Tag Archive | "A Night Less Ordinary"

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Feature: TakeOver Festival returns to York

Posted on 10 October 2013 by Laura Turner


This October, the TakeOver Festival returns to York Theatre Royal, once again giving young people under 26 the chance to take to the helm of one of the most exciting regional theatre events in the country. Supported by mentors from every area of the theatre’s full-time staff, from marketing to programming, a team of under 26s take responsibility for all elements of planning and managing the festival, which this year takes place over three separate weeks: one in March, one in June and one in October. With the last of these just around the corner, Artistic Director of the festival, Ruby Clarke, and the theatre’s Head of Communications, Abbigail Ollive, tell me more.

TakeOver’s roots lie in Arts Council Endland’s A Night Less Ordinary initiative, the funding for which York Theatre Royal Artistic Director Damian Cruden used to create a legacy of work for and with young people. Ollive tells me this started with the question: “Wouldn’t it be better to engage a group of young people in the programming of work so that they could then promote this to their peers, and free tickets could be used to see shows that were relevant and had been chosen by young people themselves? And so TakeOver was born.” Now supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, interviews are held for each position involved in running the festival, and a senior management team of young people are appointed and welcomed into the professional environment of the theatre.

The theatre staff and festival team collaborate on all levels of production from front of house to stage technicians and there’s a clear sense of cohesion, with Ollive sharing anecdotes about how TakeOver members have worked with the communications team on press nights for the theatre’s main shows, so the TakeOver staff can learn “who to invite, how to organise the catering and VIP list, and some ideas about how to set up the foyer so the event runs smoothly.” As Ollive points out, “There aren’t many work placement experiences where it’s real. This is a real festival, with a real budget and real audiences. Because of this the roles the TakeOver team are taking on set them up really well for going into similar jobs. It’s a great stepping stone and many of our TakeOver participants have gone on to gain employment in the arts doing similar roles.”

Clarke is in full agreement. “Personally I have done a lot of training and higher education in directing, as well as working professionally in the field; however I have never had the chance to see from the inside all of the responsibilities of an artistic director. I probably wouldn’t get the chance to do this until I had worked my way up to that position which would likely take years. I have therefore gained knowledge that I would not have had the chance to learn in any other way. I know that a lot of this year’s senior management team have gained employment based heavily on the work they have done as part of TakeOver festival.” Clarke credits the opportunity to direct her first full professional production of The Mercy Seat for the festival in June as her personal highlight, but let’s not forget the relationship is mutual with the theatre benefitting from the buzz of new ideas. “The TakeOver team have the ability to shake up our practice and do things differently,” Ollive tells me. “From attracting work and companies to perform who the theatre wouldn’t normally approach, to developing new audiences for the festival, to devising a new menu for the café bar, it’s refreshing and we can learn a lot. It’s a genuine relationship that is long lasting, not a one off free ticket.”

The breadth of work available during the festival is impressive and seeks to appeal to young and old alike. Resident for the festival is Root Theatre Company, which has devised a new York-specific show, The Only Way is Chelsea’s, and there’s a broader programme of Shakespeare, magic shows and a workshop for young critics run by Lyn Gardner. And then there’s “a one-woman show performed in a B&B setting (tea served throughout) and an evening in the York Brewery as rumours of the rise of the York Barghest come to a head,” Clarke enthuses – and who wouldn’t?

The festival officially starts on Monday 14 October, but with Clarke promising some pre-festival treats this week including an intriguing “app-based interactive theatre game”, there’s plenty to get involved with. And what better accolade for the TakeOver team and the festival as a whole than Ollive’s parting comment: “in our office, I will really miss them [the TakeOver team] after October”. Testament to a successful enterprise and the promise of an exciting October – and beyond – for York’s TakeOver.

Find out more about TakeOver and book tickets for all the shows at The festival runs for one week from Monday 14 October 2013.

Image credit: Titus Andronicus by Mihaela Bodlovic

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

More Posts

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Re-imagining ‘A Night Less Ordinary’: Price is not the only issue

Posted on 21 March 2011 by Jake Orr

‘A Night Less Ordinary’ Knowledge Share

Re-imagining A Night Less Ordinary

If the theatre industry is serious about wanting to engage more young people the most important thing to do is…

Recognise that price is not the only issue

Theatres are facing challenges in attracting young audiences – but what are the real issues affecting, and attitudes of, young people attending the theatre? Do we need to rethink programming and create products that engage young people?

