As AYT closes its doors – perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently – Managing Director, Sam talks about the reasons why, his hopes for the future and how the company can’t return unless it has some proper financial support.
After 12 years of doing our best to champion young, marginalised theatre makers and creatives, of providing them with a platform when many other publications wouldn’t give them the time of day, AYT will be going on a break. For how long, I do not know, but it will be for the foreseeable future.
I don’t think I’ve worked as hard on anything as I’ve worked on this company over the last year and a half. Many other publications stopped reviewing because they saw it as unfair to critique something produced during this hellscape of a time, but the amount of requests we were getting through didn’t slow down – people still wanted us to see their work and people still – more than ever – needed reviews/ testimonials to show on their funding bids, commission applications etc. We also produced the AYT in Isolation series and published several thoughtful, important features and opinion pieces. We haven’t slowed down, and I have never wanted us to. AYT still has so much potential, and I had huge plans to help meet that, but unfortunately, for financial reasons, they have not worked out.
When I joined the company in 2013 and right up until I took over in 2019, the pay did not reflect the work people put in. I have some understanding as to why, but this wasn’t – isn’t enough. The least myself and my team should be getting is a living wage and that is what I have been trying to achieve in the last year.
I’ve been trying to get a budget to finally pay writers. It’s not good enough to say, ‘they’re starting out’ and ‘it’s a mutually beneficial position because they get free theatre tickets.’ That’s a great perk but continuing to feed into the mentality that not paying people for their work is OK, only gives those that actually can afford it, the excuse not to. It keeps writers and other creative people feeling insecure and unworthy. I thought wow, if I can pay writers as young as 16, this could really help make change. I thought I could provide working-class people with proper paid freelance work, doing something they were passionate about. What a disappointing rarity that is for artists.
The writers, editors and marketing folk that have and continue to work for AYT are all stunningly talented, professional, and passionate. There’s definitely a stigma attached to age that stops young people getting opportunities in any industry but without these, they’re prevented from even starting. This is even more apparent with those that are still underrepresented – disabled people, people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, those that identify as working class etc. We’re seen as inferior, and our stories, not valid. At AYT, these stories have always been valid, and because we’ve seen what other publications haven’t, many of our writers have gone onto have successful careers. This is because of the start we gave them, because of the chance we took on them.
I wanted to make AYT a safe space for marginalised people. Accessibility is paramount for any publication to think about and put into action, whether they’re specifically for disabled people or not, and this was at the forefront of the plans I had for the future of AYT. I wanted the company to feel like a go-to for any young person who felt ignored and alienated in the theatre industry because let’s face it, there’s a million reasons why they’d feel like this. Theatre is toxic but it is also full of collaboration and empathy and support. I know that we have played a part in that.
To help us meet our full potential, we needed a big cash injection. However, after exhausting all of our options, I haven’t managed to secure it. I thought that AYT’s reputation as a crucial supporter of marginalised young people would be enough to ensure our survival, but it wasn’t.
Aside from our goals of making AYT bigger and better, going forward, we’re just not in a strong enough position financially to keep going at all. The money we get from advertising is nowhere near enough to keep a company like AYT going, and the memberships have only just covered our overheads.
AYT has kept myself and the rest of my team going over the last (very dark) year and a half. It’s kept us motivated, hopeful and in some sort of employment when others have sadly lost theirs. It’s been a lifeline and I’m devastated that it’s come to this. The emerging theatre makers and important local venues that relied on us to review their shows will no longer have that platform or support. Our writers will no longer get the perks, like seeing a big West End production or an opera for the first time. Those opportunities will just not exist for them or other young people anymore. I’m devastated at the thought of what could have been, because if we’d had the financial help, it was going to be epic. We weren’t just going to say we’d represent marginalised people… we were actually going to do it.
To those of you who have supported us when we’ve reached out – you know who you are – thank you for seeing the value in what we’ve been doing. Thank you for making it feel like it was worth our time. To all of the theatre and PR companies we’ve worked with for 12 years, thank you for being a part of our journey. AYT also got some much needed financial support from two local councils last year – I don’t know what we’d have done without that.
I hope this isn’t the end because I still want AYT to come back. We’ve so much more to do, so much change to help make and so many more people to represent. I don’t want young working-class people to go unheard or for independent journalism to constantly be walking on a tightrope. We’re all part of the same ecology and we all have the same fight on our hands.
It’s not too late to help AYT return. We have no choice but to close our doors for the time being, however (and I want to be very clear here), this isn’t just a short pause – it’s make or break. If we have any chance of returning, we need actual support, not just the sorry messages. We would like to hear from you, if you’re keen to help us make a plan to return, and be part of a potential future for AYT. We don’t want this to be another moment like the Bunker Theatre. We hear the same voices over and over speak about how sad it is to lose spaces that help marginalised people, but when the time comes to prevent them from disappearing forever, no one steps up to match their well-meant words. If we are not careful, the theatre industry really will soon be one solely for the privileged.
In reality, this could be the end of a publication that has helped platform and champion many creatives for 12 years. Our Paypal will remain open but ultimately, it’s going to take a lot of support across the spectrum of the industry to save us. If you genuinely think you can help at this time, I would love to hear from you. As of 15th September, we will be gone but my email will still be alive and kicking. Check out the Meet the Team page to find it.
Take care and we wish you all the very best. X