Regional youth theatres are often the first point of training for performers, theatremakers and backstage crew. They foster a love of theatre in thousands of young people every year, offering a place where everyone, no matter their background, is accepted and welcomed. They break down social barriers and show young people from all walks of life that their voice matters.
These companies tend to attract a wide variety of members as they keep fees low, normally between £40-£70 for a 10 to 12-week term, and places are available on a non-audition basis. The majority accept everyone regardless of talent, special needs or finances. It’s this inclusive attitude that makes the tapestry of the professional theatre world more diverse. Many people working in the industry from non-affluent backgrounds attribute their success to youth theatre.
Benjamin Purkiss, currently playing Captain Macheath in Theatre des Bouffes du Nord’s overseas tour of The Beggar’s Opera, believes the work he did at Ashford Youth Theatre in Kent changed him as a young actor. “I started at age 15 working on Shakespeare and classics and moved on to Pinter and more modern texts,” he explains. “It was an exceptional education for working-class actors who otherwise wouldn’t touch that kind of text until drama school, if they could afford it.”
There are many youth theatres across the country doing outstanding work. Ben Humphrey, associate director of the Swan Youth Theatre in Worcester, says: “We don’t look to create child actors, but to provide an inclusive, safe and creative environment in which young people can explore their abilities through a shared love of theatre. There are many professionals who have started their career with the Swan Youth Theatre and gone on to make their professional debuts with the Worcester Repertory Company or into further training. One of the most notable of our alumni is Rufus Norris, currently director of the National Theatre.”
Youth theatres train young people for a career in theatre, but they also go further. Dale Rooks, director of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, explains: “Our young people often describe CFYT as a family and a place where they can be themselves, develop confidence and self-esteem. In addition to acquiring knowledge and theatre skills, many of them value youth theatre as a place where they feel they develop vital transferrable life skills.”