Curtain down on 2010

As we brave our way through this winter of discontent, it seems an appropriate time to look back at the past twelve months and try to assess whether 2010 was a good year for the young theatre lovers.

Rather than dwell on the negatives, perhaps it’s best to just get them out of the way right at the start. As purse strings were tightened all around the country, young people were further squeezed out of the arts and made to feel distinctly like a non-priority when it came to funding decisions and access schemes. Many of the earliest casualties of the coalition’s budget cuts were schemes introduced in 2009 that, although arguably may not have been the best implemented policies, directly targeted and benefitted young people. You know the damage by now: A Night Less Ordinary, Arts Council England’s free ticket scheme for under 26 year olds, is to be curtailed ahead of time; Find Your Talent, a scheme which gave schoolchildren regular involvement in performing arts, is to be cut; as is the Future Jobs Fund, which provided financial assistance to help arts (and other) organisations hire young people who were out of work for over six months. Theatres big and small are facing funding cuts, although we’re yet to see exactly what impact this will have on the larger organisations’ individual ticketing deals for young people. Yet when you consider that many local arts organisations and youth programs are also vulnerable to the demands on local authorities to make savings, the outlook looks bleak, not just for young people who love theatre, but for those who may not have discovered theatre yet, and who will now find it even harder to access it and be inspired.

On the plus side, necessity is the mother of invention, and rather than saying ‘good riddance’ to young audiences, theatres are increasingly finding innovative ways to attract and retain young theatre lovers. My purse may be bursting from all the individual membership cards for schemes I’ve joined, but there are still great deals to be had if you’re willing to whore your youth for a free ticket. This year has also seen more and more ways for young people to be actively involved in what goes on in theatres across the country. From Battersea Arts Centre‘s If I Ruled the World, a festival where young people devised, performed and debated, via Hoxton Select, which is gearing up for another run of works chosen by a panel of young people, to the growth of York Theatre Royal’s Takeover Festival, 2010 has been a year when young people have had a real say in what goes on stage. As we have previously discussed on A Younger Theatre, this was also a year in which children’s theatre played with the big boys, with established practitioners producing shows aimed at a younger demographic which actually appeal across the ages. 2011 will also be the year that War Horse becomes a global phenomenon thanks to a Broadway transfer and Spielberg film – let us not forget the play’s humble beginnings in the NT Studio.

It has also been a good year for a few notable young theatre practitioners. Nineteen year old Anya Reiss became the youngest ever playwright to be staged in London when her debut, Spur of the Moment, was staged at the Royal Court. Critics could barely contain their excitement that the play had been written by a 17 year old, but the fact she won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright is a testament to the maturity of the writing. The same awards, which championed youth alongside experience, also saw actor Daniel Kaluuya celebrated for his performance in the Royal Court’s Sucker Punch. It has been inspiring to see young writers and performers making a splash, although the achievements of those significantly younger than yourself doesn’t half put your own life in sharp perspective…

When we asked you for your favourite plays and musicals of the past year, we received an impressive variety of shows from around the country, proving (as if proof were needed!) that younger audiences are engaging in a significant range of theatre and that the appetite is there to be built on. There were of course some traditional suggestions – Shakespeare, Les Mis, and the hugely popular Jerusalem will continue to feature on ‘Best of’ lists until the end of time – yet there was one word that kept recurring throughout your explanations for pieces you enjoyed the most – immersive. Whether it was @EveNicol‘s suggestion of Theatre Delicatessen‘s Mercury Fur in London, @HollyCParkerx‘s favourite Sound&Fury‘s Kursk at the Warwick Arts Centre, or any of the plays programmed in Belt Up‘s House Above at the Edinburgh Fringe, plays that threw the audience into the heart of the drama afforded a theatrical experience that has remained in audiences’ minds many months later. It has certainly been a good year for new projects that challenge the audience to participate in the making of the theatre. You Me Bum Bum Train was the fastest selling show ever produced by the Barbican and BAC’s One-on-One Festival was the first of its kind. Both insisted you come and play, giving you very little choice in the matter, and purists would probably run a mile. However, it seems that there is a growing demand for interactive and site-specific theatre, especially amongst younger audiences, and it will be interesting to see how this movement develops.

As the curtain comes down on 2010 it seems, on balance, to have been a good year for the young theatregoer – on a personal note, I have seen more theatre in 2010 than in any previous year, and much of it has been utterly inspiring. It’s difficult to tell what the year ahead will mean for young audiences; however, writing for this website provides me with constant reassurance that young people are passionate about theatre. Recent successes in engaging younger audiences will hopefully provide a firm foundation for the future.

Here are a few more of your theatrical highlights from the past year, share your own and please feel free to add your own reasons why you think 2010 has been a good/bad year for the young theatregoer…

@theatreofdamned: Jerusalem! What a boring choice, but so good I’m thinking about a New York trip just to see it again.

@PeterjHolland: Into the Woods at The Open Air Theatre was definitely my highlight this year. The cast were great and it was IN THE WOODS!

@KellyTeruko: Best play was Metamorphosis by Belt Up Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe. Powerful, modern take on old material, totally fresh and thought-provoking. Best musical – obviously HAIR! Brilliant music, emotional performances and a once in a lifetime experience.

@CatherineLove21: Hair, for the sheer enthusiasm of that amazing Broadway cast – I don’t know where they got their energy!

@MsCEdge: Design for Living at the Old Vic – I wish I was involved in it! I thought it was sexy without being in your face and fabulously good looking.

@kelly_lou_smith: Ghost Stories! A very well thought out piece of theatre. Appears very formulaic at first but is very subversive by the end. Not necessarily as scary as was made out but they definitely succeed in manipulating and heightening audience expectation and anticipation with every aspect of the production, whether this be through the superb marketing campaign, the transformation of the interior design of the theatre or the pre-show light flickering and eerie sound design that fails to leave your head long after leaving the building. Overall, an almost perfect theatre event!

@tiffanykate09: Birdsong at the Comedy Theatre. Beautifully played, wonderful story, innovative design.

@Sami_luu: Reasons To be Cheerful at Theatre Royal Stratford East cos inclusivity, wonderful storytelling and energy. Access for all…