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Youth Theatre Double Bill – the Directors’ Preview

Youth Group Leaders and production directors Siobhán Campbell and Peter Stevens introduce the two plays forming our Youth Group’s production next week

How did you arrive at selecting these two plays for the Youth Group production?

Peter: We had 10 Connections plays to choose from – once we’d worked through what we could do with the number of members we hoped to include (as many as possible) and what we could pull off (we weren’t sure we could manage a musical!) Variations was the ideal play to show off their talents.

We also needed to make sure the cast were willing and able not only to commit to these shows, but also to perform again in May at the Albany in Deptford and possibly the National Theatre in July.

Siobhán: Once we’d made the selection for our Connections piece, it was a case of looking at how many other youth members we had to work with (30+) and coming up with something for them. One comment they made when I asked if they had any ideas was that they’d prefer the chance to do a ‘grown up’ play rather than something written for younger actors.

We did a term of work looking at the Gothic genre and at the time I was still trying to find something more contemporary. I did a workshop on duality and mirroring where we looked at Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde and Dorian Gray and they just really engaged with the material, so we decided to go from there. Coming up with our own adaptation as a collaborative effort also meant we could include as many of the youth group as we liked too.

How do your students feed into the directing process?

Exam timetables often mean not everyone can commit to learning lines and performances and that’s been the case here. Three of our advanced group have taken an active role in directing segments of the show and coming up with ideas as to how to use the chorus. Added to this, we’ve got plenty of young members who want to make theatre but not act. With fantastic guidance from Jenny Bennett, two of our youth members have come up with a costume story for the entire show and sourced that. We’ve got other youth members thinking about lighting and sound, and even hoping to operate.

Rehearsals are often a bit different to a standard show, as you have 2 hours on a Saturday rather than a week of rehearsals, so initial stages are often more workshop based. We didn’t have a final script or assigned roles until 4 weeks ago!

What are some of the challenges that come with directing young people?

Young people today have a ridiculous number of demands on their time. Academic pressure is mental. It’s what makes the creative arts even more necessary, but it does mean you have to be mindful of demanding too much, you want it to be fun and not add to workload.

Peter and I are working with nearly 60 young people across these two groups each week – that’s a lot of timetables to co-ordinate and a lot of people to include and engage. There’s also quite a spread in ages. 13-18 is an interesting mix to work with as there are varied levels of experience, knowledge and enthusiasm. For some members it’s the first time they’ve performed, others are almost seasoned pros.

It’s a balance between feeding and encouraging the enthusiasm, but tweaking it by sharing knowledge and skills. It’s hard work at times, but I also can’t imagine doing anything else with my Saturday!

Some quotes from our cast

Ruby:“This show is a really good and exciting opportunity for us to improve our skills – I’m really excited to see what the audience reactions will be!”

Rosie: “There are some really special things about this production – so much effort’s gone into it, and Siobhán’s an amazing group leader – I just love the whole experience.”

Rory: “I’m playing Dorian. The most amazing thing about the experience is getting into Dorian’s mindset. I’m looking forward to seeing the audience’s reaction to such an in-depth but horrible character, and I’m really grateful to my director for making this show such a fully-formed, awesome production!”

Isha: “I’m playing Lord Henry, This is a gothic horror piece, something we’ve never done before. I’m also really excited for the audience to see the chorus, also something new for us”

Angel: “Ever since I joined, I feel part of a community – whether it’s acting or socialising. I think the play is going to be amazing, and I hope the audience will love it too.”

Variations and Dorian Gray run from 3 – 6 April at the Old Fire Station, and tickets are on sale here.