It is wholly appropriate for me to start by telling you about our breakthrough year with the Smashed Project. Although I admit, I’ve probably been calling it a breakthrough year for a few years now! But 2019 was, for me, a year in which the planets aligned and we really took off!

Last academic year, Smashed – our theatre-in-education programme tackling underage drinking amongst young people – was performed 1,100 times and reached over 200,000 young people across 23 countries with fantastic evaluation results. We’ve built a fantastic team of educational partners in countries from Australia to Colombia, the US to Ethiopia who have adapted the programme culturally and linguistically for teens to learn about the risks of underage drinking, and develop strategies to resist peer pressure and make informed decisions. I’m lucky enough to have watched the show in many of these countries this year and it’s always a proud moment to see students so engaged, delighting in the theatre and participating in the workshop – from dusty school yards in Africa to basketball courts in Brazil, to theatres in Italy. This academic year we will reach 500,000 young people taking our total to over 1m young people who have received the project.

The commitment of theatre practitioners, NGO’s, educationalists, educational officials and teachers, as well as our sponsors Diageo in making the project come alive around the world has been humbling. We’re truly lucky to have made so many friends from the process and learnt so much from each other as a result. We’re constantly looking to improve Smashed further and can’t wait to bring Smashed Online to UK schools in 2020. We’re also developing a fantastic peer education version of Smashed in Brazil this year, and introducing a Drink Driving version of the programme for older students in the Seychelles. Unfortunately our director Jim nabbed that trip off me for some reason!

Earlier in the project, my focus was all about the cultural differences around the world and how to adapt Smashed to those needs. That’s not changed, but I’m ever more aware of how much young people share globally – in terms of their challenges, pressures, aspirations, and beliefs. So many issues are universal that in order to tackle them we must look beyond immediate localities, and utilise approaches that cross borders. Interactive theatre is definitely a tool that does that. It’s a great leveller in that it bypasses academic, systemic, and political differences and delivers the learning at source, appealing to a variety of learning styles. Perhaps most importantly, it enables learners to explore negative behaviours and attitudes towards an issue, re-model them, and practice positive and informed choices around the challenges life might throw at them.

So we’re going to be jumping into the New Year feet first, growing our international network so we can reach more young people and communities around the globe. Have a great Christmas and New Year and see you on the other side!

Chris Simes

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