A career in youth theatre

 4 February 2011

The National Youth Theatre focuses on the social and creative development of young people. They provide workshops and training for performance and stage production. Artistic Director Paul Roseby spoke to Choices.

The NYT focuses on the creative development of young people.
The NYT focuses on the creative development of young people.

“I always believed in the National Youth Theatre because I was a member. Between doing telly and radio stuff, I always would come back and direct the intake courses. That resulted in me then directing shows that would directly come from me devising with the new company some relevant productions."

Artistic Director for the National Youth Theatre

“I'm really interested in bringing my media experience, my writing experience, into the medium of theatre and working directly with the National Youth Theatre. So I started directing plays, and then the job offer came up. I applied, along with many other people, and I was an outsider. I think outsiders are very exciting.

“[Artistic direction] is about clarity of vision, believing in it, and believing in other people that can see it through. It's being open to ideas. It's also about having an ear and an eye for what people you think you might want to see in two years' time. In a way you're a kind of a trendsetter, but that vision and believing in that vision and getting a team of people that want to see that vision through is ultimately the skill and the job description.”

Teaching at the National Youth Theatre

“Be really determined. Don't look at someone else's route to success. Do it your own way.”

“We’re pastoral in this job, looking after individuals, young people, caring about their welfare, their well-being.

“We are the antithesis of X Factor. We are about nurturing talent. We're not about saying 'no', we're about saying 'yes' more.

“We do still have to say no, because we're about excellence and aspiration. Although we have an open access arm of the National Youth Theatre. When we do our auditions, if we see 5,000 people this year, we'll take about one in six. But that doesn't mean they can't try again.

“The actual experience they have is very democratic. I think people watching X Factor think they're going to turn up and audition and they're going to meet Simon Cowell, and actually it's quite disheartening. And I know people who've got down to almost that. But that's television, television is show business. Where does it say it's about nurturing disengaged, disaffected young people? It doesn't! It's show business!"

Theatre and workshop projects

“Theatre is finally becoming political again, which is great, because it gives young people a voice and a platform to engage in issues that are not being dealt with comprehensively on television, or even online or in any other medium.

“To do a project [‘White Boy’, about youth and knife crime] that engages young people directly in that dreadful situation in many disparate areas of Britain was very exciting.

“And from that, we've had funding from the Home Office to engage a wider community through workshops. What you call forum theatre: taking a snapshot of a small play and giving people a stimulus to talk about the issues and take part over a three-hour workshop.

“I think theatre can change lives. Through entertainment, through escapism, having a great time, but also through engaging in political, hard-hitting subjects and making people think and making people very responsible for their actions.”

Free development courses for young people

"We are about nurturing talent. We're not about saying 'no', we're about saying 'yes' more."

“We're more than just a theatre company, we are a youth arts organisation. Also, we mustn't shy away from the challenges of engaging young people that do not have opportunities in the form of education, or just opportunities in jobs.

“Over a million people now face that state up to the age of 25, and I think that's a travesty. If we don't serve that and try and engage these disparate young people, then we are not serving our ethos and our ambition fully.”

Getting inspiration for theatre

“I love flicking through papers and seeing very small, discarded stories. I cut those out and I put them in a folder and then about a month later, I look at all of them and go 'Oh yeah, that's very interesting'.

“I got the idea for 'Tory Boyz', last year's hit show at Soho Theatre, from a little article about Ted Heath. So that's one way of getting inspiration. Another way is actually doing very little, walking through London. We always need to get from A to B very quickly, but if you slightly slow down, you might see something and think that'd be great to look at heritage, environmental issues.

“We did a project in Trafalgar Square because I happened to sit in Trafalgar Square one afternoon and thought: 'we should own this for a day'. And we did, and it changed the fortunes of the organisation. But that was because I sat on the edge of a fountain and did nothing! So sometimes inspiration comes from absolutely nothing, which is a valuable experience.”

Advice to get started in theatre

“Watch everything and then form an opinion about what you really like about it, why you like theatre and how you think you could make a contribution to it.

“Be really determined. Don't look at someone else's route to success and think 'I need to do it that way, I need to do it Ian McKellen's way, I need to do it Keira Knightley's way'. Do it your own way.”

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