Hi there! Could you first introduce yourself to the reader:
I’m Dale Rooks, Director of Learning, Education & Participation (LEAP) at Chichester Festival Theatre.
What happens in your arts organisation?
Chichester Festival Theatre is one of the UK’s flagship theatres, renowned for the exceptionally high standard of its productions as well as its work with the community and young people. Our vision is to create theatre that entertains, empowers and enlightens our audiences; we put on dynamic, ambitious and diverse productions, ranging from large-scale musicals to new plays. We’re also home to one of the country’s largest youth theatres with over 800 members.
What do you offer to young people?
We offer an all-year-round, extensive programme of activities, workshops, and projects for children and young people of all ages, abilities, cultures and social backgrounds.
Chichester Festival Youth Theatre (CFYT) forms the largest strand of our work. 800 young people take part each week in workshops for acting, dance, technical and musical theatre. These take place at CFT itself and at nine other locations across West Sussex. You don’t have to audition to join, and we offer bursary places for young people who need financial support. We also include weekly sessions for young people with more specific additional needs.
In addition to weekly workshops, there are opportunities for members to audition for large and small-scale productions. Instead of a pantomime, CFT’s annual Christmas show is put on by the Youth Theatre; it’s on the main stage of the 1300-seat Festival Theatre and is treated exactly like any other production in the year. It’s usually an adaptation of a classic story or book; this year it’s The Sleeping Beauty.
CFT provides training opportunities for young people: apprenticeships, traineeships, work experience placements, creative careers days and a young practitioners’ training programme. We also run holiday activities, often linked to themes associated with the productions within CFT’s summer and winter festivals.
Our work with schools and colleges enables students, aged 5-25, to see distinctive theatre, develop new skills and learn more about theatre-making, working alongside professionally trained artists and arts practitioners.
We offer opportunities across all our strands of work, for young people to achieve Arts Awards, at all levels.
What activities are most popular for young people and why?
The Youth Theatre is our most popular activity for children and young people, who say that it offers them the best range of opportunities and a high degree of professionalism. They enjoy taking part in high quality and creatively inspiring workshops and rehearsing for productions with first-class directors, creative and production teams.
In addition to developing performance skills, there is a great appetite to engage with technical and backstage work. The technical youth theatre is extremely popular, offering a chance to explore all the practical, technical and creative elements that go into putting on productions: from lighting and sound design, pyrotechnics, stage management roles and backstage work, to make-up and costume, prop-making etc. Many of them have gone on to study Technical Theatre at University or Drama Schools and to take up stage management as a career.
Our young people often describe CFYT as a family and a place where they can be themselves, develop confidence and self-esteem. In addition to acquiring knowledge and theatre skills, many of them value youth theatre as a place where they feel they develop vital transferrable life skills such as imagination, creativity and self-expression, critical reflection and analysis, an enhanced knowledge of social issues, cultural heritage and aesthetic appreciation, problem-solving, self-worth, self-discipline, respect, and consideration for others. Equally important for them is the opportunity to have fun, the pleasure of social interaction and the excitement of the performance. Networking with like-minded people and developing new friends is often highlighted as an important feature of their enjoyment.
A recent survey of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s alumni suggests that their participation has given them greater confidence and the ability to communicate and present themselves more effectively in a variety of situations. Youth theatre members understand the importance of commitment, punctuality and the ability to collaborate and work as part of a team. They learn to be good listeners, who are respectful of others people’s views and opinions, and ultimately this enriches their positive interaction with the world of work.
How do you incorporate technology into the work that you do?
We incorporate technology into many projects.
In 2017, one of our Youth Theatre apprentices delivered a digital playwriting project called Digital Drafts, which formed an important part of the completion of his Gold Arts Award. The project involved local young writers and performers who worked over a number of months developing playwriting skills, culminating in six short radio plays that were professionally recorded and presented to the public in the Theatre foyer via sound boxes.
Our current Youth Theatre apprentice is devising, directing and producing a series of visual poems, to be screened in the Festival Theatre foyer. This Gold Arts Award project is inspired by themes from a play in CFT’s forthcoming Festival 2018 and will involve members of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre as well as a local young writer and cinematographer.
Could you give an example of a recent project you have run, and the impact it had?
As part of NT Connections, a nationwide project that offers young companies an opportunity to work on newly published scripts and produce a world premiere play, we created an ‘integrated’ CFYT company, combining older Youth Theatre participants with those with additional needs. The play required a large ensemble and included additional members from other CFYT satellite groups across the county.
This project has enabled the company members to gain a deeper understanding of each others’ needs and how to adapt to them, and as a result, new friendships were developed. It also gave the members with additional needs a platform to explore, learn and create a production in a professional space.
During the project, 10 young people completed a Bronze Arts Award. They wrote about the rehearsal process and led warm-ups as part of their skill share. Their portfolios were in different formats ranging from scrapbooks to films and they all completed their projects with a performance of their play These Bridges in the Minerva Theatre at CFT.
Do you run Arts Award? If so, what do you offer and how can young people get involved?
We offer Arts Awards at all levels and across all LEAP strands. For example, Discover, Explore and Bronze levels within our primary schools' playwriting projects; Bronze awards through holiday activities; all levels within our youth theatre schedule; silver and gold awards through apprenticeships and work experience and young practitioners training programme.
Many CFYT members, especially those in our technical youth theatre, work towards a Silver award.
Do you publish any online resources that young people doing Arts Award could use?
We have education resource packs available on our website for teachers and young people.
Is there anything you particularly want to promote to young people at the moment?
CFT offers opportunities for young people to become Apprentices and Trainees: in Lighting & Sound; Technical Theatre - Stage; Youth Theatre; Schools; Community; Digital Trainee and Assistant Director’s schemes.
The Learning, Education, and Participation (LEAP) Department provide a range of additional opportunities for young people to engage with professional theatre. CFT’s Creative Careers Days, Technical Teasers and Work Experience programme provide many young people with a raft of new ideas when looking at career options and sets them on the road to success in the creative industries.
On Saturday 9 June 2018, we are hosting a networking event for Apprentices. This is an opportunity to spend the day at Chichester Festival Theatre and to take part in practical career-focused workshops, discussions and networking exercises to inform the next step in your creative career. To book a FREE place or for more information, contact [email protected]
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