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Editor’s View: Theatre needs to find new ways to reach out to all young people

Roy Alexander Weise. Photo: Helen Murray Roy Alexander Weise got into a theatre career by accident. Photo: Helen Murray
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We’ve had a couple of enlightening anecdotes this month from artists revealing how they stumbled into a career in theatre by accident.

The first was from Roy Alexander Weise, director of Nine Night at London’s National Theatre, who recounted how he discovered theatre because he needed the loo on the way home from school one day. Weise dropped into Ovalhouse in London to use the facilities and, while there, discovered its youth group. This started his journey into a career that now sees him directing on one of our most prestigious stages.

This week Leicester Curve artistic director Nikolai Foster tells a similar story of how he sprinted into a school audition for Oliver! while escaping bullies. Foster and Weise come from backgrounds where theatre was not an obvious future profession.

Or, as Weise puts it: “My family are West Indian and West African, and they have strong ideas about what respectable jobs are, like teachers, doctors and lawyers. It would be a bit bizarre to tell my family that I wanted to be an astronaut but being a theatre director is probably even more weird.”

As someone who was fortunate to be taken to theatre regularly as a child, it’s easy to forget that theatregoing, let alone theatremaking, can be an alien concept to many young people.

It’s getting worse. The arts in education are being cut by a government that – as LIPA principal Mark Featherstone-Witty observes in his letter this week – is “deaf to any argument about a broad and balanced curriculum for schools, further pushing back working-class and BAME students”.

This is why it is crucial that theatre takes the initiative. There is not only a moral imperative, but a practical one. If we are not careful, we will wake up in 10 years and find we don’t have the audiences or employees to support our industry. We can’t continue to rely on people needing the loo, or being chased into auditions.

This is why projects such as the recently launched Inspiring the Future of Theatre campaign are crucial. It will see ambassadors including Sharon D Clarke, James Graham and Kenny Wax going into schools to tell children about the range of careers in theatre – including, I hope, some of the more unusual roles available.

Offstage stars: careers in theatre behind the scenes

Meanwhile, with support from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, The Stage will soon be launching an exciting, free online careers advice resource for young people looking to get into theatre. Watch this space.

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