Smashed Project aims to break culture of underage drinking

Tumut High School students engaged in a performance run by The Smashed Project, with performers Charlie, Nick and Ash demonstrating the dangers of underage drinking.

Theatre-in-education program The Smashed Project put on a passionate and enthusiastic show for the Year 8 students at Tumut High School on Friday morning, demonstrating the dangers of underage drinking through an interactive, school-based scenario.

The Smashed Project, delivered by Australian educational theatre company Gibber Australia, is dedicated to breaking the culture of underage drinking and reducing alcohol-related harm in young people. As of February, Smashed has reached 46,995 Australian students through 270 performances and 229 schools across NSW, VIC, QLD and ACT.

The program is being delivered at a time when the latest government survey findings from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that overall Australians are drinking less, that more underage Australians abstain from alcohol than ever before (82 per cent up from 54 per cent in 2004) and that drinking culture in Australia is generally improving.

The show at Tumut High featured high-energy performers Charlie, Nick and Ash who played the roles of Jack, TJ and Bronte. Jack is a smart student who typically gets good grades, although has been falling behind recently due to giving in to peer pressure and drinking. TJ is a high school dropout who is going through problems in his home life and turns to drinking, peer pressuring others to get involved and also creating a fake ID to purchase alcohol. Bronte falls somewhere in the middle, an ambitious young girl who dreams of being a flight attendant, but is also involved with drinking and peer pressuring others.

The show took students through Jack, TJ and Bronte’s lives and a variety of situations in which they faced peer pressure to drink and dangerous situations resulting from getting drunk. At one point during the show, the cohort of students was split in half to answer questions in a mock-up classroom setting. Students were asked various questions, standing up if a statement was true and sitting if it was false. When asked what the health problems associated with underage drinking are, many students put their hands up and answered, “it stops your brain from developing,” it “kills your brain cells” and it “stops your growth.”

The show incorporated various technological elements such as Snapchat and Instagram stories which appeared on a screen behind the performers, making the scenarios relevant to students living in the age of social media. It had a great mix of funny, wacky humour that the kids laughed along to and serious moments that made the students go quiet and think.

The performance culminated with each character getting drunk and being involved in a physical fight in which each character was injured and faced repercussions, whether it be a life-long injury, a caution from the Police or a hefty fine imposed on their family members.

Following the performance Charlie, Nick and Ash held an interactive discussion, debriefing on what had happened during the show. Students had the opportunity to share their thoughts, and everyone came to the conclusion that each character was “all responsible for the outcome” due to their various choices along the way. The actors then back-tracked the performance to scenarios where their characters gave in to peer pressure, allowing students to become “directors” and brainstorm alternative choices they could make to avoid drinking.

Tumut High’s Head of Wellbeing Andrew Somerville said that it can be difficult engaging students in discussion about this topic whilst in a classroom setting, so performances provide a great forum for interactive and engaging education.

Evaluation results from Smashed’s performances across Australia reveal that 98 per cent of students participating in the programs say they are less likely to drink alcohol underage.

Gibber Australia’s CEO Tim Watt says Smashed continues to be an effective way to engage young teens on the risks of alcohol misuse because it brings the topic to life in a dynamic, credible way .

“The results are clear that students and the teaching staff are responding well to our fun, interactive yet educational style of the program,” he said.

“Young people in this age group don’t respond well to being lectured and value having open and honest conversations about drinking and how this can impact their physical and mental wellbeing,” says Watt.

Gibber is encouraging students’ parents to continue the conversation at home. ‘A guide to talking about underage drinking with your teenager’ is available online.