The following speech was delivered by Jake Orr, Editor and Founder of A Younger Theatre, on 21st March 2011 at a Knowledge Share event on A Night Less Ordinary.

Nothing that I can say today will take away from the fact that ticket prices are often too high, that marketing budgets are too low, and that both of these can have a direct impact on why young people do not attend theatre.

Through A Younger, the website I founded in 2009, we have often asked the question ‘What is theatre for/to young people?

The response is repeatedly the same:

Theatre is uncool,
Theatre is educational,
Theatre is expensive,
or Theatre is elitist.

It is my belief that when young people think of theatre, they see something that is out of reach. They do not see entertainment. They do not see art. They see high ticket prices. They see barriers, and restrictions. Theatre isn’t an open medium, it’s for those refined people who can afford it.

Of course, we all know this is not true. This is just a perspective of young people, but we’re not talking about a few, we’re talking about a high percentage of them. These are the barriers that we, as those attempting to put ‘bums on seats’, need to understand when targeting younger audiences.

“Theatre is educational, cinema is entertainment.”

This statement came from young people describing the difference between the two. Young people frequently perceive the link between theatre and education as a barrier. As part of their English and Drama classes they are rounded up, put on coaches, taken to the theatre under the supervision of their teachers, and then told they must write a report on it. What part of this is fun? One of my first experiences of theatre was through my school. I was lucky enough to find enjoyment from it, but for the rest of my classmates it was all about the report, essay and exam.

To some, in an environment alien to them, theatre starts and ends with education, which is a stigma hard to break later in life. Of course school trips to theatres help to expose young people to performance and the arts, but with an increase in ticket prices and transportation costs, schools are cutting theatre visits, making it even more important that venues support and nurture young independent theatre going.

Theatre is the West End.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the perceived notion that theatre is only that within the West End. Musicals dominate the notion of theatre for young people. If it’s not a big budget musical then it’s usually something boring like Shakespeare or Chekhov.

If this is the case, then theatres have to challenge this perspective. Theatres need to think outside the box for marketing: be inventive, and go directly to young people. Don’t wait for young audiences to possibly come to your venue, go, speak to and engage with them. Actively promote your work and let young people know their local theatre is actually there for them.

“Theatre is not advertised for young people.”

Most of the organisations present today offer discounts and deals for young audiences – but how many of these are widely promoted and accessible? Possibly one of the obstacles of A Night Less Ordinary was its over-complicated process for getting tickets. If theatres are to challenge perspectives and make theatre accessible, then young people have to know about this.

Currently, marketing material is not targeted at younger audiences unless it is a show that is particularly designed for them. How then do we engage young people through marketing? I believe that it’s a question of using the young audiences you already have to encourage, support and nurture future audiences. Theatres that have incorporated student ambassadors and youth panels have already made the leap towards actively endorsing theatre for a younger demographic. Through using a pre-existing young audience, hopefully a viral effect through friends and social platforms will take hold. Do not underestimate the power of word-of-mouth for young people. If huge marketing budgets are out of the question, use a direct face-to-face method and social networking sites to promote your work.

It’s not just marketing that can be an issue; it’s also the organising of a trip that is challenging. Young people do not attend cultural events on their own, they tend to go in groups and unless you’re Justin Beiber or Lady Gaga, the chances of advance ticket sales are slim. Spontaneity is something that theatre doesn’t always allow for. Screenings at the cinema are staggered and varied allowing more flexibility. Theatres are limited by performance times and show lengths. What is in the theatre today is gone tomorrow.

Imposed Rules

The imposing of rules on attending theatre only restricts and confuses first time audiences.

You must collect tickets by a certain time.
You must bring ID.
You must remain in your seat.
You must not eat.
You must not speak.

These rules don’t encourage, they restrict. If I were attending for the first time, I would be put off by them. We must remember that for those of us working in the arts and regular audience members, theatre etiquette is taken for granted. This has to be encouraged within young people, not imposed. Possibly older audiences need to be educated to incorporate younger members.

