Renowned for staging innovative work by emerging artists, Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre will next month play host to an exciting new performance arts showcase. Set up by Youth Theatre Arts Scotland (YTAS), Chrysalis Festival will celebrate outstanding young talent from across Scotland and beyond.
Although YTAS already runs a number of festivals and events, it hopes that Chrysalis will break new ground for Scotland’s youth theatre scene, challenging perceptions of work by young people.
“Most of the work we’re involved with is performed at our National Festival of Youth Theatre or in the theatre groups’ local areas, where the audience is mainly friends, families and peers,” said CEO Kenny McGlashan. “A few years ago, we started to see some really high quality work emerging from these groups, and recognised a need for a platform that would allow it to be seen by theatre professionals and wider audiences outside the sector.”
Such a platform, says McGlashan, is well overdue. While views of youth-created art are slowly changing, with some young companies generating attention independently, traditional programming and criticism often fail to keep up with innovation by young creatives.
The festival programme consists of four plays and two panel discussions. Two of the productions – Headz and Southside Stories – were chosen via an open applications procedure. The former is a collection of sharp, gritty and humorous monologues about the secret lives of young people by Liverpool’s 20 Stories High. The latter, created by Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre Young Company, uses interviews and original music to paint a picture of the city’s diverse Govanhill community.
Submissions were plentiful, and selecting just two shows wasn’t easy, but McGlashan was pleased to see the project generate so much interest. A long selection procedure involved extensive consultation with a consortium of industry specialists, who between them watched and reported back on every play.
“We’ve been consulting for a number of years with our sector about the different qualities we’d be looking for in performances,” said McGlashan. “We also fed back to every group, and there’s been an ongoing dialogue with those that weren’t chosen about how they might work towards being selected in future years, so there’s a longer-term process of development for the applicants.”
Meanwhile, two highly acclaimed young companies were invited to revive challenging productions which YTAS believes will inspire discussion and debate. One of these is Manchester’s Contact Young Company, who will perform Under the Covers, a taboo-breaking examination of young people’s attitudes to sex, jointly inspired by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles and the Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology exhibition. It’s joined by i’d rather be humble than hero, a fragmented, three-part observation of obsessions with fame, status and desirability and their effects on young people’s identities by Glasgow’s Junction 25.
“We decided it was important to choose a couple of groups that would really help launch the festival and engage new audiences,” he said. “Chrysalis is not just about showcasing what’s already happened: it’s also about starting a critical dialogue about what all the work is, where it’s going and how it can develop.”
To this end, one of the discussion panels, hosted by Scottish theatre critics, will address critical perceptions of youth theatre. The other will be hosted by London’s Roundhouse, which is supporting Chrysalis through its Call to Create season, and will explore international contexts and connections.
“One of the things we wanted to do was to set the work we showcase in the wider context of what’s happening across the UK and overseas, because it makes the dialogue about the work much richer,” McGlashan explained. “We’ve had a lot of interest from our European partners, partly off the back of a big international youth theatre festival run by the National Theatre of Scotland as part of the Commonwealth Games’ cultural programme.”
With Creative Scotland funding secured and a three-year partnership in place with Traverse Theatre, McGlashan is excited about the festival’s future.
“The first year will be about establishing a firm place on the festival map, both within the Scottish cultural sector and also among young artists, encouraging them to think about how their work can be part of the platform, or how it might inspire them,” he said. “Over the next few years, we hope a lot of professionals will come and see the work, and that new things will start to happen.”
“It’s a really exciting step for us,” he added. “I think it will have an ongoing impact on young people’s ambitions, performances and creativity, as well as on the recognition of the quality work that’s done in the sector.”