First Steps at Small Worlds

For the last year we’ve been developing ideas for a youth theatre: a youth theatre for young people who don’t yet know they love theatre.

I grew up in youth theatres; I was a member of at least three at any given moment throughout my childhood. School was were I pretended to be someone else, kept my head down (not easy when you are a 6’ 12 year old) and tried to slip by unnoticed. Youth theatre, with all its pretending to be other people, was were I could be myself. Even if I hadn’t chosen to follow theatre as a career, the confidence, emotional sensitivity and ability to work with others, which I learnt in youth theatre would have had a lasting impact on my life.

When I was 18 I helped run a youth theatre with my Drama teacher mum in a run-down inner city school. There, I watched young people find their confidence and joy, young people who couldn’t afford the big local youth theatre, who’s parents wouldn’t drive them across town for a session, who had only been to the theatre on school trips. I saw the work having an impact; the participants became more focused, better able to work together, more confident to express themselves to the group, but mainly, they became happier.

I know of a big regional theatre that launched it’s first youth theatre and within a few days the groups and waiting lists were filled with the off-spring of culturally-connected white middle class parents. In itself that’s not a bad thing; there are a lot of young people who financially, culturally and parentally are lucky enough to have been supported to engage with theatre, discovered that they love it, and deserve the opportunity to develop that passion further, especially in a time when drama is being dropped from main-stream education. But the majority of young people in this country don’t have the opportunity to find, let alone develop that passion. So we are building a youth theatre for young people who don’t yet know they love theatre, were we make every possible effort to remove financial, cultural, and parental barriers to young people being able to tell their stories on stage.

As part of our research we have been running one-off workshops in different venues. Recently, Shakera and I took ourselves to Small Worlds, http://www.smallworldkeighley.org/, a centre in Keighley for young people many of whom aren’t in full-time education. These are young people who have been excluded, or have excluded themselves; finding the daily effort to be invisible in a hostile environment more than they can bear.

When we arrive six of them are sitting around a table, working on tie-dye bags. We chat. A young man shows me (with justified pride) YouTube videos of his band performing. We gently make the offer that we can show them some theatre games. ‘What games?’ Here’s our first challenge; how do you describe something meant to be experienced? The answer for now is ‘gently.’ Finally two of them come into the hall to give it a try. Shakera takes the lead and we’re off. An hour or so later and each of us has a story to tell, based on the strange objects we’ve found around the room. There’s a mutant hand-eye creature who looks for, and finds a friend, a rock with a petre-glass pimple, a racist sheep tatooed with peace slogans by his peers while he was sleeping, and a heart-felt love song to an ex-boyfriend. ‘Oh, I get it now. Yeah, this was fun.’


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