Artists and Athletes: How Sport and Drama collide

5 Jul 2024
(Image Craig Fuller Photography)

Later this month a group of young people from Empire Fighting Chance are visiting BOV as a way of sharing how we both work with young people, exchange ideas and find out how we can work together in the future.

Empire Fighting Chance are a well-known sport for development charity that was born on Bristol’s streets in 2006 to fight the impact of inequality on young people’s lives. They challenge and inspire young people aged 8 to 25 to realise their unique potential. The work they do with young people is nothing short of transformative. 

We spoke to Empire Fighting Chance's CEO Martin Bisp and Bristol Old Vic's Inclusion Officer Xahnaa Adlam about their unique perspectives on working with Young People either in the gym or on the stage. 

So what could a bunch of soft theatre types and boxing tough guys have in common? 

More than you might think...

Martin Bisp - CEO Empire Fighting Chance

Empire Fighting Chance's CEO Martin Bisp

  • Tell us a bit about Empire Fighting Chance and what you do? 

We use non-contact boxing, effectively boxing training, underpinned by psychology and therapy to work with some of the most vulnerable young people in the UK.

  • Do you think there’s too much focus on kids' academic success? Does that place pressure on young people more than it used to?

We should provide a rounder education system that creates different opportunities and pathways. Sole measure of success shouldn’t be whether you have a university place.  We need to value practical courses, art and sport equally and introduce life skills. I have countless conversations with young people who don’t understand their payslip or why they pay tax for example.

  • What are the pressures today for young people and has that changed post-pandemic?

Young people have huge pressures which are magnified by social media.  You are no longer able to shut your front door and switch off.  The pandemic did affect young people, whether that was educationally or their mental health, especially through the lack of socialisation with lock downs.  We should also acknowledge that communities that are struggling have been disproportionately affected by austerity and reduction in community based resources, this has exacerbated inequality. This inequality can be, for example, unequal access to educational support, mental health services or employment. This could mean that some families, with very little support, have been through three successive periods of crisis with lessening resilience and support.

  • How can sport help? 

Its egalitarian, community based, and success is individually set and influenced by your own hard work.  It allows people to physical express themselves and with the endorphins can make people immediately feel better about their circumstances.  In our case Empire is an inexpensive entry point with a supportive community.

  • What are your thoughts about similarities between creative arts and sport and how they might contribute to wellbeing/self-esteem and community? 

Both allow you to express yourself. They lessen stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem, confidence and allows you to be in the moment providing some escapism.

  • Arts and Sport can be perceived as two extremes – the assumption that very different people are drawn to one or the other. Is that something you agree with? 

No. We find the opposite, lots of young people that attend Empire are also very creative, both allow you to express and be yourself. People often call Boxing the noble art!

  • Is there anything the arts can pick up from the way sports engage with young people and it’s accessibility?

Probably. Being community based, low cost and representative of those that live around you is one of sports great strengths.

  • What was your access to arts/sport like growing up? 

I was very sport based and played everything going!


Xahnaa Adlam - Bristol Old Vic Inclusion Officer

Xahnaa Adlam

  • Tell us about the work Bristol Old Vic does with young people?  

The youth engagement work that we do at BOV spans far and wide, through age and location. We engage with many schools, community groups and individuals across the southwest. The youth work we do is rooted in empowering creative exploration and nurturing confidence in young people as they grow and develop. 

 

  • Do you think there’s too much focus on kids academic success? Does that place pressure on young people more than it used to?    

I think that there will always be pressures on young people as a result of the framework in which a young person is measured. Timed exams create a high-pressure environment, which can affect some people's ability to produce what they already know. I believe that there is a conversation to be had around what we societally define as an academic subject as there is learning to be undertaken in both theatre and sports.  I understand that some people may have a natural talent towards theatre or sports, however if the individual does not learn and absorb the subject they will stay stagnant at the level of understanding that they possess. It's a shame that the value of the time and effort that a young person who is studying theatre is viewed as less than in comparison to a young person who is studying geography. 

  • How can drama help?   

I am a huge believer and advocate of the transferable skills that an individual will build and accumulate within a theatre space. They are life skills; they are human skills and they are communication skills. I work with young people who may decide that they don't want to be an actor, but they can give a hell of a presentation due to the confidence that they gained in the rehearsal room. I work with young people who may decide that they don't want to be a director, however they would make an excellent therapist or physiologist as they have learnt and studied human behaviour through understanding different characters. And I work with young people who may decide that they don't want to be a writer but will find their passion in marketing as they have learnt how to see the essence and truth in things. We deliver lines every day in our speech, we act every day in our personas, and we direct every day in our choices. This is why theatre should be viewed and given the same weight as the “academic”; this is how drama can help.

 

  • What are your thoughts about similarities between creative arts and sport and how they might contribute to wellbeing/self-esteem and community?   

Generally, sport and arts based activities are centred around people coming together to achieve a communal goal. This sense of togetherness can do wonders for a young person's wellbeing. 


Young SixSix production of Lysistrata

  • Arts and Sport can be seen as two extremes – the assumption that very different people are drawn to one or the other. Is that something you agree with?  

You can most definitely be drawn to both of these areas, as a young person I was. There is creativity and a sense of achievement in both subjects, and I believe that this is what draws people towards them

 

  • Is there anything the arts can pick up from the way sports engage with young people and it’s accessibility?  

I think that the arts could take a get-up-and-go attitude from the way that sports engage with young people. In the sense that you only need a space and a ball to play football; you only need a space and imagination to create theatre. I think in the arts we can sometimes get wrapped up in the faff of it - thinking we need lots of extra things to do the work when in fact we do not. 

  • What was your access to arts/sport like growing up?  

I only had access to sports and the arts through school, and the most frustrating part of it was that they conflicted with each other in their scheduling. I remember having to choose between playing on the rounders and basketball team in the summer or doing the annual school show. Eventually the stage won that battle, but I am glad as I may not have the career that I do today if I had attended all of the matches instead of the rehearsals.

Find out more about Empire Fighting Chance and how you can help

Find out more about Bristol Old Vic Engagement department and the work they do