As the National Youth Theatre’s 60th anniversary West End season approaches its close, the company’s Chief Executive and Artistic Director reflects on the impact the organisation has on the lives of its young members – and their impact on the fabric of the UK.
A nation strives and struggles to find a new identity and place in the world. Hundreds of young people unite to celebrate 60 years of the world’s first youth theatre and our members suffer racial hatred on our streets in 2016. There is still work to be done.
But the solution is clear: a vital force in youth arts opportunity, the National Youth Theatre at 60 has nurtured and supported thousands of young talented voices encouraging empathy, cohesion and communication in all its participants. These three important qualities were all too lacking in our supposed role models as they took to the political stage earlier this year. It’s a living travesty that is in danger of alienating a generation and reversing the valuable work all arts communities stand by.
Against all odds with too little government funding and an increasingly expensive education system, the NYT is strong and proud of its identity in celebrating the misfit and banning the bland. Whilst offering many their first job in our growing creative economy, we also believe in a second chance for those less fortunate in their first.
We have always been a company of ‘firsts’ and over the past decade this has continued to be ground-breaking. We’ve performed at Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games Ceremonies, from the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing to the East Ends of London and Glasgow. We’ve tackled topical subjects, from homophobia and knife crime to the Arab Spring and London Riots. And we’ve established annual free opportunities for the best of young British talent, regardless of their background, to do what they do best on leading stages in London and beyond. The 2016 NYT REP Company are doing just that in the West End premiere of Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English, adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan, a Teddy Boy take on Romeo and Juliet and Dennis Kelly’s DNA at The Ambassadors Theatre, which runs until November 25.
Speaking of leading stages, it’s almost impossible to go to the theatre or cinema or turn on the TV without encountering an actor who was part of the company. Former NYT members also include leaders in politics, business, law, the media and medicine. Whether it’s Krishnan Guru- Murthy reading the Channel 4 News, Chris Bryant MP speaking in the House of Commons or Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee reviewing the papers, NYT alumni are ‘always on stage’.
Despite the extraordinary success of former members, the National Youth Theatre is not and has never set out to be an X Factor style ‘star-making factory.’ Instead, its guiding principles are developing young people socially and creatively, teaching them to work as a team through an ensemble approach to theatre and creating positive social change. This is evident not only at home but also in pioneering cultural exchanges abroad. Most importantly, the charity gives young people the opportunity to learn as much about themselves and how to relate to others, as they do about acting and technical theatre.
So I am immensely proud to be championing this life-changing charity in its 60th year, which has encouraged those on the fringes of society to speak up and play their part to theatrical applause. I’m also delighted to welcome another group of brilliantly diverse young Britons from every corner of the United Kingdom joining our company this year or attending a masterclass course around the UK.
We should, and must, be proud of our young, and be equally proud of their futures. But surely the growing question for us all now is will they still be proud of us? Investing in our company and our shared values is a good way to start.
The National Youth Theatre Rep Company’s 60th anniversary West End season runs until November 25 at the Ambassador’s Theatre.
Image by Helen Murray