Equally, scheduling and running times sees shows coming down late at night. Young people have to travel home, rely upon parents to pick them up, or contend with homework or coursework. All of these can restrict younger people attending theatre.

How do we inspire a young audience to attend theatre when there are so many unspoken rules and restrictions? Who explains these rules? Whose duty is it to make younger audiences understand? How many of you provide additional information for first time theatre goers?


I believe that it is the duty of each organisation to see the potential in their productions for new young audiences. If we can connect with them today, this is a legacy that will continue throughout their lives.

In the wise words of Lyn Gardner, “If theatre can’t afford the young, it can’t afford the future”.

I couldn’t agree more. Success is not just a single visit, it’s repeated attendance across all your organisations.

Theatre Product

If most theatre is seen as boring and uncool for younger audiences, is it a question of the work that is being produced and recieved? Are we actively making theatre that caters for an older audience, and ignoring new generations?

I think we have to acknowledge that not all theatre will be appealing to young people, and what is seen as ‘classic’ could seem uninspiring and dated. We need to know what young people want to see on the stage and acknowledge that the subjects that interest young people are not the same as ten or twenty years ago. I believe that through consulting with young people in core artistic decisions we can help to inspire and challenge perspectives on theatre. There are already some excellent examples of this such as the Takeover Festival at York Theatre Royal.

As a young person myself, I actively try and engage others through A Younger, which acts as a point of reference and platform for discussions. Yet there are still thousands of young people who miss out on the opportunities to actively engage with theatre. Through recognising that price, product, education and perceived ideas limit younger audiences, I hope that in some way you as arts organisations can take up the challenge of inspiring young audiences to attend your venue.

If we do not engage them today, who will see the fantastic theatre of tomorrow?

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Takeover Festival: York falls to a youth invasion

Posted on 11 March 2011 by Lois Jeary

An awful lot has changed since those heady days of 2009 when York Theatre Royal first launched its Takeover Festival. For three weeks the theatre’s management stood aside and handed over complete responsibility for the programming and running of the theatre to a group of under 26 year olds. What was a brave experiment has since become a tried and tested model, with many theatres around the country using youth panels or young board members to programme special seasons that engage with younger audiences. Yet in the intervening period, the climate theatres operate in has also changed considerably. You can’t help but feel that just as purse strings are tightened and budgets squeezed, the sense of urgency about getting new audiences into theatre is mounting. It is in this frankly uncertain atmosphere that the Takeover Festival returns at the end of March, where for a fortnight the theatre and its audiences will once again be at the glorious mercy of the young.

Rhiannon Jackson is the festival’s Co-Artistic Director, and, along with Tom Bellerby, is responsible for developing an artistic vision for the festival and programming shows and events accordingly: “Our main aims are to engage people who wouldn’t usually see the theatre as a night out for them, be that young people or older people, as well as engaging young people and emerging artists, starting off projects within the Theatre Royal and getting us to develop our skills.”

Rhiannon admits that before she started working on the festival she didn’t realise how hard it would be to programme for teenagers, whose demands and tastes challenge preconceptions about what appeals to them. Through consultation with a board comprised of 11-24 year olds, the team have nonetheless created a programme that Rhiannon hopes will appeal to people looking for a different experience from the theatre, as they have “purposefully chosen companies that are changing people’s theatrical experience in terms of their performance methods.”

The programming is certainly adventurous and reflects the team’s broader aims of supporting new companies and allowing them space to develop their work. York Theatre Royal’s resident company Belt Up has performed at each Takeover festival to date and will be returning this time with its first musical: a resolutely up-to-date and politically charged take on John Gay’s eighteenth century The Beggar’s Opera. There is a strong musical theme throughout the festival which also features LittleBulb Theatre‘s Operation Greenfield and Catapulting Cocoon‘s band ‘mockumentary’ Life Support, first seen at Takeover last year as part of the Hatch project. Rhiannon is clearly proud of the way Takeover has nurtured Catapulting Cocoon and helped to realise the show’s potential, as developing new work for regional theatre was the aim that motivated Hatch in the first place. “As programmers of a regional theatre we found it really hard to find interesting, alternative work that could tour to us. We want young companies to feel like it’s okay to approach theatres in the regions because audiences are there, and we want to change that old view that avant-garde theatre doesn’t come out to regions, it tends to stay in London,” Rhiannon explains.

