My journey to the Almeida’s Youth Advisory Board began when I was part of the theatre’s Young Company. I’ve been involved with the Almeida since last year after joining them on their production of From the Ground Up, which ran at the Edinburgh Fringe. I then continued with the company, performing in its production of Cacophony this summer. After wonderful experiences working on both of these shows, I had become familiar with the building and felt welcome enough to continue engagement there after finishing with the Young Company. Having been involved in the performance side of things, I was interested in what happens behind the scenes, the strategic side of the building and learning more about how a theatre is run. When the opportunity to do this as a part of their Youth Advisory Board came up, I was keen to apply.
The application process was rigorous, with an initial group interview that had us pitching why we’d be right for the board, what we had to offer, and what we’d like to do if given the opportunity. The process also had us working in teams where we were given ten minutes to produce comprehensive presentations on the need for a youth board and what we believed its role would be. Although this stage was informal (no suits necessary!) the session was thorough and had us thinking from start to finish. Saying all that, it was also a lot of fun!
The second stage was an individual interview, for which we had to prepare a list of things we would personally like to get out of being part of the Board – skills we wanted to acquire, departments we were most interested in, and whether there were particular areas of work at the Almeida that we would want to learn about most.
By the end of the process, I had become more and more enthusiastic about being a part of the Board, so when the all-important phone call came to say I had been offered a place it’s safe to say I was over the moon!
So what is the Youth Advisory Board?
The Youth Advisory Board is a new initiative set up by the Participation Department at the Almeida Theatre, formed of nine 18-25-year olds, who are representative of the demographic in London, engaging with all areas of the Almeida’s work, its senior management and trustees. Unlike a normal board which usually only oversees decisions made by an organisation, the Youth Board operates differently. It’s been formed with the intended purpose of changing things at the Almeida Theatre, especially concerning its youth demographic.
Over a period of twelve months, the board meet with a set agenda. Each month, this is interrogated and explored with the aim of finding new solutions and suggestions. Any input seen as potentially useful or beneficial, is pushed up to the theatre’s senior management.
The Youth Board is very much a key component in the strategy to maintain the Almeida’s vision to look outward, reflecting the society of today, not only artistically but also holistically.
The theatre recognises the challenges of diversifying its audience – making it more representative of the local population and the Youth Board has been engaged with the function of improving this. The other big aim is to increase the number of young audience members, with the objective of sustaining the theatre for years to come.
I think this is a special time for British theatre, as well as the entertainment industry as a whole, with the push for better representation in all aspects becoming ever more prevalent, with movements such as Act for Change and ERA 50:50. The work is becoming more radical and relevant with theatres taking bigger so-called ‘risks’ in programming and genuinely starting to give the people, especially young people, what they want, i.e. theatre that speaks to them. Critically acclaimed productions like Dance Nation at the Almeida or shows at other theatres such as Nine Night, Misty or Poet in Da Corner are changing the game and giving us new and exciting perspectives. They are offering voices we may not have heard before and shaking up the status quo.
For me, there’s good reason for a theatre to have an initiative such as the Almeida’s Youth Board as it gives young people an opportunity to have a say in how they feel a theatre should be. Rather than it implementing what it thinks a young audience would want, the youth board has real people of this demographic engaging with their building and making positive changes as a result. This is so important (arguably essential), because young people are the audience of the future. Without engaging them now, a theatre bears the risk of dying an old relic alongside those of the past who once frequented it.