For the past five years, a significant part of my role (as Special Projects Producer at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester) has centred around the delivery of Truth about Youth – a programme of activity funded by The Co-operative Foundation which is designed to challenge and change negative perceptions of young people. Truth about Youth comes to an end in November, and to celebrate we will be delivering TaY Talks – a creative speechmaking programme which will culminate in an evening of talks, rants and creative provocations at the Royal Exchange Theatre in November.
One of the central aims of TaY Talks is to shine a spotlight on the issues that are important to young people in 2015. As producer, this is a tall order. How do you ensure that the individuals and the views represented at the final event reflect the breadth and diversity of Manchester’s young people (many of whom have probably never set foot in the Royal Exchange before)!?
Right from the start of the planning process we knew that it was important to make sure there were a variety of access points for young people to engage with TaY Talks – after all, standing up and speaking in front of an audience (no matter how passionate you are) can be very daunting! I therefore developed two strands of TaY Talks activity – an open callout for talks from young people across the UK, and a series of mini projects designed to identify and encourage young people who might need a bit more support to create their own pieces.
To deliver the mini projects we worked with a range of youth community organisations – ranging from Moat House PRU (educational provision for pregnant and teenage mothers) and LGBT Youth North West through to Depaul UK (a support organisation working with young people to tackle homelessness) and Trafford Youth Offending Service. Working in partnership with these organisations enabled us to engage young people who might not necessarily think that theatre is for them, and who would have been unlikely to attend workshop sessions independently.
At the start of each project, theatre practitioners delivered a range of taster sessions designed to get the group thinking about the issues which they were passionate about – from the personal to the political. Once the young people had identified their chosen topic and developed ideas for their talk, attention turned to how this could best be presented at the TaY Talks event. Some participants elected to present their talk live, and so we paired them up with a theatre director to think about delivery styles and techniques. Others decided that they would rather present their ideas in a more visual format and so worked with a filmmaker to create short films and animations. We had young people who chose to use music to get their message across, and others who opted for poetry and spoken word. In each case, it was about finding a creative form of expression which the young person felt comfortable with and which best served their talk.
It’s been fascinating to get a sense of the issues which are important to young people in 2015 and each new project has thrown up surprises and revelations along the way. By engaging with young people from across the community, the finished talks are wide-ranging, interesting, powerful and honest – and are a testament to the individuals who have created them. The inclusion of these talks, alongside those which are submitted via the open callout, will ensure that the young people whose voices are heard at the TaY Talks event are a true reflection of the city, and beyond.
TaY TALKS will take place at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester on Monday 9 November 2015.