The Everyman And Playhouse theatres’ innovative youth programme, YOUNG EVERYMAN PLAYHOUSE, kicked off 2018’s exciting season of shows with their eye-opening original production, The City And The Value Of Things. Entirely their own creation, the performance was directed, produced and performed by young people between the age of 14 and 25, allowing budding actors, set designers and impresarios to get their first taste of a production on the main stage. The dystopian play not only addressed how we live in the city, but how we view the people who live within it. Tackling important issues surrounding homelessness and class, the students’ performances made the audience really question how much we value the people who populate our cities and what we can do to help change attitudes.
Noticing some similarities with our own new project focused on students, our Student Society Co-Chair, Sophie Shields, sought out YEP’s Director Chris Tomlinson and YEP actors Leah Gould and Chloe Hughes as they were preparing for their final performance of The City And The Value Of Things. On the agenda was the importance of the programme giving young people the chance to get involved with such a revered artistic institution.
Would you be able to tell me a bit about the concept of the Young Everyman Playhouse?
Chris Tomlinson: YEP is a large-scale youth organisation that we expanded from the Everyman Youth Theatre drama groups. We went from two to six acting groups, and then from that we developed the directing and writing courses. It now has producer, technical and marketing courses. The whole idea of it is to try and put people at every level and strand of what the main [theatre] does and seat them within the thinking of the building.
What opportunities do the young people get out of the course?
CT: The actors attend weekly sessions and the main thing they get out of it is the practical learning of how to devise large-scale shows for the main stage, and then doing text-driven work for the Playhouse Studio. On top of that, there are masterclasses with people who are experts in their field. And then there is just being in the building â€“ belonging to the space is a cool advantage to them in terms of learning what the industry is about.
The directing course is a bit different: they undertake a two-year course that involves a series of masterclasses that culminates in a festival of their own plays at the end of the year. The production course is similar: we give them a small budget, they produce a bi-monthly evening that is completely run by them. Whether it’s poetry nights, spoken word nights, rap battles, it doesn’t matter, we give them the space to try and pull artists in. The writers will work on a script and it gets passed around the producers and directors and the actors will perform it, so all the groups work together to put on the shows. We have a young marketing group now as well, and they have the same responsibility to promote their shows as our main communication and marketing teams do. We get a good age-range of people in: the actors are between 14 and 22; the producers, technicians, writers are a little bit older due to the nature of the work, so they are between 18 and 25. It is a great programme, it makes the building feel alive. If we didn’t have it I don’t know what we’d do.
Does YEP help work with the main company in any way?
CT: Definitely. There are now 14 professional actors in the rep: 13 recruited nationally and then there is a space for a YEP actor for each production. We audition everyone in their classes. It’s a full professional role, paid every week like everyone else [in the company]. Leah recently got a part in Othello and another one of our young actors, Phil, is going to take on a part in A Clockwork Orange.
Have you had anyone gone to achieve success out of the programme?
CT: I guess it depends on what you measure as success: [if it’s] people going into the industry, yeh, loads! At the moment, we have one guy from the production course who is on the producing team for the touring production of Matilda. A few of our directors have been assistants within the rep company and are now producing their own shows. We’ve had actors go on to drama school or university and are working on becoming professional actors. A couple of years ago one of our YEP actors did work with Jeff Young and from that was picked up by an agent, and now works with The Royal Exchange. It is definitely successful – the industry experience is something they can take with them through to university or drama school.
I am working with Bido Lito! on our new Student Society, and that is very much about providing budding creative people a chance to get on the ladder. How important do you think it is to give young people these opportunities?
CT: For me it’s a no-brainer, it’s vital. Especially at the moment. Not to get too political about it, but the students are [often] priced out of [higher] education or outpriced [because] of living costs. The actors pay £4 a session on this course, but other than that everything at YEP is free. There are even bursary schemes for people who might need it. To get any form of training or industry experience for free is vital.
We’ve got great relationships with LJMU, LIPA, The City Of Liverpool College and Edge Hill, which help provide somewhere for these guys to come and be creative. It is so important, otherwise I don’t know what the future is for the next great play or theatre company in Liverpool. We’ve got a history here of creating communities and companies, and, at the moment, the support isn’t huge, which is what YEP is trying to change. It shows that we value these young people and care about what they have to say. We also get away with it because of the beautiful naivety of youth, to get on the stage and just have a go. I absolutely back that!
Leah and Chloe, do you feel like you have benefited from the programme?
Leah Gould: Yes, definitely! Even as a person, my confidence has grown so much, and just being around like-minded people is great. Everyone is the same and everyone gets on so there are no barriers.
Chloe Hughes: Getting your point of view across, how you view the world and seeing everyone else’s point of view is really helpful, especially when we are devising a piece. It’s all about how people look at life so differently, which really helps to produce the shows.
What do you hope to be able to achieve from taking part in YEP?
LG: I’ve had the opportunity to play Bianca in Othello which I am so happy about. It’s made me believe in myself more, I am so grateful to be able to get the experience. It’s all about meeting new people as well.
CH: I’m hoping to go to drama school rather than go straight to university; if not then I want to keep working in theatres, I prefer them to film.
The production, The City And The Value of Things, was billed as an episodic drama on the changing face of Liverpool’s cityscape. It all sounds a bit dystopian, doesn’t it?
CT: Yes it has definitely got an element of that to it. If you look at the shows we have produced over the last few years, they have been based on some big, weighty topics and it all comes from them [the students]. We felt like this year we wanted to focus on real life, the everyday and the values of what that is. Liverpool at the moment is going through yet another facelift in terms of luxury accommodation and student flats everywhere, which on one hand is incredible but on the other hand, who is benefiting from that?