For Amerah Saleh, it has been the push she needed to finish her poems.
For solo artist Francesca Millican-Slater, it has been the chance to become part of an artistic community. And the help she needed to move on from being The Postcard Girl.
These are two of the 18 artists on the first year-long programme, The Rep Foundry. Begun by the Birmingham theatre’s new artistic director Roxana Silbert, the initiative aims to discover and promote the West Midlands’ most promising burgeoning talent of writers, directors and theatre-makers.
The group are given mentors to develop their work, which they perform at monthly scratch nights.
They range from 30-year-old Staffordshire teacher, stand-up comic and writer Tom Allsopp to playwright Arvind Thandi from Walsall, who has a degree in clinical sciences.
The youngest is 20-year-old Amerah Shah from Sparkhill, Birmingham, who was just a teenager when she began the programme.
She describes herself as a “spoken word artist and poet”, explaining: “Poetry is on the page but as a spoken word artist you bring that poem to life.”
The first time she performed in public was in 2010 at a Sampad event at Birmingham Town Hall. She read her short story called Jam: The One With No Bits, Please.
“For a very short period when I was 12, I was taken into care because I wasn’t getting on with my family,” says Amerah, who has just finished a course in Health and Social Care at South Birmingham College.
“That was when I started writing, as a way of expressing what I was feeling.
“I met a girl who was only allowed the jam without bits of fruit in it because it was cheaper. Even after she’d left home, she still went into shops and asked for ‘jam with no bits, please’.
“I hadn’t really done anything since then, but I wanted to get back into it so I applied to The Foundry. I’m not exactly shy but I’m not an overconfident performer. Having mentors to discuss ideas with and to help me when I’m in character on stage has been really useful.”
Francesca Millican-Slater has had success with her one-woman show, Me, Myself and Miss Gibbs.
First performed in 2011 in venues like Birmingham’s mac and the Edinburgh Festival, the idea for it began when she bought a postcard in a knick-knack shop in Devon.
Sent from Lincoln to London in 1910 and addressed to a Miss L Gibbs, it carried the message ‘Be careful tomorrow. AC’. Intrigued, Francesca began retracing the postcard’s steps and attempting to find the identities of AC and Miss Gibbs.
The result was an hour-long play which the 31-year-old has been performing on a rural tour of village halls. “I’ve just come back from the Hebridean island of Coll, accessed via a three-hour ferry ride,” says Francesca, who moved from her native Watford to Birmingham 18 months ago.
“I played to 10 per cent of the population, which was 20 people – not bad! I’ve had audiences of between 10 and 110 people, but I like smaller crowds because it becomes more of a discussion.”
Her next project, the first few minutes of which she has performed at a Foundry scratch night, is called The Forensics Of A Flat and Other Stories. “I moved into a flat in Kings Heath with wooden walls, 1970s carpets and a white leatherette sofa. It used to be a workshop for a TV rental and repair company.
“The project is about the history of the flat and the people who might have lived there. It’s also about the neighbours. Moving to Birmingham was the first time I’ve felt a sense of community from friendly people who actually talk to you.”
Francesca is also working on a history project to mark the centenary of the First World War, based on letters from wounded soldiers being treated at Stokesay Court in Shropshire.
The Foundry has been such a success that it is now to continue for another three years, thanks to £136,950 worth of funding from the Leverhulme Trust.
The Rep’s associate director Tessa Walker says: “We didn’t know what was going to happen when we opened our doors to new talent, but we were amazed by the response. We had 300 high quality applications and had to turn down the chance to work with many good people. We hope they will reapply. It has brought a new audience to the Rep and produced more work than we know what to do with!
“We hope to bring as much of it to our stages as we can.”
* The next Foundry scratch night will be held at The Edge, Digbeth on July 25.