On Wednesday I attended Half Moon Young People’s Theatre Exchange for Change conference.
The theme this year was ways in which Centres of Learning, predominantly higher education institutions, can or should work with theatre for young audiences (TYA) or young people’s theatre (YPT) and to discuss questions about the extent to which these links are already well established.
To that end we saw two interesting and enjoyable pieces of young people’s theatre performed by Rose Bruford students. The first was an extract from a two-hander called How High which the college has developed with support from the London Borough of Bexley to tour to its primary schools.
The second was an accomplished piece called Scrub a Dub (above), featuring 12 of Rose Bruford’s talented actor musicians and devised by them with inspiration from the primary schools they visited during the play’s genesis. The project has been a close collaboration between Rose Bruford and Half Moon and children from one of Half Moon’s local primary schools. Arnhem Wharf came to see it with the conference delegates. It meant we could observe their enthusiastic reactions. The play was directed by Half Moon’s Chris Elwell, assisted by Rose Bruford MA student Nicola Dereham and supported by Rose Bruford’s technical theatre students.
Discussion in sessions during the rest of the day came back repeatedly to the position and status of TYA within the wider industry. Rose Bruford takes it very seriously and now has a module in each of its performance courses. But it is still not, asserts Jeremy Harrison who is Programme Director for the BA (Hons) in Actor Musicicanship course at Rose Bruford, taught in the major conservatoires.
One of the Rose Bruford students said in discussion at the conference that she didn’t initially think work for young audiences was “proper” theatre. Now, like several others in the group, she is so smitten with it and so appreciative of the challenges it offers that she has decided that TYA will, she hopes, be her professional specialism. Other interesting sessions included Jo Scott, a PhD candidate detailing a research project she’s involved in at Central School of Speech and Drama. She and her colleagues are exploring ways in which young people respond to “place” and the role drama can play in that.
I was also interested to hear Dominic Hingorani, Senior Lecturer in Theatre at the Institute of Performing Arts Development at University of East London, talking about his production of the young adult novel Guatanamo Boy by Anna Perera which he adapted for Stratford Circus, via his company, Brolly. He raised questions about ethics of drama for young audiences and led a discussion about different approaches to them.
Martin Welton ended the day provocatively by declaring that the relationship between the higher education sector and the TYA industry can never be equal, although it can be equitable. Welton is Senior Lecture in Performance at Queen Mary University and a trustee at Half Moon.
His assertion led to an in depth discussion of the difference between university and drama school courses with a lot of rather refreshing honesty on all sides. No one, it seems, is trying to delude anyone else. University drama courses are simply not meant to be vocational. The difficulty is communicating that message to students and their parents.
I left impressed by the number of higher education/TYA collaborations which are beginning to take root. Rose Bruford, for example, has partnerships with several producing houses and Half Moon works with a number of centres of learning. It’s not enough, of course, but it’s a start.
Perhaps the encouragement of this sort of work is something that Drama UK, the newly formed umbrella accreditation body for performing arts training schools, could actively get involved with?