When hearing the phrase 'performing arts school' most people immediately make associations with over the top high energy show choirs, pink-clad ballet dancers and intensely introverted theatre students. At The BRIT School, a non fee-paying arts school, in Croydon, South London, the students and school defy these stereotypes by creating innovative and exciting pieces of performance and visual art everyday.
The BRIT School is split into nine strands covering all aspects of the creative industry from arts and design, dance and music to film and media production. With students applying from all areas of London, Surrey and Kent; as well as some out of area applicants coming from as far as Thailand and the United States, the school is a naturally diverse and accepting institution. BRIT provides a supportive springboard for young creatives to nurture their skills and passions before entering the industry.
So what actually happens at The BRIT School day to day? Most likely, the performance strands are rehearsing their next set of shows. At the moment, this includes the year 13 dance strand's show ' Does It Matter? Should It Matter?' which questions a range of equality issues, music strand's 'Sounds Global' ethnomusicology show and musical theatre's huge scale productions of 'Fiddler On The Roof' and 'Thoroughly Modern Millie'. Meanwhile, technical theatre arts students will be making costumes, setting up the stage in the school's Obie Theatre or designing the lighting for said shows. The atmosphere in the school is one of fun; every day there is something intriguing happening. Walking round school, you see a multitude of weird and wonderful sights; art students hang up paper mache life size dolls from trees whilst music students are lugging djembe drums and West Indian harmoniums through the canteen for a soundcheck.
The concept of collaboration and exploration is something key in the arts industry; at BRIT, the different creative strands find ways of linking their art forms to make the most of the skills they have. Film and media production make music videos for music students who ask dance students to choreograph routines for the video who then get technical theatre arts students to do their makeup on the day of filming - you get the idea. The ethos of the school is all about learning from those around you. Some students join the school with extensive knowledge of the vocation they are planning to study, whilst others just have an overwhelming passion for it; whichever way inclined the student is, they will thrive off learning from those they are studying with.
"We must never become boring."
The ideas coming out of BRIT at the moment are refreshing. Year 13 band Black MIDI are an experimental group inspired by Japanese Noise music; they describe their sound as 'mess' and 'truly disgusting' but their undoubtable musical skill and technicality rings through their ear-deafening gigs. On political protest day, the school is heaving with 16 year old theatre students voicing their opinions on the world's issues. Whether they are inhaling a chocolate cake Bruce-from-Matilda-style to prove a point about childhood obesity, creating a mini rave outside the school or dressing up as pigs in the canteen, there is a sense of fiery young opinion. Stuart Warden, principal of The BRIT School, says he loves watching the students "find out what they believe in" and thinks that the school "makes them think of things they might not have done before".
As well as everything happening in school all year round, students are consistently working independently; there are countless projects born, created and developed at BRIT. Theatre company Pie Face, set up by final year theatre students, perform and write all their own material and are currently working on three upcoming shows. Stuart says about BRIT students:
"If they want a gig, they create the gig. If they want to start a theatre company, they do it. The students make life happen instead of waiting for opportunities to come to them."
When I leave The BRIT School in four months' time, I know I will be well equipped with a versatile set of skills. I am not just referring to the practical skills that my vocational music course has taught me, but everything else that comes with being involved in the arts, in all its forms. BRIT sets its students up with the free-thinking ability to have impeccable respect for everyone and everything that is created. The atmosphere at the school is not one of competition but of support and encouragement. Every student is given the opportunity to flourish and share their work with people that will love it, critique it and develop it. The teachers are passionate about their students' progress and "They're funny, they really make me laugh, they are serious about their art form, whether they're doing a painting or a lighting design or choreographing a dance, they take that really seriously whilst being really fun".'
With so many funding cuts currently threatening the arts, it is more important than ever to keep places like The BRIT School alive and buzzing. This year marks the 25th birthday for the school and Stuart has big hopes for the future; "I hope that we remain adventurous, that's my main wish. The school has an adventurous spirit. I want to continue to let students feel free and supported.