Directors and Youth tutors Greg Williams and Siobhan Campbell discuss working with our Youth group for their production of Macbeth (adapted from Shakespeare), which runs 4 – 7 May 2022.
Of all the Shakespeares, why the dark and bloody Macbeth?
This really was almost decided for us by the cast! We had been exploring Gothic ghost stories in the autumn term and they seemed to really enjoy it. The darker the story the better, death and blood and gore! The fact that Macbeth has a huge cast was a great pull for us, having over 50 young people split into two casts, it made sure that anyone who wanted to be part of the show could be. It is a set text for GCSE English at the moment, so many of them were more than familiar with the play already which definitely helped with the rehearsal process!
How have you cast the show?
The show is cast from our two older groups at the Youth Theatre, what we call the ‘Young Adults’ (16-18) and the ‘Youth’ (13-16) groups. It was lovely to mix these two groups of young actors together and have them act with people not necessarily at their normal sessions, and saved us having to find two suitable plays.
How do you go about engaging young people in the story?
Much the same way you do with anyone else, you find the bits that appeal to them, make the characters relatable and work through the show. Interestingly, none of them have mentioned being put off by the verse- it’s all about the story, and a lot of that comes down to what we do on Saturday sessions in terms of storytelling, character and devising. We’ve made sure they really understand the story.
We started off with a narrated synopsis of the play and as a group got people to act out what we were reading. This simplified the story down to the main mechanics of the plot so they knew the shape of it. In terms of engagement, like we said before these young people love anything dark and bloody so that part wasn’t difficult at all. We’ve had some fun with the witches and created individual personalities with them, headed up by their leader Hecate who is a mix of them all.
What are the challenges of working with young people on a show like this?
Of course safety is paramount when working on any show that has fighting, and especially sword-fighting, then add in under 18s and it becomes even more nerve-wracking! Martin (Copland-Gray) has been fantastic with teaching the cast their fights and is going to come back and teach all of our young people the basics of stage-fighting once the show is over. We treat them no differently to how we would work with adults and in return they take the rehearsal process seriously (sometimes!). Its no joke when people say that teenagers pick stuff up quickly – this has been a great factor when rehearsing this show!
In many ways working with young actors is much the same as working with anyone else, just with added enthusiasm and sponge brains. One of the biggest challenges as always with such a large cast is the admin side of things, liaising with that many parents/carers and attempting to find space for rehearsals, usual classes and dressing rooms has kept us fairly busy.
What do you think are the benefits of young people putting on a show for paying customers – so not just proud parents?!
Many of our young actors are just as (or more) experienced as our adult members, especially in our older groups as a lot of them are studying drama or performing arts at GCSE and beyond- one of the real joys here is that they get to perform for fun and the love of it, and not to pass an exam, that’s quite a different experience and really allows them to flex their creative muscles and take ownership of the show.
We genuinely believe it benefits the theatre to have these young actors performing too, it’s a real reminder that we all started somewhere learning a craft and that there’s always something more to learn. More solid links between the youth theatre groups and the membership as a whole really benefit both parties, fresh ideas and perspectives on things plus a wealth of experience combined mean a win-win for all.
And knowing that they have to be paying performance-ready has really helped them up their game!