30th March 2011 – even for those who benefitted from Arts Council England’s (ACE) National Portfolio announcements – will always be remembered as a bleak day for the arts. One of the 206 previous Regularly Funded Organisations that lost all funding was the National Association of Youth Theatres (NAYT). Like many of those 206, it faces closure if alternative funding is not quickly secured.
The NAYT was set up in 1982 to provide free advice, support and training to young people and adults involved in youth theatre activity. It also aims to provide a national voice for youth theatre in England – raising its profile and encouraging participation. Its members range from small voluntary groups in rural areas where little else is provided for young people, to The National Youth Theatre which showcases young, rising talent to wide audiences. Currently, it works with more than 1,300 youth theatres, supporting participation in theatre for approximately 65,000 young people.
Jill Adamson, NAYT’s Chief Executive said that it was “totally soul destroying to see our organisation suffer and struggle for survival when it has played a vital role in supporting both grass roots and high profile organisations for almost 30 years”. She added that although NAYT understand that ACE had some very challenging decisions to make, they feel that no other organisation currently exists to provide the same kind of service.
The £140,000 a year ACE loss, which made up 50% of its income, came as a serious blow just as NAYT attempted to recover from a withdrawal of funding from the Department for Education – a source that had provided financial support for 11 years.
Adamson insists that with a small team of seven operating in Darlington, the investment NAYT needs is extremely modest and that it offers “excellent value for money. I can only assume that the perception is that we don’t play a part in influencing the work that our youth theatres are producing. We provide crucial advice, support and training to both young people and those who work with them. Enquiries can range from how to set up a new youth theatre to guidance on young people kissing and smoking on stage.” Other activities include commissioning research, setting quality standards and creating networks.
The positive impact created by youth theatres is widely recognised in the UK. David Osmond is a successful professional actor – credits include The National Theatre’s touring production of The History Boys and The Good Soul of Szechuan at The Young Vic. He attended the volunteer-run Congress Youth Theatre (CYT) in Cwmbran, South Wales for eight years and describes the effect it had on him as “colossal”. He believes it was the first major step in his career: “It transformed my vague interest in performing into a bug that became my vocation and never went away”.
Joshua Fisher, who also attended CYT, never wanted to pursue a career in the arts, but feels the youth theatre was invaluable for the life skills he acquired: “I was a very shy ten-year-old with severe confidence issues. During an eight year stint at CYT, I developed the ability to drive projects, communicate clearly, organise, work within a team and, when required, lead a team”.
Both David and Joshua trace the fondness and appreciation they have for youth theatre back to a dedicated and passionate small team of volunteers.
Adamson fears the impact of the closure of the NAYT for current and future youth theatres, which she believes would result in reduced participation and quality, and the elimination of the national voice and 30 years of knowledge and expertise.
Jo Wright is Head of Creative Learning at South Hill Park Arts Centre. Although she doesn’t believe that the number of youth theatres functioning in England would necessarily reduce in significant numbers, she does believe that the closure of the NAYT would represent a gaping hole in the sector: “South Hill Park Youth Theatre is a recent member of NAYT – already we have benefitted through their peer sharing policy and wide knowledge of the sector. We were hoping to take advantage of the excellent training offered by the NAYT for our tutors and assistants, as well as taking part in wider festivals. Now, with the funding cut, we don’t know what will happen.” Wright adds that if youth theatres are forced to work in isolation, “the richness or creativity young people and practitioners produce in partnership will be sincerely damaged”.
The only way forward, according to Adamson, is for politicians to recognise that organisations like NAYT need financial backing from the government. “We are not a business and cannot operate a business model because our sector have no buying power.”
In order to demonstrate the value of the organisation, NAYT have created an online petition. Young NAYT volunteers are currently discussing how best to use the petition – it seems likely that it will be presented to government ministers alongside a protest event. Adamson will also no doubt take it to the meeting she has with Darren Henley as part of the consultation process for the cultural education review.
For further information about how you can help or show your support please visit the NAYT website.