As the (freelance) artistic director of the (newly named) Leeds Grand Youth Theatre I and the two non-furloughed members of the Learning Team (James and Rachel) have been keeping the youth theatre going, at a distance. What are we doing? Why and how do we continue?
Who really cares?
Our young people need to feel some sense of normality and routine, and perhaps most of all to know they have agency in this world when the earth is shifting so fast beneath their feet. We, along with many youth theatre’s across the UK, are quietly doing everything we can to continue to support our young people who are unable to meet physically but who desperately need to reach out and create work with and for each other, and also to let you know that we’re all still here, one way or another.
I have felt the pressure to facilitate ‘meaningful’ content with the LGYT and share it online – for them, for the Grand, for me (I’m a freelancer ergo I can only solidly exist if I’m making and sharing work…) but I have taken it gently because
- I didn’t know where to start when everything had so abruptly stopped.
- The rest of the freelance team – my wonderful team, (nothing happens in isolation in the theatre, except it has to now) just had to down tools whilst I was lucky enough to have my contract honoured.
- The sheer volume of work that started being pumped out online was overwhelming.
- I wanted to run away and hide under a stone.
- Every single one of the young people who normally come to the Grand every Saturday and work and play together are now climbing their own mountains every day alongside parents, carers and siblings.
But with time, patience and huge support from the Grand, the wheels started turning, albeit in a different way, but turning nevertheless.
Many of the older ones have had exams taken away alongside our annual full-scale musical – for some it was their first major role having worked their socks off to get the role and now they may not be back to take up that role because they are leaving in Sept and the musical can’t happen until next Summer (at the earliest). The younger group have had the show they helped to write has disappeared into an – as yet – unforeseeable future. Many are bombarded with online work from schools to catch up on, are feeling the pressure to exercise, missing friends, arguing with family, lacking personal space, wanting an escape. So when we can’t physically be together, laughing, stretching, rehearsing, singing and telling stories – letting our imaginations run riot – what is ‘meaningful’ content now? What is ‘connection’ now?
Since starting this blogpost and today (a gap of 3 weeks… procrastination is everyone’s familiar little demon right now) I have had the time to talk to other Youth Theatre Directors and practitioners and WE ALL FEEL THE SAME WAY. We’re all on a learning curve, trying to create work with and for our young people and make it MATTER for them whilst also functioning as a public facing sector. We ALL need to share the oxygen and use it well. Also, does it have to matter? I’m a huge advocate for the artistic journey over the destination, but that doesn’t’ really work in this context, the young people need a ‘point’ to all this when many other ‘points’ have gone. So, for me, yes it does have to matter to the young people we are asking to hold tight.
So we create and feedback and share, adding to the tsunami, battling with the big theatre’s streaming plays, big names performing myriad things in myriad ways, companies trying to stay afloat and relevant as the water rises, and the smaller ones, the names not yet known throw out their contributions.
Our social media posts are now screenshots of poetry, little scenes, a drawing – where once there were photos and videos of these young people laughing, singing, leaping and looking moodily into the distance, all together in our rehearsal space. It’s different, it feels a bit chillier, we’ve lost at least 1 dimension of our youth theatre for now, but remember that the work you see was made in 3 dimensions, by that young person in their own space, created in their head, a piece of their world shared in a few lines, a picture, a character, a poem and, yes, that this too shall pass BUT there is no going back, there is only – as there only ever is in theatre – moving forwards, both responding to and forging change.
The RSC recently held a consultation with their Youth Advisory Board – young people aged nine to eighteen from across the English regions. They were asked about the experience of learning at home and in the main they talked of difficulties in concentrating and adjusting to the lack of routine; about a lack of motivation; a feeling of ‘what’s the point’ after exams have been cancelled; confusion about which platforms to look on to find the work being set by different teachers; a feeling of being in limbo. Out of the 17 young people on the video conference, one was thriving in the current context.
Every young person in every youth theatre in the UK is the actual next generation, (cue: Whitney Houston) thinking and creating in their own space right now, and that is why we will continue to reach out to them (even on the exhausting Zoom) and work with them, and listen to what they have to say and find ways to share their words and pictures for anyone who has a second to see. Please stop by when you can and see what they’re doing – and let them know you have.