Inhale, a short drama with Cotham School

Inhale, a 15-minute drama, is the result of three years work in partnership with Cotham School in Bristol, UK.

Cotham School is much celebrated in Bristol for it’s reputation as a centre of excellence for drama and performance, but the changing demographic of Bristol has brought a much wider social and ethnic mix into the school. Along with the rich vibrancy this new intake brings, there is a sense that students are not mixing as much as they could and there is a recognition that few students from Somali and African-Caribbean backgrounds are taking advantage of after-school activities.

Working in partnership with Cotham’s performing arts department, Calling the Shots came up with a proposal to make a film that would set out to explore the issues of cultural difference as well as seeking to engage students from all backgrounds in production. The ambition from day one was to produce a festival standard film, so that was always going to mean working with professionals at every stage of the production, with the challenge of ensuring that the young people involved would feel that they are meaningfully involved and learning about the production process. So when it came to choosing the team, we where interested in their commitment to engaging students in every stage of the production as much as their creative skills.

To make sure everyone at Cotham could imagine themselves taking part in this project, we knew it was important that the team working on it should be as diverse as the students we wanted to engage. We wanted the script to reflect the lives of young people growing up in Bristol, as much for the students to be able to see role models on the project team that show taking part is ‘for us’ and not just ‘for them’. The key delivery team – writer Edson Burton and co-director Rob Mitchell, drama lead and choreographer Hanna Lune and producer/director Steve Gear all bring different backgrounds and experience to the project. Edson was an obvious choice as he has a reputation for writing drama that reflects the experience of black Britains and the project launched in June 2015 with over 100 students returning sign-up slips and more than thirty taking part in writing workshops.

By the autumn of 2015 the script of Inhale was beginning to take shape. Inhale has two lead characters, Bex and Kim, who are both receiving counselling having had recent family bereavements. Their behaviour causes concern amongst students and staff alike, but builds to a cathartic demonstration of their friendship and shared stories.

The script went through various revisions and when we were finally in a position to re-launch the project to students and we ran a second round of assemblies inviting students to attend casting and information sessions to recruit the production crew. Although we had a good response, it quickly became clear that we where still not reaching students from all communities in the school as we did not have the diverse cast needed to play all the roles required by the script.

This led to a re-think about why we where struggling to recruiting black girls to the project, which in turn led to a new targeted approach that drew on the experience of Cotham’s drama teachers to identify girls who, whilst good at drama, weren’t engaging with extra-curricular opportunities.

Over three Saturdays in February 2017, we ran a series of drama, camera and sound and art department workshops to turn 30 Cotham students from a group of sometimes uncommunicative teenagers into a fully functioning film production crew. At the same time, Hanna and Rob worked on developing the skills of our actors.