New Wolsey’s Young Company celebrate 10th anniversary with revival of Woyzeck
- Credit: Richard Davenport
The New Wolsey Theatre’s Young Company is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to associate director Rob Salmon about the opportunities theatre can offer to youngsters
One of the jewels in the New Wolsey’s crown is their critically acclaimed Young Company and their wide-ranging youth provision which has grown into four different theatre troupes over the years, covering different age ranges and abilities.
It is here where the New Wolsey’s commitment to community engagement goes into high gear offering accessible, practical opportunities for people from all walks of life to work and play together, learn new skills and have fun with their imagination.
For those wanting to pursue a career in the theatre it can offer a valuable insight into what is required while for others it may just be a gateway into a life-long hobby or an opportunity to do something creative.
This year the New Wolsey’s Young Company is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a production of Woyzeck, directed by the New Wolsey’s associate director Rob Salmon.
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Under Rob’s guidance the changing company has, over the years, gone from performing from the Wolsey Studio all the way to the Edinburgh Festival and back.
Speaking to Rob, he is clearly very proud of what the Young Company, aged between 16-22, have been able to achieve. Over the years they have tackled such challenging and ambitious plays as Yellow Moon, The Dumb Waiter, Our Town, Spring Awakening, Passion, Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Elephant Man, How To Disappear and Never Be Found, The Crucible, The Pillowman and Sweeney Todd.
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How would you describe the role of the Young Company? Is it just a training ground for would be young professionals or is there more to it than that?
“We have a dual provision and have done since we started 10 years ago. We have youth theatre which is under 16 and the Young Company which is over 16. The division is: Under 16 is about personal and creative development. We focus on the young people and the journey they go on is of the utmost importance.
“Then, in the Young Company, that rationale flips. It is then all about servicing the needs of the audience and understanding what the industry wants of you as a theatre maker. We are not presuming to describe what we do as actor-training, although there is a level of intensity about what we do that approximates what you may expect to experience in an outside acting course.
What are the benefits of being part of the New Wolsey Youth programme?
“A lot of young people explore their relationship with acting in essence to explore themselves. In the Young Company we challenge the young people to understand the needs of an audience and to challenge themselves and come to realise whether this is something they want to do as a career.
“Having made a lot of work with young people, both here and elsewhere, when you get it right, I think that young people are able to say something about that story, that experience, those characters that adult actors find more difficult to connect with. There’s an age difference and a shift in perspective that brings a freshness and a hope that you rarely see elsewhere.”
Are rehearsal times a problem with the school day becoming increasingly full?
“Rehearsals aren’t problem because I have always held to the notion that we don’t ask more of young people than we need to, because we know that there lives away from here are so busy. We won’t rehearse a show that doesn’t sit within a term. We won’t rehearse anything that can’t go before an audience within a 12-14 week period. We have one Sunday rehearsal a week and a tech and that adds up to a two week rehearsal period. When I started working with young people, getting on for 20 years ago now, you saw the pressure go on at exam time and the mocks, now it’s all the time. Their lives are so busy and we want to add something positive to their world without adding necessarily to the pressure.
This year you are returning to Woyzeck, a production you have tackled before, what was your thinking on that?
“We are returning to Woyzeck, eight years on from our original production, because it’s such a great play and there’s more we can get out of it. A different cast will have a different take. Woyzeck is considered the first modern play because it’s the first play to position a working class character at the centre of the narrative. It’s based on a tragic true story, a former soldier who murdered his wife and child. There’s a live band on stage, performed by the young people, they do everything. In our story we see that Woyzeck is trapped outside a world that he couldn’t possibly function in. He is mistreated by everybody and he doesn’t have the strength or the capacity to fight back. This is largely because of his poverty. It’s challenging stuff. We want to say to people come along to the theatre, have a good time and sometimes, you do have a good time by being challenged. It gives you something to talk about afterwards and you can lose yourself in some terrific performances that take you into someone else’s life.”
Woyzeck, by Georg Buchner, adapted by Daniel Kramer, is at the New Wolsey Studio from tonight until March 31