Image credit: Anthony Robling

At the moment I’m directing Uncle Vanya, our first production for the Quarry stage in our Spring season, it includes one of graduate actors, David Leopold, as the workman Yefim.

The graduate actor scheme is currently in its first year, kindly supported by the Liz and Terry Brammall foundation. Artistic Director James Brining and I selected three actors after over 100 auditions with graduating actors from all the UK’s accredited drama schools. They are here with us for 6-8 months performing in our in-house production as well as spending time around the building. The graduate scheme is just one part of a bigger drive by West Yorkshire Playhouse to expand our artist development strand. We want to create as many opportunities for lots of different artists from all disciplines and backgrounds to develop and work here, so that the theatre continues to be a major hub for Yorkshire based directors, writers, actors, designers and theatre makers.

Since the scheme started in September, the experiences of our actors have been wide and varied. For instance, David has been in Artistic Director James Brining’s production of The Crucible, Amy Rosenthal’s Polar Bears, specially written for our Play, Pie, Pint series, involved in workshops, research and development and has even delighted our youngest audience members weekly on a Saturday morning at our Story Den. After Uncle Vanya he will perform in Little Sure Shot, a brilliant show for young people about the early years of gun-slinging Annie Oakley, which will play in the Courtyard, visit areas of the city which are less engaged with the arts and tour nationally.

For me as a director, the thrill of having our graduate actors in productions like Uncle Vanya is that we can work closely, even before rehearsals start, to maximise the impact of even a small role on the atmosphere of a production. Between acting in Playhouse shows, graduate actors are given the opportunity to work in the our planning office, as well as doing secondments with stage management and arts development (our outreach team) to gain an insight into the day-to-day running of the building. It used to be that actors would work in rep, as well as having other company roles, and this process has contributed to the development of some of our greatest actors. The scheme we’ve developed here is about kickstarting someone’s career, offering them a wide-ranging experience, allowing them to work with a range of directors and creative teams to offer a unique and rich perspective on a really competitive career choice. I’d urge graduates to seek out opportunities like our Graduate Actor Scheme, to give themselves an opportunity to see the range of what a regional has to offer and discover the work that goes on away from the stage.

Uncle Vanya runs 28 February to 21 March at the West Yorkshire Playhouse