Catherine Makin never went to a youth theatre when she was growing up. As curator of Chrysalis, a three-day festival of work by young theatre companies that opens today at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, she is more than making up for that now. Makin has been projects co-ordinator of Youth Theatre Arts Scotland since 2017, and is overseeing the fourth edition of Chrysalis, which follows the differently styled summer’s National Festival of Youth Theatre. Where NFYT is a mass gathering of youth theatre clans, Chrysalis is a more public-facing platform of ambitious new work that plays with form and ideas in a professional theatre environment.
“Chrysalis is a festival of new work that’s been made over the last two years by young companies between the ages of about 14 to 25,” Makin explains. “It’s a bit different in form and content than what people might expect youth theatre to be. It’s maybe a bit more ambitious, and has to be of a really high quality, and to have stuff coming in by companies from within Scotland as well as further afield is really important.”
This year’s Chrysalis sees four companies take part. From Berlin, Germany, Junges Ensemble Marabu present There is A Globe Stuck in My Throat, which looks at the effect of displaced refugees in an increasingly fractured world. Shaking The Habitual sees Glasgow’s Platform Young Company questioning the world’s ongoing state of political turmoil.
In NOISE, Camden Youth Theatre explore an internal sound world that offers respite from the barrage of noise beyond it. Under the banner of Activising For Change, 147HZ Can’t Pass sees young theatre maker Ink Asher Hemp presents a personal celebration of queer trans non-binary experience developed as part of Scottish Youth Theatre’s Making Space programme for young artists to develop their own work.
Beyond the full performances, Emergence will see three young companies present a series of works in progress. On top of this, a new strand called Creative Buddies will see four youth groups paired with professional organisations. Vanishing Point, Stellar Quines, Magnetic North and Puppet Animation Scotland will work with the groups to help develop their work beyond the festival.
“It’s been really exciting watching how Chrysalis has developed,” says Makin, who was working at the festival’s host venue, the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, when it began four years ago. “There’s so much going on just now, and hopefully one of the things that will come out of Chrysalis is that people will realise that it’s not a niche thing, but is something that audiences of all ages can engage with. We want to build on that, and to tour work internationally as well.”
Chrysalis arrives towards the end of the Scottish Government backed Year of Young People, which scored a something of an own goal at the start of the year when arts funding quango Creative Scotland declined to give any young people’s theatre company regularly funded status. While some of these decisions were hastily reversed, given the context they originally came from, it wasn’t a good look.
Whatever the Year of Young People may or may not have achieved, young people’s theatre at every level has been making waves a home and abroad long before any such branding occurred. This is borne out by the level of activity currently ongoing. Chrysalis follows last week’s twentieth anniversary of the Lyceum Youth Theatre, the group set up at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, and which is now one of the largest youth theatre groups in the country.
To celebrate, having already made their annual presentation of new work at the Traverse, LYT presented #TheViewFrom2038, five new plays which imagined what life might be like in various ways twenty years from now. These were written by poet and performer Jenny Lindsay, former LYT member Isla Cowan, founder of the Dunbar-based Coastworld festival Hannah Lavery, Theatre503 International Playwriting Award winner Andrew Thompson and up and coming playwright Rosanna Hall.
“It was a really great night,” says Lyceum Youth Theatre director Rachael Esdale, who oversaw 150 participants take part in the five plays. “Seeing everyone on the Lyceum stage with all the resources the theatre gave the young people a real sense of ownership. The whole notion that children should be seen and not heard just isn’t valid anymore, and young people more than ever are wanting to express how they feel about what’s going on in the world, and theatre is a really good way of doing that.”
Founding director of LYT was Steve Small, who, after leaving to set up a similar operation at Dundee Rep, returned to Edinburgh to co-found Strange Town Theatre with fellow director Ruth Hollyman. Based at Out of the Blue Drill Hall, the company began with one workshop. Today, while youth theatre is one strand of Strange Town’s work, as the company celebrates its tenth year of operation, it has become an umbrella operation for a young theatre company that performs semi-professionally, and also operates a young actors’ agency as well as continuing to run workshops across assorted age ranges in schools and elsewhere.
“Strange Town is independent from the big theatre buildings,” says Small, “but there is a lot of crossover. Four or five Strange Town members are part of LYT, and that’s because they’re really keen, and everyone is really supportive of each other.”
Strange Town recently toured a production of David Greig’s play Dr Korczak’s Example. Since then, in co-production with Fast Forward, an organisation set up to promote healthy lifestyles for young people, and the No Lives Better Lives initiative, the company has produced Jennifer Adam’s lay, Balisong, which was nominated for a Herald Society Award. The culmination of Strange Town’s tenth anniversary celebrations will see Balisong performed alongside Sam Siggs’ play, Love Bites.
“Strange Town is in a stronger position than we’ve ever been,’ says Small. “The great thing about youth theatre is that if the kids don’t like something then they won’t come, but in the times we’re living in, there seems to be something about live theatre that allows young people to communicate and express things in ways they don’t seem to happen elsewhere.”
This is something Makin recognises is similarly at the heart of Chrysalis.
“For a lot of young people,” she says, “youth theatre is a community for them to come to, and it’s a chance for them to explore things that concern them both personally and politically. For someone like me who was never part of a youth theatre, to hear young people talking about these things is amazing.”
Chrysalis runs at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh from tonight until Saturday. Full details and tickets from www.traverse.co.uk. Lyceum Youth Theatre’s current activities can be found at www.lyceum.org.uk. Strange Town Theatre present Balisong and Love Bites at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, December 5. www.strangetown.org.uk
The Herald, November 15th 2018