Opening Doors  

Scott Graham, Artistic Director of the Ignition programme from Frantic Assembly, gives an insight as to how they are attracting and engaging new participants.

Some 15 years ago we ran a workshop for professional performers where we hired a nightclub for two days to make work inspired by the site. We invited people to apply with the idea we would accept 20 applicants. We had hundreds of women apply. We had only two men.

This was not right. We knew from our workshops in schools that our approach connected with boys, but where were they now? Why were they not making the vocational leap? Where were those wanting to explore the potential of theatre through physicality?

But then the penny dropped for Artistic Director and Co-founder Scott Graham. “I did not grow up wanting to be involved in any kind of theatre, let alone this ‘physical theatre.’ It was not on my radar. It was not a world I knew. I pretty much got pushed through a door by someone who felt I should be there”.

Once there though he realised he had the crossover skills that could be useful. He was encouraged by others. “My perception of my limitations and abilities changed and eventually I found my place and my voice. This was an utterly life changing thing, all based on someone pointing out the door and pushing me through it”.

This became the objective of Ignition. To get people with little or no knowledge of theatre or their potential yet, and to bring them in. We started looking where no one else was; sports groups, martial arts clubs, street dance, Parkour.

The tactic was to get people involved in a free introduction workshop, wasting no time in getting people moving and making work. It would be fast and energetic, celebrating collaboration and demonstrating achievement. Having had this ‘Taster’ they were then invited to join us for a ‘Trial’ to be part of the select ‘Intensive’ course at a later stage. Note the use of language, more understood by those who play sport. Trial. Not Audition. We had to strip the experience and the expectation of any of the negative baggage people might expect of theatre. The idea of an audition is a vision of Hell for most people. It is exposing, brutal and potentially humiliating. We had to make sure that the experience was nothing like this.

The process worked and since our first pilot programme in 2008 we welcomed thousands of young men into this world. As of 2019, Ignition has been open to everyone aged 16 – 24.

Once we have selected our team for the Intensive, we bring them to London, covering all costs and expenses, and together we make a show in 4 days. To begin with nothing and create something for a public audience in that time is daunting, exhilarating and hugely rewarding. It shows us what we are capable of, and it is invariably more than we ever knew.

It is important that once the door has been opened it does not just swing shut again. Over the years, Ignition has developed to provide training and experience to participants throughout the year and not just to those that make it to the Intensive. It is equally vital to show these young people the world beyond Frantic Assembly. We invite guest artists and workshop leaders to work with them through our UK venue partnerships and create connections and opportunities with educational and training establishments.

Young people who have come through Ignition have found the confidence to find work within all areas of the Arts. There are actors, dancers, writers, poets and composers who cite their experience on Ignition as transformative and inspiring. There are also many who have taken that intense experience and applied it outside the arts. Frantic Assembly has developed and trained many into practitioners and movement directors who are now teaching those skills and processes around the world. Ignition itself is led mostly by those who began their career through the program. 

Each person who engages with Ignition becomes the perfect example of its value and becomes a passionate advocate for it. They are the visible representation that it can make a difference, that there is a door to enter and that you are welcome inside. Our current production of Othello, for instance, boasts five Ignition graduates, namely three actors, one associate director and one co-choreographer.

As we begin our tour of Othello our Ignition Tasters launch around the country. Our hope is that they become the spark that begins to show someone not just the value of the Arts to them, but of their value to the Arts. It will be a welcoming experience led by people who have already made a similar journey. All aspects of Frantic Assembly, from Ignition, through our Learning and Participation work, to the productions on stage must exude that openness. To engage in the Arts from a working-class background has not got any easier and we feel it is vital that we do our best to help those that need to find their voice and those that have the skills to reshape the Arts. Especially those people who don’t even know it yet.

Scott Graham is the Artistic Director of Frantic Assembly. The UK tour of Othello opens at Leicester Curve on 19 September. To book tickets and for more details about Ignition please visit