Could you tell us a little about Hold the Drama and the work that you do, in your own words?

Edward | Countertenor: We tell stories through immersive live music shows which explore mental health topics. We know from personal experience that music has an amazing power to connect with people’s emotions, and to help in processing and regulating them. We see that even more now with Hold the Drama in the way that we succeed in offering our audiences a safe space to start those conversations.

Matthew | Clarinettist: We have two set performances: Stripes is for our younger audiences, and Sparks is for more mature audiences. The way our workshops work is we start with a warm-up and introduction, then we have a musical performance, followed by a discussion about the what the audience has seen in the performance. The performance itself is non-verbal, so we do not inform our audience of what has happened in the show, rather we allow them to tell us.

Clíona | Cellist: We find that audiences deeply connect with the material of the show. The idea is that there is never a ‘wrong’ answer or response to what they have seen. We want to give them a chance for their imaginations to be completely free.

'Open Academy was one of the best things about being at the Academy. Julian West, Head of Open Academy, has created an incredible sense of community, and it was where we found ourselves and our music making.'

What was special about how you all met?

Edward: We met through Open Academy; we were all Open Academy Fellows, which is how Hold the Drama really started and the context in which we did our first project. For all of us, Open Academy was one of the best things about being at the Academy. Julian West, Head of Open Academy, has created an incredible sense of community, and it was where we found ourselves and our music making. Beyond the Academy, a large part of our coming together as Hold the Drama was good luck. As with any ensemble, whether it’s a string quartet, piano duo, or project like ours, whether it will all come together will be dependent on getting the right combination of availability, interest, and motivation. We all really cared about the project and were willing to commit!

Can you recall a particularly memorable audience response?

Matthew: There is one response which always sticks out for me, which I think showed me that what we are doing can reach even beyond getting people to talk about their feelings. At one moment in the show, Ed’s character is forced to the floor. We have not heard Ed sing until that point, and it can be quite surprising for a Year 3 pupil to hear a beautiful countertenor voice come out of a very tall man. During discussions at the end of one performance, a child put their hand up and asked, ‘why does Ed have the voice of an angel?’ It was a beautiful moment. It shows that not only are we giving children the opportunity to experience music they may not otherwise be able to, but they are also being given the chance to verbalise in a way they may not normally be allowed to. We always advise teachers they should give pupils freedom to react in whatever way they choose. Whether they laugh, cry, or talk with their classmates, we want them to experience their emotions fully.

'We can all pick out examples of how our careers have benefited from what we have learnt running Hold the Drama, and we now get to use those skills elsewhere.'

How has Hold the Drama helped you in your career?

Clíona: We’ve all become a lot more confident in ourselves and in our choices. I was someone who would always shy away from public speaking, but now I lead the discussions after the performances. We could be in room with around 500 schoolchildren, and that is something which ordinarily would terrify me but in this context I have so much support from the rest of the team. In our current work with Open Academy, Matthew and I have been leading acting workshops for the kids. If you had asked me when we first started out if I could lead an acting workshop I would have laughed. Yet when I did it the other week it felt so natural and easy, which is a remarkable progress in my confidence over the past five or six years.

Edward: One of my main duties as part of Hold the Drama has been looking after the funding bids with the Arts Council. Now, I am Head of Artistic Planning with Dunedin Consort, and I would not have been awarded that job without the skills that I’ve developed with Hold the Drama. We can all pick out examples of how our careers have benefited from what we have learnt, and we now get to use those skills elsewhere.

Can you tell me more about running the business itself, and the arts management side of things?

Matthew: We must function as an organisation, not just as performers. As individuals, we have a diverse set of skills that we bring together and it’s like a melting pot of creation and performing. For example, we discovered early on that Frances Leith has a fantastic skillset as a producer, in addition to her abilities with French horn. Clíona does a lot of work in schools, so she has taken charge of delivering the extra resources we provide the schools with.

Clíona: We are all equally running this business. One thing I have found to be great about Hold the Drama is how respectful and mindful we are of each other. That is a nice way to be in a business with five other people. Sometimes ensembles can break down when relationships are not maintained, but because we of how speak to each other and listen to each other and our ideas, we have made this business work.

Edward: It is important to add that we have had some important conversations to make sure the business does work and to address those moments when the workload distribution has been uneven. That is another legacy of Open Academy: having an approach of reflective practice. It is important to talk about why something is working and, equally, why it is not.

Open Academy has clearly had a significant impact on your work. Are you currently working on any projects together with Open Academy?

Clíona: We do in fact have a current project with Open Academy. We are working with a local primary school who watched a digital version of our show, Stripes. Two of our team members, Joe Cummings and Alice Poppleton, have been working closely with the children on their responses, whether they be tiny lyric or musical ideas. Those responses have all been put together into a show, called the Royal Academy of Detectives, which will be staged in the Susie Sainsbury Theatre. The whole show is based on the kids’ ideas, and they are helping to stage it as well. You can see that it is creating a special bond for those classes. We saw a run-through the other day and it was incredible. The kids have done an amazing job, as have Joe, Alice and the Academy students who are there supporting with Open Academy.

What are your top tips for applying for Arts Council funding?

Matthew: Send your application in early, so if it is rejected for any reason, you have time to reassess and resend it. I would also suggest making sure you establish as many connections as you can before applying, for example links to venues or match funding.

Edward: Make sure you read their guidance, as they are clear on how you can meet their specifications. You want to be able to answer these questions – what is the long-term value of the project? What are you doing for the community? Why should your project receive public money? It can sometimes feel very opaque, and obviously now we are in a challenging time for funding, so it helps to be as clear as possible about what you are doing and why.

'Do not be afraid of having a portfolio career. It can be daunting and hard work, but it is so rewarding to be working on a variety of different projects.'

What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Clíona: If you are a student, I would definitely recommend getting involved with Open Academy. So many of the relationships I have now started at Open Academy. You feel supported there, and Julian is so generous with his time and has given me so much help. In this line of work, it is important to be flexible and open. You never know what is going to happen when you go into a school or workshop in that the setting will vary from place to place, or you might have a much bigger audience than you expect.

Matthew: Do not be afraid of having a portfolio career. It can be daunting and hard work, but it is so rewarding to be working on a variety of different projects. I think one of the reasons that Hold the Drama works so well is because we all bring our different skills together to create something special. We are all freelancers, with our own projects, but if we had been working full time on Hold the Drama, we would not have had the opportunity to go off and learn all those different skills which has helped our work in such a positive way.

What’s next for Hold the Drama?

Edward: We want to explore working in venues; our shows would work well in, for example, a festival setting. This would be another level of administration and management, so we are starting to think about how we can pitch to commercial venues.

Clíona: We have a good structure going now, so our goal is to continue to build on the relationships we already have, and further understand how we can support those communities.

Visit Hold the Drama’s website for more information about their work.

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