For those who follow my career, you might come to the conclusion I have an affinity for youth theatre. You would be wrong.
I love youth theatre.
The fact is, I owe a lot to youth theatre and I don’t want to blither on about why youth theatre matters. Just check out my poem. See you in 7 minutes 17 seconds.
Watched it? Back? Cool.
This year, I have made it a personal challenge to see as much Youth Theatre as I possibly can. I work for the National Association of Youth Theatres, as well as being a freelance workshop facilitator and play-wright.
I work with the Lawrence Batley Youth Theatre in Huddersfield each week, the older group are brilliantly sparky when it comes to unpacking texts and creating brilliant comedy moments from the 1960s absurd plays we’re exploring. The younger group are looking at Shakespeare and they work so well as an ensemble, at times I assume they’re all psychic. That must be it.
I saw loads of great shows at the Regional Youth Theatre Festival, but Nottingham Playhouse’s Frankenstein really stood not just as a piece of ensemble work tighter than steel bolts building images like a grand canvas, but it was also hauntingly atmospheric which left me gripped for the full edited 20ish mins of the dark tale. I led a workshop at RYTF in the East Midlands, and it is an amazing event, sheer beauty of young people coming together to share work, take part in workshops. Here is a video of them charging onto stage this year to dance!
Check out other RYTFs across the country here: http://www.nayt.org.uk/events
Wakefield’s Yew Tree Youth Theatre delivered a well-paced version of the NT Connections script The Wardrobe which forces the young casts to throw everything into miniature snippet scenes. But they rose to that challenge, and the production was cunningly set in the round for the voyeuristic audience to peer into the history of this wardrobe steeped in memories.
I caught both The West Yorkshire Playhouse Youth Theatre & Stephen Joseph Theatre Youth Theatre’s productions of Pronoun, a fantastic script by Evan Placey about a transgender teenager. Their main character of Dean is making the transition from female to male. Scarborough’s Dean was a right lad, the sort of bloke you’d love to share some tinnies armed with sharp swagger and sarcasm, making his speeches bold and resolute. Leeds’ Dean was pained and scrawny, unsure what to do with his hands and looking like life keeps handing him blow after blow. Proof of the diversity of youth theatre scripts and performances.
I went on a demo against the Lib Dem conference in York. It was the most inoffensive, ineffective protest I’ve ever been on. Thankfully, afterwards, I went to York Theatre Royal to see their 5-8s perform two plays about the plight of the dying bees through fun ensemble, great costumes, gags, puns and wicked dancing. They were deliciously more relevant to modern issues than a load of Unions silently marching A to B. “Hey cuz/what’s the buzz?”
I also spent the weekend seeing York Theatre Royal’s 14-16s adaptations of Macbeth, The Tempest and Julius Caesar. Macbeth was everything the Scottish play should be: intense, visceral and gloriously gory, but with added scenes by the inventive Porter(s) and the creepiest witches EVER. The Tempest is my fav Shakespeare play and the cast created a magical island full of sounds and a breezy charm only an Ariel ensemble can provide. Finally, Julius Caesar’s cast managed to untangle their path through plot and intrigue, playing with their own take on power struggles and powerful struggle.
And finally, I went to see Harrogate Theatre’s Youth Theatre perform Hang On Just A Minute. You see dear reader…I wrote it! The show was a commission for their 15-17s, and was about 4 characters celebrating and acting out the strange wishes of their sadly deceased friend. A collection of four short plays which all interconnect where characters, events and locations are referenced to encourage audiences to sit through and see the whole picture of a world of workplaces, authority figures and friendship all played out with traditional theatre farce. The cast threw themselves into the characters and sold themselves to the overarching theme of friendship.
When I wrote Hang On Just A Minute, I wrote inspired by workshops with the cast, and chatting with them too. I wanted it to be a play about friendship, either old firm bonds or making new acquaintances. Moments when you help a stranger, or reignite old relationships. Because it’s safe, special places like Youth Theatre sessions that we must always strive towards in the world of arts, as well as outside in our hospitals, homes workplaces and parks.
So, yeah. My year of seeing As Much Youth Theatre As Possible is still ongoing and I hope to catch Stage65’s Bedlam at Salisbury Playhouse in May and hopefully Derby Theatre’s Chrysalides and Bolton Octagon’s Youth Theatre Twelfth Night if the dates work out for me.
My next challenge is to adapt A Midsummer Night’s Dream for 7-11s, again for Harrogate Youth Theatre. Watch out for some blogs about that experience!
To see more of my work with youth theatres, check out my website here