With only a few weeks to go until our Youth Theatre launches, our Director Grant, discusses his experiences with previous Youth Theatres, and how these have shaped his hopes and expectations for ours.
'Before I joined the Corn Exchange in 2013, I headed up the artistic programme of another arts centre based in Hereford. There I was fortunate enough to oversee the learning strands of the organisations activities, and part of that was the bustling Youth Theatre programme.
There we had over 450 young people taking part in Youth Theatre every week during term time and the majority of those classes took place at the venue between Wednesday and Saturday. It turned a building built with bricks and mortar into a really special place where young people were at the heart, adding the inevitable vibrancy they bring. I was also seeing first hand young people develop; not just as performers (although they did) but as confident young people and these memories are still as strong and relevant to me four years on.
There was one chap who, at the age of 6, was really struggling in mainstream school. He was on the autistic spectrum and found quite a lot of everyday situations extremely challenging. However as he progressed we worked with him and his family to help him manage his condition. As he went from Year 2 to Year 4, and 6 to 8 (when I then left) he was almost unrecognisable. These year groups were most memorable because this is when, for him, we did the large scale biennial performances, much like we plan to do in Newbury. It was during these productions, as his roles progressed as he aged, it was clear that his growth and development was coming on leaps and bounds. In fact, I went back very recently to see a show he was in, and had I not known of his personal struggle at 6 years of age I would not have guessed because on stage he appeared a strong, confident, resilient and happy young man. It was truly beautiful to see.
Having invested 6 years of my life there, I still feel connected to those young people. Herefordshire is my homeland and so I still frequently go back and I now cross very tall 16, 17 and 18 year olds who were once short, sometimes shy, sometimes boisterous and everything in between, who are now confident young adults and it makes me hugely proud that the Youth Theatre was a part of their childhood and development. It is this feeling of pride I want to create with the Learning and Participation team and our Youth Theatre because I've seen first-hand the massively positive impact it has.
So, as we finalise our plans for the launch in the autumn, I start to image that some of the young people we’ll meet over the next few years will go on to drama school and performance training, and that's so exciting. But amongst those individuals, (I suspect the vast majority) will go on to training, university and employment outside of the arts, but they’ll go into it with the right attitude and skill set that they'll develop by being a part of the Corn Exchange Youth Theatre.
In exchange for your commitment to sign up or indeed to send your child to the Youth Theatre, I commit to you that we'll provide the best experience that we can; to nurture, care, challenge, support, inspire and encourage everybody who wants to be there.'
It's first come, first serve with no audition process and a chance to become immersed in the Corn Exchange!