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tess young company pilot programme

A video from the Tess Young Company Pilot project.

"In that gap,

In the distance between,

I emerge from the page.

Appear fully fledged in my dimensions,

And arrive on the stage.”

Kate Ireland - Tess Young Company (pilot programme)

tess process

  • Taking inspiration from our pilot project Tess Young Company (application number: ACPG-00299058), we will recruit 6 young people from across Coventry between the ages of 18-22 (mirroring the age Tess spans in the book) to do 30 workshop sessions spread over 6 week-long blocks run by collaborative theatre makers Rosie Gray & Ali Pidsley (UofW alumni who have a strong connection to Coventry), including individual mentoring & professional development (more on that below), and supporting them towards their first professional performance credit (Tess in 2025)

  • The six young people will play versions of themselves as well as characters from the book. Our aim is to recruit six young people from low socio-economic backgrounds who have a variety of interests and a variety of responses to the book and process. Perhaps one will pride themselves on that fact that they read a novel a week, one might never read and always reach for the TV adaptations instead, one might think the book should be burnt, one might be inspired by Hardy’s natural world but hate how he describes Tess, one might not have much interest in words and just want to make stuff with their hands instead, another might express themselves through music.


  • Allow them to bring their own personalities, skillsets and lived experiences to the process

  • To build on the ideas they bring into the room and create the show out of them 

  • To collectively create a show where the past meets the present and frames the story of Tess of the D’Urbervilles in an undeniably vibrant, new and very exciting way. BO and the young people will create a world where we watch a group of young people grapple with Hardy’s story in real time, grippingly and viscerally. A thrilling interrogation of an old text where worlds warp and collide. The company’s version of the story may play out through music or them building and painting the set while the audience watches on etc.



  • Ahead of this block the six young people would have received a Barrel Organ package with the book Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and a condensed manuscript of the story put together by Project leads Rosie Gray and Ali Pidsley to put in the room in order to see how the young people respond to the task of reading the book before the project has begun. Some of the young people might attempt to read the novel, some might not etc. The package will also include what BO call a Commonplace Book  - a scrapbook of sorts where BO will ask the young people to scribble down/stick in anything they come across throughout the six week process which makes them think of Tess/things they come across in their own lives which they can link to the show, encouraging them to think laterally and outside of the box

  • Introduce MEPS – where we ask each member of the group at the beginning of every session to use one word to say how they are mentally, emotionally and physically 

  • Collectively write a code of conduct laying out how we’d like to treat each other and be treated in the rehearsal room and what we’d collectively like to achieve by the end of the process

  • Get to know each other through games (a big part of Barrel Organ processes) which BO will also play with the young people, encouraging them to see BO as collaborators rather than teachers

  • Start to discuss and become consciously aware of what the young people are collectively interested in e.g what music do they like, what do they want more of for women, what do they think of nature etc. Do some exercises around what makes the group tick

  • Explore first impressions of the novel/manuscript - split the group into pairs and ask them to pick a moment from the story and make a 1 minute creative response to it 

Photography by Emily Corless - a member of Tess young Company Pilot Programme

Extracts from Tess Young Company’s Commonplace Books


Each block will include a masterclass from a visiting artist which will serve as both professional development & industry insight and will be instructive to the development of the sharing. The visiting artists will be Shubham Saraf (actor & fellow UoW alumni), Jennifer Jackson (movement director & choreographer, experienced making work with young people), Anna Reid (set & costume designer, experienced working with young artists), FREW (Composer & Associate Artist of Middle Child Theatre) & Kieran Lucas (sound designer, UoW alumni, BO founding member)


BO will produce a LIVE for five under-represented artists from Coventry to showcase 20 minutes of their work at our bespoke work-in-progress night (a BO programme which has been running since 2015 and taken place in cities and towns such as Camden, Bradford, Barnsley, Scarborough & Leeds). They will receive £500 towards their work-in-progress, 3 mentoring sessions from Barrel Organ and 3 sessions of mentoring from a mentor of their choosing (previous mentors have included Rash Dash, Rikki Beadle-Blair and Forced Entertainment), a platform to showcase their work, written feedback from the audience and a 1-2-1 debrief with Barrel Organ post the sharing to discuss the next stages going forwards.


These masterclasses will be delivered by Rosie Gray and Ali Pidsley  at WAC who studied at UoW, so have a deep long-term connection w/ the city of Cov. Rosie & Ali will pay forward their collective experiences in the industry including being a professional performer, theatre maker, writer, director, facilitator & co-directors of a company. A number of UoW students attended the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) in April 2024, where we had supported attendees to make a piece of work within 4 days. One UoW student is an executive team member of various student societies, and reached out for us to do a series of sessions for Warwick Drama in Oct/Nov 2024. There is therefore an opportunity and interest from UoW students, for us to go there and do more workshops similar and in more depth to what we undertook at NSDF. Masterclasses will be interspersed close to the Tess blocks to reduce travel. This is a great way to share the Barrel Organ way of making theatre and to share information about Tess and the LIVE events coming up in Coventry.