When the young people involved abbreviate the Young Everyman Playhouse to YEP and pronounce it “yep”, it sounds like an affirmation. Yep, I am young and ambitious and theatre is what I want to be involved in. Yep, I balance this with school/college/university and I am proud of everything I have achieved.
The Young Everyman Playhouse is the youth theatre programme at Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse theatres, open to anyone aged 11 to 25. At a time when many young people are clamouring for more involvement in theatre, YEP is pretty spectacular in its scope. Far from providing an opportunity for kids to act on weekends, the programme is organised into strands that encompass every aspect of running a theatre. Young Actors act, Young Writers write, Young Technicians work with lighting and sound and Young Communicators focus on the promotion, advertising and marketing of shows.
“A bit of everything is needed to involve more young people in theatre,” said YEP Director Matt Rutter. “We need to have cheap tickets and shows that are relevant to young people. Theatre that is made by young people has an appeal for young audiences, and that’s what we need because they are the future theatregoers, performers and directors. In the next ten to 15 years it will be them who take over from us. YEP is great because it gives them confidence, a skills base, and allows them to progress to where they want to go.” His aims are high, and he truly believes the programme can have an effect on theatres as a whole. “We’re hoping to embed these young people within theatres. At the moment, we’re still in the beginning phases so the programme is led by me artistically, but next year we will be transferring the artistic leadership over to them, with the new Young Programmers strand. We’re aiming for a holistic, all-encompassing feel. We want them to have a voice at every level of the theatres.”
17-year-old Hannah McGowan certainly feels her role as Young Communicator has given her a strong voice. The Young Communicators organised the launch of YEP, designing the logo and all the prints. The programme mirrors the way theatres advertise and promote their own shows, and after working with YEP their work feeds into the wider programme and they become involved in marketing for the main house shows.
“It was something I wouldn’t usually go for,” said McGowan. “I study drama at college, I act. But it was in a theatre and I figured you should know more about what goes on in the theatre than just what you want to do. Then when I started, I fell in love with it straight away. It was something different, I didn’t need any experience, and you learn so much from it.” She sees these lessons as valuable life skills that she can transfer into other areas. “There are things I didn’t know about theatre until I started, which I can now take into college coursework. It sets me apart, and it’s easy to balance YEP and college. It’s going to open loads of different doors for everybody who’s involved.” She also appreciates the cheaper tickets that are offered to her. “We’re really lucky to have the £5 ticket deals. I can afford that, compared to going somewhere else. Theatre is inaccessible to me outside of the Everyman and Playhouse, it’s too tricky with money. Here it’s plain and simple.”
Young Actor Nick Crosbie, 19, has found YEP a valuable step towards becoming an actor and the perfect way to spend his gap year. “I auditioned at drama schools last year and didn’t get a place because of lack of experience. So I took a gap year this year and came to YEP, where every week we do new stuff, we dedicate a whole week to shows, and I can gain that experience I need. I’m looking forward to auditioning for drama school again next year and seeing what improvements I’ve made.” He elaborated on his experience with YEP. “We have three seasons. In the first season we do workshops, which vary – we could be doing improvisation for one night, stage combat for another. The second term is show term. We did Intimate, which was an experimental piece of theatre about young people dealing with war. We’ve all been to the theatre and sat down and seen a show, but this play was different. The audience walked around and took part in it. We also did You Are Being Watched, which was like a comedy spoof on James Bond, similar to Austin Powers. We performed that in the middle of the shopping centre, in front of four hundred people! In the third season we come up with ideas and we perform whatever we want to do. It could be stage combat, monologues, comedy sketches, anything. I’m so much more confident with my acting now.”
Perhaps what characterises these young practitioners above all is how strongly they feel about the way in which YEP has enhanced their career prospects. 20-year-old Jamie Thompson is a Young Technician, working through an eight-month programme in which they run the technical side of all the YEP performances. They also work quite closely with the Playhouse technicians, getting hands on experience assisting with various performances that come into the Playhouse.
“I entered the programme with no experience; we all learnt from a basic level. It was a lighting course originally but as it went on, other people wanted to learn about sound, so it expanded through the students in the group. I sort of fell into it through people that I knew and other places that I’d volunteered at. I met people from Playhouse and they explained what it was. I was really interested in the opportunity, it sounded like a gateway to contacts and experience that I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else. I was right – through this, I’ve gained some great contacts and I’ve started getting work through them. I’ve been working with different independent theatre companies, radio stations, and venues. It’s made a huge difference in terms of my future career prospects. I’d finished college and I had no sense of direction. This has put me into so many different things I can work on. It’s expanded my knowledge tenfold without a great deal of pressure, since the environment is very relaxed and supportive.”
Thompson’s clear pride in what he has achieved and the emotive way he discusses the Young Everyman Playhouse conveys just how much potential the programme has. “It gives you a great feeling when everything comes together and you can see the finished product, the shows and events that we’ve worked on. Being a part of that gives you a feeling that is indescribable. It makes you so proud. I’ve been able to work with some absolutely brilliant people. I feel such a high sense of achievement.” YEP truly is an affirmation of this achievement.
Find out more about Liverpool Young Everyman Playhouse scheme by visiting their website.
Image credit: Brian Roberts