One of the most striking inclusions in the programme is Sarah Kane’s powerful 4:48 Psychosis, which will see Rhiannon directing a cast made up entirely (though not, she says, intentionally) of under 26 year olds. As a play which deals with the subject of clinical depression, it may not be an obvious or ‘safe’ choice for a young people’s theatre festival, yet it reflects the team’s determination not to patronise their audience: “We felt that 4:48 was the right sort of play for Takeover – challenging, contemporary drama. The whole ethos of Takeover is that young people like to be challenged!” She goes on to explain: “Sarah Kane is a perfect playwright for the festival – she was a young genius and had a very strong young voice in theatre, so that was a big appeal for us. It is a really difficult piece and deals with mature themes, but this play has a real appeal to people of our age group because it is challenging and absolutely formless.”

Rhiannon hopes that the challenging nature of the some of the content will leave people thinking and talking, and it was this that further attracted her to 4:48 Psychosis. “I’m really intrigued by how well it will be received, because it’s one of those plays that does divide opinion. That’s another reason why we wanted it so much – we love it when people talk about the work. We try and programme stuff that might not be our taste but we know will get a reaction, because we think people should be talking about theatre. It’s about engaging people – what makes theatre different from going to the cinema is that you come out and somebody hates it, someone will love it, and it’s that intellectual discourse afterwards that really make a difference.”

Over the course of the fortnight the whole building will be turned over to the festival, allowing the team to create a ‘festival buzz’, with gigs, open mic nights, performance poetry and craft events happening throughout the building. “We’re trying to make it an all-round experience,” says Rhannon. “We’re trying to let people know that if you come to the theatre then you won’t have the experience you think you might have. We’ve got secret events, which were really popular last time, which are small performances provided around the building. We want people to know that it’s good to hang out in the theatre, and that if you do hang out you might see something interesting.”

I ask Rhiannon whether she thinks seasons such as Takeover Festival – programmed by and for young people – are the best way of keeping this audience engaged in theatre, or whether in some cases they can be gimmicky, or a smokescreen used to cover up a failure to use suitable programming or outreach work the rest of the year. “You’ve got to not be scared about being surprised by young people. If there is a barrier there then I think some theatres might just be a little bit reticent to deal with the fact that young people can have some really strange demands, but then have some fantastic, energetic output.”

While she sees tremendous value in a theatre dedicating all of its time and resources to young people, Rhiannon admits that some youth schemes “don’t genuinely offer the experience they market,” by not allowing young people true freedom in programming or trusting them to make mistakes. “I think it’s one of the greatest things about the industry that we work in,” Rhiannon says, going on to explain that for herself and Tom complete artistic freedom has been accompanied by the responsibility of making decisions and solving problems when things went wrong. “You couldn’t imagine a banker just doing this, but they can say to us ‘just go and do it’, and they’re so trusting and supportive.” In return for this freedom, the confidence and skills the young team have gained will benefit the theatre for years to come: “from the very beginning we’ve always been treated as future cultural leaders, and the training we receive now is going to add to our future.”

York Theatre Royal is perhaps uniquely enlightened in its approach to letting the younger generation of theatre-makers have free rein to practise their craft, and the results can be seen across the national fringe. “It does seem to be a hotbed for new talent,” Rhiannon laughs, when I ask what makes York so special in fostering new talent and question (only half-jokingly) whether there might be something in the water. “We’re lucky here. We have two universities and the students aren’t shy in getting out and sharing what they’re doing, which produces some exciting stuff. But York Theatre Royal really does see younger people as the lifeblood of the theatre, and if we don’t develop these audiences now then who is going to come to the theatre in the future? The idea of people saying theatre is a dying art form does not exist here. The whole atmosphere is easy-access – everyone’s willing to meet for a coffee with you to share ideas on whatever level. I think that has a lot to do with it. There aren’t many boundaries to people getting involved here.”

