Youth theatre needs training network, insists ACE report

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A national network is needed to provide training, professional development and mentoring support for practitioners working in youth theatre, according to a new report on the state of the sector.

Just 6% of people working in young people’s participatory theatre are employed on a full-time basis and more than 50% are either working voluntarily, part time or are young people themselves, with limited access to relevant training, according to research for Arts Council England.

Paving The Way recommends establishing a national code of practice covering issues such as child protection, the need for Criminal Records Bureau checks and the importance of inclusive policies towards disabled and hard to reach youngsters.

The research, the first of its kind to map provision across the country, forms part of a three-year Young People’s Participatory Theatre project being undertaken by ACE with £1.5 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

YPPT project co-ordinator Sarah Lovell told The Stage: “Generally speaking there’s a good range of provision but it’s fragmented and isolated and there are a lot of organisations and workers who aren’t able to take advantage of training opportunities, either because they can’t get to the courses or they can’t get cover at work.

“In the north west there are several well-established networks that meet regularly, such as the Greater Manchester Youth Theatre Network but there’s a real need for funding on the ground to keep these kind of forums going to enable young people and practitioners to come together.”

As part of the YPPT initiative, a series of pilot youth theatre projects will be set up around the country, designed with input from 65 young people who have been chosen to sit on national and regional “youth councils”.

The funding body is particularly interested in supporting projects that target black and minority ethnic, disabled and at risk young people or that forge links between youth arts and mainstream theatre organisations.

Regional theatres will also be asked to take part in an Open Door Day, offering young people the chance to meet practitioners and find out about careers in the industry, while an online resource will be set up with information about opportunities in the sector and an international conference on the subject will take place in 2008.

Madani Younis, director of the Asian Theatre School in Bradford and a member of the YPPT project steering group, said he hoped the initiative would help raise the status of youth and participatory theatre among mainstream companies.

“It’s so vital that we as a sector really recognise the potential of this project. Young people’s theatre is often seen as a distant cousin that arrives late and unexpectedly for Christmas dinner and needs now to be valued and acknowledged,” he said.