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AYounger Theatre’s Director, Sam opens up about the struggles of running a company as a working-class person and what we hope you can do to help.
A Younger Theatre has been going for 11 years. In that time, it has helped thousands of young creatives by giving them a platform – a safe space when other publications won’t give them the time of day– and it has offered invaluable experience and training for writers, sub-editors and more. As well, AYT has been a launch pad for many creatives and has spawned festivals and careers. In just over a decade its alumni have moved into every part of the theatre industry, and its writing has inspired many theatregoers.
I joined in 2013, working my arse off to contribute to its success and then in November 2019 when founder Jake Orr asked if I wanted to take it over, I said yes because I saw its potential and had seen its place in the wider industry. Then the pandemic hit. As with all other publications, our sole source of income came from advertising and as the theatres went dark, so did this and, it seemed, our future.
I’ve been in two minds about whether to write so honestly about the struggles the company have gone through. I’m so conscious of all the theatres and theatre makers that have, for the last year, needed a desperate financial injection to stay afloat. They’re the ones doing the real work.
Nobody ever talks about being working-class and running a small company and if they do, then it’s usually only when it’s a success story and the struggle to how it got there can be turned into an uplifting narrative. The feeling of shame and pride that plagues working-class people is damaging. We’re constantly told that we’re worthless, that we can’t graduate into better things, that we’re undeserving. I’ve felt immense guilt and shame at the poor state AYT finds itself in and of even thinking about asking our peers for their support.
I recently spoke to Lyn Gardner about these worries and she told me that this so-called hierarchy doesn’t exist, that everybody and every aspect of the industry is part of the wider ecology – and that includes journalism. She encouraged me to be honest about how much danger AYT is in of ceasing to exist.
Because that’s where we’re at. Over the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to get a couple of small grants from the local council which has enabled me to pay every incredible person that helps keep AYT going for short bursts of time, however, payment has always, in the grand scheme of things, been small and there have been long stretches of time this year where myself and my team haven’t earnt anything. Yes, being able to bring in something and pay my brilliant staff during this difficult time was such a gamechanger but unfortunately, there’s no longevity in these grants.
AYT has achieved so much and done so much good but a company this age and with this much respect within the industry should not be struggling as much as it is. A company this age should also be paying its staff at least the living wage. I feel guilty whenever I have done a callout because the fees are so low. I want to change that – I know I can change that but first we must survive the current situation. I’ve contemplated closing the company for good because continuing in this way isn’t fair for anyone who works as hard as we do. I’ve been told not to, that it would be such a waste. But what’s the alternative?
There have been so many influential people in the theatre industry who have shown their support in the last couple of months and I couldn’t be more appreciative, but we need considerable help. Big theatre organisations have expressed shock and sadness at our situation, but what we need is to have proper conversations about the role of platforms like AYT and theatre journalism in the wider ecology. That’s going to prove more useful.
So where do you fit into this?
For the first time, we’re asking you, our community, to give back. We recently set up a membership model, which provides a way to directly support our mission of platforming the stories of young, marginalised people who need a boost, a voice and basically to just not be overlooked anymore. Plans start from as little as £2 a month, becoming a Super Trouper, Queen of the Castle, Master of the House or Daddy Warbucks, means you’ll receive exclusive rewards like culture recommendations and informative, fun articles by my team and other industry people – direct to your mailbox. I’m grateful to the people who have joined so far – you have no idea how much your support is already helping but it’s light years away from where it needs to be to keep us from closing for good.
If you have been along for some or all the 11-year ride AYT has been on then please consider checking out this membership scheme and if you like the rewards we can offer, then we’d love to see your name appear on the new pledges list. If you’ve never heard of us but somehow are still reading this and care about ensuring not only young but working-class creatives survive going forward, then sign-up. If you can’t afford it – and I totally get that – then please share with friends and family and tell them how important the survival of companies like AYT are for the whole theatre ecology. There, I’ve said it.