Creating appealing theatre and environments to lure young people through the door is one thing, but for many the issue of cost is a harder barrier to overcome. For its part, Takeover is continuing the free ticketing scheme that was initially introduced under the soon to be defunct A Night Less Ordinary, meaning that for a large proportion of the target audience the whole festival will be open to them for absolutely nothing. Yet the responsibility to keep young people engaged in theatre goes both ways, and Rhiannon suggests that young audiences themselves have a duty to support theatre if they want it in turn to value them too. “To be honest, young audiences are quite unpredictable in the way they buy tickets. They tend to make decisions last minute, whereas an older person may look through a brochure and plan ahead. It’s a contract – young people who want to go to the theatre have to see that they have a role in going to it.”

Underpinning the whole ethos of the Takeover Festival is the feeling that a programme for young people can have much wider benefits for the artistic environment above and beyond the simple aim of getting pert bums on seats. “I hope it changes people’s perceptions about how regional theatre, young people and new theatre collide,” Rhiannon says. In the short term however, she just hopes the team’s hard work over the past year pays off and that people make the most of the opportunity on offer. “With funding cuts and the way finances are going now in theatres, I don’t know whether people can genuinely expect to have this experience in the future, either as a theatregoer or as someone who wants to volunteer.” The sad truth is, as the financial climate gets tougher for theatres, both the necessity and difficulty of initiatives for younger people such as the Takeover Festival will grow and it is down to both theatres and audiences to “realise how special the opportunity is and take it!”

TakeOver is A Night Less Ordinary and Arts Council England scheme supported by York employer CPP. It runs at the York Theatre Royal from 14 – 26 March, and tickets are available here.

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the future of ANLO and young people?

Posted on 23 February 2011 by Jake Orr

Yesterday over on the Guardian Blogs, Lyn Gardner wrote a challenging cry defending the need for support in young people as theatre’s future.

The young offer extraordinarily good value in every way. We need to invest in them. If theatre can’t afford the young, it can’t afford the future.

She refers to the funding cuts which have seen the end of Creative Partnerships and Find Your Talent (let’s not also forget Future Jobs), and how there needs to be investment in young people, because ultimately they need the support to develop into the Bright Young Things of tomorrow (another Guardian piece).

Those of us who are behind the running of A Younger Theatre are working continuously to bring you information and resources that are valuable to you as young people. We hope that AYT can act as a pool of knowledge, with a commitment to every young person who is struggling to find the answer to their questions. AYT is a platform to raise the voice of those under represented, and we are committed to the bigger cause – not cutting the young out of the arts.

Last year we were invited to speak at a knowledge share event in relation to the closing of the free ticketing scheme A Night Less Ordinary. We presented AYT as a resource, a place for engagement and understanding brought to young people by young people. Since that event, we have forged relations with several new theatres who want to actively engage young people in their work, and we continue to work with them now.

On March 21st we have been invited to give another presentation at the final A Night Less Ordinary meeting. This is an important event, where a large body of organisations will be meeting to discuss and inspire the big question of: What happens next. Will ticketing schemes be dropped? Will engagement with young people be phased out? Questions, and concerns are being raised, and AYT are there to represent young people.

We shall be speaking in a session called ‘Re-imagining A Night Less Ordinary‘- with particular attention to how price is not the only issue. They want us to speak about this article on AYT as to why young people don’t go to the theatre. The organisers have summed up our presentation as the following:

  • Recognise that price is not the only issue:
  • Theatres are facing challenges in attracting young audiences- but what are the real issues and attitudes of young people to attending the theatre? Do we need to rethink programming and create product that engages young people?

    We want to hear what you think, so we can tell the organisations present exactly what young people believe the problems to be So, what are your thoughts? What do you want us to say? What are the challenges beyond price that face you when attending theatre? Is the price of theatre tickets the only problem for young people?

    Please use the comment box below, and AYT will ensure that your message is heard.

    Jake Orr

    Jake Orr

    Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

    More Posts - Website

    Follow Me:

    Comments (8)

    Advertise Here
    Advertise Here

    Join our E-Newsletter

    Exclusive offers, opportunities and updates from AYT.