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 www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. The festival runs for one week from Monday 14 October 2013.

Image credit: Titus Andronicus by Mihaela Bodlovic