Tuesday 31 August 2010 | By Chris Cooke
Newbury Youth Theatre: Theatre with youth
There are a fair few youth theatre groups that perform at the Edinburgh Fringe each year, but one stands out for consistently coming up with top quality shows. We speak to the team behind the Editors’ Award winning Newbury Youth Theatre.
CC: Newbury Youth Theatre has been in existence for nearly three decades. Why was it originally set up?
NYT: Newbury Youth Theatre was originally set up as part of the then Berkshire County’s Youth & Community service to provide local young people with an opportunity to develop their theatrical skills and interests under the guidance of professional practitioners and to have fun! It hoped to empower them with transferable skills that could be used throughout their lives.
CC: And what are your aims three decades on?
NYT: Our aims in 2010 have not really changed. We are the resident Youth Theatre of the Newbury Corn Exchange and that gives access to further professional industry support. We always aim to produce high quality professional work and engage our members in the making process – giving them a sense of ownership over the outcome.
CC: How do you recruit your actors, and how do you go about casting them?
NYT: We are still a non-auditioning, open access youth theatre run by the members through a management committee. Recruitment is mostly from local schools and colleges much of it achieved by word of mouth and our reputation. In fact one new member has recently joined us from Edinburgh and heard of us through the National Association Of Youth Theatres – with whom we’re affiliated. Casting is always a delight. We have a reputation for strong ensemble work, through the guidance of our directors Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, and consequently have no ‘stars’ in the shows. The devising process allows members to take on as much or as little as they feel comfortable with, with much of the casting being done organically, throughout the process.
CC: Despite working with different generations of young actors, your productions are of a consistently high quality, what is the secret in making youth theatre good theatre?
NYT: Now that’s a really difficult question to answer. However, treating the members as young adults and giving them the responsibility for running their theatre company is very important. There has to be a sense of ownership – provided by the style of direction, in which the company are led (in small groups) through ideas, themes, styles and techniques and allowed to experiment with them. Amy and Tony then work through these often wild ideas with the full company to create a series of finely tuned theatrical moments, which, hopefully can be enjoyed by an audience. We think the real power of what we do though is to give the young company a sense of responsibility over something that is theirs to invest in and (hopefully) make successful.
CC: How do you choose what plays to stage?
NYT: Choosing plays is always an issue since youth theatre members stay with us for about four years before they go off to university, college, or the world of work. Several of them have become teachers and one member has recently been playing in ‘War Horse’ in the West End. It’s a process of developing the youngster’s talents and finding a vehicle for that exuberant flair. We try to steer clear of overtly earnest dramas that tackle ‘issues’ in a heavy handed way but still aren’t shy to use moments of pathos and tension when it’s appropriate. We want to stretch them, by trying out new genres, styles, and approaches. Next year for example we will be working with the tremendous Red Cape Theatre Company with an exciting new play called ‘From Newbury With Love’ which we will be working on in collaboration with a youth theatre in Moldova and will be exchanging a visit with them in October after the Festival.
CC: Tell us a bit more about this year’s show ‘Cautionary Tales’
NYT: Belloc’s late Victorian stories tackle a way in which a child might do something wrong and how, often, they could end up dead! So we have Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion or Matilda, who told lies and was burned to death. They can be quite gruesome but very much in the same way that Roald Dahl’s kids’ stories are (Dahl was a self-confessed Belloc fan) and in the way that under tens tend to find completely fascinating! It’s also a return to children’s theatre, which we’ve done previously with the ‘Just So Stories’ and ‘The Wind Tamer’ – both of which were very rewarding experiences for the company and for us as the creative team.
CC: Is bringing a show to the Edinburgh Fringe an important part of what you do?
NYT: It’s central to our ethos in many ways. Being the largest international Festival Fringe in the world it provides a unique opportunity for the members to work together as a touring company, taking on roles in production and marketing as well as performing every day – not to mention the potential to see an incredible range of international work – unheard of anywhere else in the UK. Aside from the huge opportunities creatively, a trip to the festival may also be the first time some of our members have been away from home and so they learn how to cook, do laundry (occasionally) and share domestic roles and responsibilities. As one member said last year, “I now know how to cook an egg in four different ways.” Job done.
CC: Are there any other youth theatre groups you admire?
NYT: The Pleasance’s Youth theatre unfailingly produces splendid work and we look forward to seeing ‘Soho Storeys’. The exciting and controversial Ontroerend Goed company are back at the Traverse with a new youth show ‘Teenage Riot’ (following 2008’s incredible ‘Once and For All’) and Jeremy James Taylor (formerly from the National Youth Music Theatre) is directing ‘Azincourt’ at the Edinburgh Academy. We often say that we wish audiences would take a chance and see more youth theatre shows – they may well be surprised by what they see.
Newbury Youth Theatre’s show ‘Cautionary Tales’ was performed at Zoo Roxy during Fringe 2010.