> Interview: Sarah Grant - The Spark Education Programme - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Interview: Sarah Grant – The Spark Education Programme

Based on her full-length spoken word show Spark, poet and filmmaker Sarah Grant’s new education venture, The Spark Education Programme, builds on the themes of her show and aims to encourage young people to tell their stories and find confidence in their voices.

Grant’s show was presented at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in November 2019; it told a tale of witches, womanhood, pressure, and persecution. Grant could not tour with the show as planned as lockdowns restricted her from doing so, but in 2020 she received Creative Scotland funding to create a free education programme based on the show.

Born and raised in Glasgow, Grant placed on the YWCA’s 30 under 30 list in 2019; she is hailed as a BAFTA Scotland New Talent nominee as well as a Sky Academy Arts scholar. Her personal mission is to share stories of her lived experience of a woman as she fights for gender equality, and she goes about this as she heads Coven Productions, through which she generates her creative endeavours. Coven Productions itself aims to be honest, feminist, and fearless.

The programme, launching on 31st March, takes the form of an online course that teaches young people to find their voice and confidence, and so share their stories through spoken word poetry. Grant began work for Spark in 2018.

She says, ‘I was wanting to write something more long form, maybe something that blended poetry and theatre together, but I had no idea what I would write a show about.’

She drew initial inspiration from the musical Wicked after seeing it live in Edinburgh – when she and her sister were sitting way up high in the back, some of the worst seats, her view of the climax in ‘Defying Gravity’ was entirely blocked by a speaker.

Her sister grabbed her and hauled her across the chair so she could see the moment when witch Elphaba rises into the air as she sings. In that moment, when Grant was allowed to see the moment at the cost of her sister’s comfort, she knew what she wanted to write her show about: witches.

‘The last woman to be executed for the crime of witchcraft in the British Isles was a Scottish Highlander, Janet ‘Jenny’ Horne. She was accused because she would talk to herself and act strangely,’ the poet explains. ‘Looking back now, the reasons they burned her were nothing more than symptoms of dementia.

‘I wanted to write a show about witches and womanhood and everyday persecution that still happens and encourage my audience to not be afraid of their own power.’

The Spark Education Programme is aimed at anyone over the age of 15 who would like to try their hand at spoken word for the first time, or who is looking for a creative writing outlet to boost their self-assurance and confidence. Grant says, ‘Spoken word can help you do so much more than write poetry.

‘It can help you articulate difficult feelings, help you stand up for yourself, give you confidence to speak out loud and to take up physical space. It can give you the essential belief that your voice is valid, and your stories are interesting and worthy of sharing. If I had that kind of confidence when I was in my late teens or early twenties, my life would have been so different.

‘Also, you get to write awesome poems.’

As prospective students can use the programme either in groups or solo, Grant sees the advantages and drawbacks of both practices. ‘Writing is such a personal thing that can make you super vulnerable. Being alone allows you to really play with all the things you want to write about and only put yourself on display when you have figured out how to write it.

‘However, so much of the programme is about building confidence and normalising speaking your work out loud, and having a small audience for this will really help you feel that. I would recommend, if possible, taking the programme in small groups, or even have a group that allows you to take the programme alone but catch up after every chapter to share and support each other.’

Grant was awarded the funding for the programme pre-COVID, and wanted to take it into schools. When the world shut down, however, she had to adapt the programme to be digital. ‘I think it ended up being much better than anything I could have done with stand and deliver training.’

As an online programme, Grant is happy for her venture to be streamed into schools or taken individually at home anywhere in the world. Included in the programme is the educator resource hub, which is packed with lesson plans, writing exercises, and prompts. Teachers can use this resource to help in teaching the programme themselves with full autonomy.

Spark is funded through the Create:Inclusion funding scheme by Creative Scotland, which is meant to level the playing field in the arts; offering grants to artist groups who are underrepresented, like working class artists, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, disabled, and other marginalised groups. ‘The funding application process was really easy; I thoroughly recommend it for artists’, she says.

Photo credit: Katrina Allen

As Spark has been so heavily affected by the pandemic, Grant is now excitedly looking ahead to its life post-COVID. ‘I only got to perform the show in front of a live audience once before COVID happened, so I am hoping to take the show on tour in some form or another. I have zero plans for what that looks like yet, but I am excited to get back on stage, hopefully working with theatres that are interested in community outreach so I can take The Spark Education Programme on tour too.’

Grant is currently in the process of going full-time freelance, so she is working on a variety of different projects right now. Currently she’s working on a treatment for a feature film that was funded by Short Circuit, based on a short she made in 2019 called Scare.

For more information about Sarah Grant and The Spark Education Programme, check out her website: sarahgrantcreative.com

Main photo credit: Katrina Allen

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