid and frequent staff turnover in the creative industries; the difficulty of obtaining funding for long-term, intensive projects which work with smaller number of individuals for different outcomes than many performances or large scale audience engagement.

In addition to the usual costs and resources required for long-term R&D with residencies and staged sharings, there are additional aspects to consider when working with any group of participants: how to manage expectations for participants; the responsibility of the lead organisation or group to signpost or provide a managed withdrawal after project completion; the impact on creative practioners and artists (and any requisite training or continuing professional development); the challenges of ensuring work and ideas are co-created and produced with the participants and avoiding ‘mission creep’.

The Boys’ Project overall, and the Boot Camp within that, explored the group’s artistic talents and politics, providing appropriate outlets for them such as training, performances, and networking opportunities, with the aim of changing the social power dynamic the Boys experienced in their everyday lives.  The basis of the project was to make the voices, talents and opinions of the Boys heard and this has continued.

All the Boys have continued to develop their careers and practice, spanning singer/songwriting, graffiti, spoken word, dance, performance, film, photography and music – videos can be found here and on YouTube.


Read the other case studies Read the evaluation report
Updated on 05 june 2019

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