Work placement: Unlock Drama

  • Blog

Work placement: Unlock Drama

#Matt writes about his two weeks with Unlock Drama as part of our work placement scheme, which gives our participants the opportunity to experience a variety of different professional environments.

I applied to do my work placement with Unlock Drama because I loved taking part in shows at school and university – and as I’ve been working as a prison officer for the last year and a half, I wanted to see the impact that drama could have in a prison environment.

For the first week, I joined Unlock Drama’s Beth and Charley in a Restoring Family Ties project at HMPYOI Swinfen Hall. Initially, it didn’t look great when the seven men who walked through the door that Monday morning said they hadn’t signed up for the week-long course and didn’t really have an interest in drama. However, as the week went on the lads supported one another as a group – overcoming their shyness and fear of ‘looking soft’ – to put on a fantastic pantomime-esque show for their visiting families on the Friday morning. In a play that featured spacemen, pirates and a hazard-filled jungle, it was fantastic to perform alongside these guys – and I totally forgot I was in a prison when we took to the stage. Seeing the children get involved – smiling and laughing at their dads, uncles and brothers – provided a brilliant example of the joy that drama can bring, regardless of a person’s circumstances.

For the second week, we worked with seven women in HMP Send on a substance misuse project. Some of the women had engaged with an Unlock Drama project a couple of weeks earlier with Charley, and from the get-go we all had a lot of fun doing ice-breaker exercises, building confidence and getting to know each other. The women were incredibly supportive of one another, especially when someone had doubts or felt like they weren’t doing well enough. They reminded each other that it was a safe space and that they were all in it together.

In between the fun and games, the women were also incredibly honest and thoughtful in addressing the causes, effects and impact of substance misuse. They listened respectfully to one another’s input and past struggles with harmful substances. This sense of camaraderie and support culminated in a performance on the Friday morning that centred around the impact of spice on residents, their families, prison staff and wider public services. It was fantastic to work with these women. They showed immense courage throughout the week – not only by performing through the nerves but also in their open and frank participation in discussions around substance misuse.

Working with Charley and Beth was a valuable learning experience for me as I observed them supporting and encouraging the young men at Swinfen Hall and the women at Send – bringing endless enthusiasm in what I know to be an incredibly complex working environment. They showed great resilience and patience when the young men at Swinfen found it difficult to concentrate on their play – and compassion working with the women at Send, who openly discussed struggling with their mental health and substance abuse. Their passion and experience in applied theatre really shone through in the way they worked with and managed the men and women over the fortnight. To top all this off, they were incredibly welcoming towards me when it can be easy in work placements to feel like a spare-part that isn’t adding much. I was encouraged to use my own experiences in both drama and my prison officer role to help shape the productions, and had a lot of fun joining in and facilitating some of the warm-up games we played to introduce the sessions.

Working with Unlock Drama was a fantastic experience. Rebecca, Charley and Beth were so helpful and supportive, and I would like to thank them hugely for giving me the opportunity to see a different side of the prison experience whilst having loads of fun on the way!