Bernardine Evaristo recently wrote about how she’d never have won the Booker prize had she not discovered youth theatre when she was 12, nurturing what would become a lifelong career in the arts.
Tuesdays at The Garage is all about theatre, with classes for people in Year 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-11, 16+ and our theatre performance company for those in Year 10-13. Daniel Burgess – who leads them alongside Asa Cannell – explains why it’s his favourite day of the week.
You describe Tuesdays as a revolving door of theatrical fun?
It’s a crazy day but I like working with young people of all ages. Each group I can learn from because of what they bring, their experiences… the way they attack a script or devising project with their energy is refreshing to see and work alongside. The idea of the theatre programme is young people can join at any age from the moment they start school and there is a progression route. When they reach Year 10 they should feel they have the skills to audition for the company. The classes are really fun and vibrant environments that allow young people to flourish.
Why do people come along to the classes or audition for the company?
Some do it purely for fun, they recognise it’s good to have an evening off a week from study to play and have another commitment that just takes them out from the stress of school. Then there are people who want a career in the arts and it’s another opportunity to hone their craft. Everyone’s catered for, just because you don’t want to be an actor or theatre-maker doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for you if you’re committed and have a natural talent.
Let’s not forget, theatre has so many life skills within it that are transferable – how to interact with and work alongside different people, how to feel comfortable speaking in a public setting which so many people – not just young people – struggle with, and how to get your voice heard, to build confidence…
My ambition with all of the work I do on Tuesdays at The Garage is two-fold – I want to instil a passion, a love for theatre-making but to also find those valuable skills they can use irrespective of what walk of life they take. In the current political environment the wonderful thing the arts can bring to young people isn’t being acknowledged. In my opinion, they are essential building blocks to develop future generations.
If you’re seven and wanting to try drama for the first time but got no experience that’s great. At the same time, it shouldn’t put people off whatever their age who have no experience and feel they’ve missed the boat. What Asa and I are brilliant at is creating bespoke experiences and adapting to suit the needs of any particular group. It’s good to remember everyone had their first class sometime and how soon those nerves subside.
The theatre company gets to work with the National Theatre in London?
On the Connections project. The National Theatre commissions a number of up-and-coming contemporary playwrights to write a show for young people on subjects that matter to young people. There are 10 scripts and the company votes for their favourite to work on. I think that’s really important because I’m not who these plays are being written for. This year there are plays on the Windrush scandal, how we deal with racism, gender, what’s it like to grow up; a lot of things young people will encounter in their everyday life.
We do some skill-based sessions that equip the company on how to approach the text. Then we start working on the play itself before performing it for friends and family at The Garage. At that stage somebody from The National Theatre comes and looks at how to take the show to the next level. A few weeks later we have the Connections Festival run by The Garage and Norwich Playhouse, getting a second opportunity to perform it this time at the Playhouse. The company will perform at multiple venues, which is a great experience because not every theatre is the same – they will have different requirements that need different skills.
Then it’s on to the devised project?
The company picks the subject. We try to make that completely young person led. This year we had five amazing young ladies create a piece about what it’s like to be a woman in 2019, which was really fascinating to explore. We need the young people to become a company and let them experience creating their own work and that starts with ideas. We spend the first session of the devising term going “what interests you, where do you think there are stories that need to be told”. For me or Asa to go in with an idea takes away that important first step of starting with nothing and building from the ground up. We’ll perform this at The Garage and hopefully take the show forward to other venues.
The shows are being made and nurtured with a professional team but every year they get more collaborative. The more Connections plays I do the more I realise the young people should be driving it…the project’s all them. Asa and I will use all our abilities to get the most out of them but I want to hear what the young people are thinking.
You’ve worked with Asa before?
Asa and I have a wealth of drama, acting and theatre teaching experience but this is the first time we’ve worked together on this. He and I have a long relationship of collaborating. I directed him in a professional production of The Pillowman.I directed him again in a play called Days of Significance a year or so later. He’s is a phenomenal director in his own right and has a wealth of experience working with young people, so I’m looking forward to the collaborative approach we’ll take.
I work very collaboratively, I’m not an auteur in the sense that my word is gospel. In my years as director the cast have had input in what the set looks like, the sound effects… opening that up to another brilliant theatre-maker is really exciting. I’m also a big believer in one person doesn’t have all the answers. The more spices you add, the better the meal tastes at the end.
It’s really exciting to have two professional theatre-makers running classes. Both of us have worked within the industry so young people will be getting a top-notch introduction and skill-based learning relevant to the craft of acting.