What is being an Artis Specialist really like?


By Jennifer Carss (Twinkle)

The life of a freelance performer is a funny old thing. One minute you’re dressed up as a sheep singing a heart-felt country ballad to a group of toddlers. The next you’re bleary eyed, serving poached eggs to flustered hotel guests.

What a pleasant surprise then, when I found myself greeted with a weekly opportunity to build on my artistic practise: stepping into a specialist role with Artis.

Part and parcel of a career making children’s theatre, is leading twenty minute post-show workshops for young children. Of course, after this fleeting moment of connection, our team would hop back in the van and drive off into the sunset, never to be seen again. This one hit wonder approach does have its merits, however working in the same school on a regular basis has irrevocably changed my approach to working with young people.

Consistency certainly is key.

Getting stuck into weekly Artis sessions emboldens children to take creative risks. The professional wrigglers fizz with excitement when given the opportunity to expand their own ideas with an accessible structure in place. Full-of-beans energy which is often dismissed as distracting in the classroom, can finally be given a framework to stimulate imaginative and physical play.

Those who were initially reluctant to speak in front of the class, are now acclimatising to their own voices echoing across four walls. One pupil is a selective mute and after a few weeks using only visuals cues, she spoke her first word to the group. I nearly fell over! Luckily I was pretending to be water at the time.

My little grey cells have been working overtime to get to grips with what is the biggest challenge in my practise so far. And that is pitching at an appropriate level to the six varying age groups that I work with. Something I was particularly concerned about, was being underqualified to lead a session for three wonderful SEN children. Once I let this notion slide and challenged my preconceived ideas about what to expect in a class, I’ve been left utterly spellbound by three children lighting up each Friday session. The staff are particularly forthcoming with offers of support. An observation highlighted by one of the SEN teachers, is to keep composed fairytale songs on to a simplistic written format. This is to encourage responses that are clear and attainable, rather than having reams of complicated language bundled in a chorus. It is important to layer the lesson with live music, strips of material, call and response activities and plenty of physical activity. This has also meant I’ve had to take a leaf out of the pupils book and be brave enough to get my guitar out and sing. Luckily no windows have smashed and these children are teaching me more than I have imparted on them, I’m sure of that.

Group of adults in a circle clapping hands

Artis mentorship is a lifeline both professionally and personally. Thanks to mentor Splat, my tool-kit is chock-a-block with methods of reeling in distracted reception children, stopping disruptive behaviour or modelling a brand new verse in a song. Twinkle’s most twinkly moments are due to feedback that Splat has provided. The piece of advice I’m mulling over at the moment, is to not fall into the trap of teaching the topic, but to continue exploring performing arts. In terms of mental health support, it’s great to talk through the emotional roller coaster when the perfectionist practitioner brain crops up. Especially with someone who has been there, done that and got the Artis T-shirt.

Looking toward the horizon of 2024, there is a wealth of opportunity for growth. I’m feeling very fortunate to be in a position to witness courage, creativity and cat impressions from children who are incredibly generous with their participation. Here’s to another term with more curiosity, louder voices and continuous giggling along the way.

14 Nov 2023

Registered Charity Number 1174635
  • Living Wage Logo
  • Artsmark Logo
  • Fundraising Regulator Logo