Liam Gifford has a passion for working with young people and ensuring that they have access to the arts, no matter any obstacle that often keeps young people away from the invaluable resource that is arts education.
Liam shares with us his journey with Winchester-based arts organisation Play to the Crowd and reiterates ways in which young people can engage with the arts in all capacities.
Can you introduce yourself?
I'm Liam Gifford, Young People's Producer at Play to the Crowd. Play to the Crowd is an arts and education charity in Winchester comprising of Theatre Royal Winchester - a beautiful middle-scale heritage theatre; Hat Fair - the UK's longest continuously running festival of Outdoor Arts; and Playmakers - a range of community engagement and creative learning programmes and activities.
I'm part of Playmakers and our work is with and for the community of Winchester and the district. However, we also work with people from across Hampshire, the wider country, and even across the globe!
Tell us about your role and how your team got into it?
The vision of the organisation is to 'delight and unite' by inspiring people to connect with and participate in live performance - both indoors and out – and by inviting them to 'escape from the ordinary' and discover a lifelong love of theatre and the arts.
Through Playmakers, we offer this vision in a number of ways through our Playmakers Youth Theatre, Skills Development offer, work in educational settings, and varied projects that take place across the year.
All of the Playmakers team have a real passion and determination to inspire people to engage with the arts, no matter their lived experience or current situation. We believe that the arts are for all, and our team greatly champions this both in our work with the community as well as through our privileged roles as agents for change - supporting people to make the work they want to make.
Our team is made up of professional theatre-makers and event specialists who bring our experience as performers, producers, directors, writers, dramaturgs, and designers (amongst many other skills) to our work with the community to ensure high-quality experiences.
Championing young people in the arts is a big part of what you do. What are some of the challenges/obstacles for young people in the arts?
It has long been known that engaging with creativity and culture can have a greatly positive impact on the lives of all of us, not just children and young people. You just need to take a look at Arts Council England's 'Let's Create' strategy to understand the importance of why we need to ensure everyone in England has access to creativity and culture.
Creativity and culture can 'help us make sense of ourselves and of each other: they provoke and uplift us; they unite communities; and they bring us joy.' (ACE, Let's Create)
However, there is major inequality not just across the country, but within our own community of Winchester when it comes to experiencing creativity and culture - especially when it comes to children and young people.
And once these children and young people are engaged with creativity and culture, a lot of the time the opportunities they are being presented with are not truly taking into consideration what it is they want to do nor appreciating who they are as people here and now.
How do you try and ensure those obstacles aren’t an issue for the young people you work with?
To ensure everyone can engage with creativity and culture and feel that the work is truly for them, we are constantly evolving our approach by Playmakers. This sees us consistently dedicate time to review the work we want to do, with whom we want to work with, and how we go about making sure we can make our work as accessible and appropriate to all children and young people as possible.
We do this by:
- taking our work to where they are, not just expecting them to come to us;
- offering financial support to those for whom finances are a barrier to taking part;
- committing to creating safe, secure, and stimulating environments for everyone;
- listen to the children and young people to understand what is important to them and what they would like to explore, create and present;
- provide a mixture of weekly, monthly, annual, and one-off opportunities as we know not everyone can commit the same time as everyone.
We are also supported by great advocates of our work who champion what we do in whatever way they can, being there to help us work hard to ensure we can 'delight and unite' our community whilst also inspiring them to create work that does the same.
How would you encourage young people who might be put off by the arts industry that there is a place for them?
It's no secret that the industry is one which can seem to be very difficult to 'get into', and we wish we could say that on the whole, this isn't the case. But, there are opportunities for everyone if you know where to look and how to get involved.
As an arts organisation that works in Winchester and District but has an international reputation for the work of Hat Fair and Playmakers, we cannot stress enough how London is not the be-all and end-all for those wanting to pursue a career in the arts. The best thing anyone can do is to get involved with your local arts organisation by any means that you can.
This could be as a member of their youth theatre or sitting on their youth board. It might be that you volunteer as an usher, or you take on part-time work at the organisation's bar or box office. There is also the chance to undertake work experience or become a friend of the organisation. Whichever way you can get involved, you should. By establishing this relationship with the organisation you will both get to know one another, understanding how each works and how you can help each to develop.
As an example, we have had young people attend our youth theatre who as adults are now working with us as professionals - a relationship they developed at a young age which is now over 10 years old. We also have people who began volunteering with the organisation who are now full-time employees and co-ordinating Hat Fair, making them well known not just within our community but also to industry professionals from around the world - in turn leading them to further employment as a freelancer at events around the world!
However, you can; get involved with your local organisation.
Tell us about Playmakers Youth Theatre sessions. How can people get involved?
Playmakers Youth Theatre offers dynamic, exciting, and fun practical sessions in which young people of all theatre-making experiences can create new work together to present on our traditional Theatre Royal Winchester stage and in non-traditional locations as part of the Hat Fair Outdoor Arts festival.
Although most of our youth theatre members want to perform, there is no pressure to. Members can contribute in other ways such as designers (lights, sound, set, costume), writers, directors, and in any other way which they feel confident and wish to pursue.
All sessions are led by local industry professionals, giving members the opportunity to learn from people from their community who are fortunate enough to work in the industry.
Everyone is welcome to attend and information can be found at playmakers.org.uk