After training together at Yew Tree Youth Theatre, four friends Tom Osborne, Helena Wilkinson, Declan Kelly and Hannah Mullen co-founded Veritas Theatre Arts. Veritas is a Wakefield based theatre company whose theatrical repertoire is made up of original plays that focus on true and hard-hitting stories. All the work is created by the four founding members, who are currently training at drama school and working in the industry.
I had the chance to sit down with Tom, Helena and Dec to discuss the creation of their company, the inspirations for their work and their advice to aspiring theatre makers.
Could you first tell the readers a bit about yourselves?
Tom: We are a collaborative company of four young people, based originally in Wakefield. We are a relatively new company that celebrates young writers creating new work and performing it in a number of locations. We are trying to produce human stories. I have been doing theatre based things since I was little. Both of my parents own a theatre company. I trained at CAPA College and I am now training as an actor at Manchester School of Theatre.
Helena: I started at Tom’s Mum’s Theatre Company. That’s how we met, through Yew Tree. I just kind of fell in love with acting that way. I didn’t really train, I got my A-Levels and I have taken four years out (of education) and I’ve been auditioning for Drama Schools and doing as much work as I can and I am off to East 15 in 2020.
Tom: Helena has also done the most professional work out of all of us.
Helena: I tend to work with the NHS, so we do work with Fieldhead which is a psychiatric hospital in Wakefield, working with new starters. I’m in a piece of theatre that looks at how to deal with people in moments of crisis.
Dec: Yeah, so the same, we met at Yew Tree. I’m at the University of Leeds studying Theatre and Performance.
Tom: Dec has done the most devising stuff I’d say. He does the most in terms of creating his own work. I’ve done the most non-professional work, Helena has done the most professional work. Hannah has done the most work in different places. We all have different skill sets that compliment each other as well as being good friends.
What made you want to create your own company?
T: The creative freedom. We don’t have to write to somebody else’s spec. We recently worked with the National Coal Mining Museum and they obviously had a bit of input but for the most part we are able to create the stuff that we want to talk about and play and write the parts that we are interested in. Often, it is older people writing for younger people or younger people trying to play older characters. The opportunity for a group of people who are growing up now to write and perform the things that are relevant to us. We have all taken part in the National Connections Festival which is brilliant and a really good scheme, but sometimes you read those plays and you are aware of the fact that it is a middle aged person writing from a 14, 16, 18 year olds perspective. We want the opportunity to be like ‘this is the way we feel’.
H: The beauty of creating a theatre company now is that we can create work that says what we are going through now. It is going to evolve and change, as we evolve and change which I think is going to be really cool to see. Our life experiences are going to differ and we are going to write about things that interest us and instead of trying to find plays that we relate to, we can create our own work and say what we want to say about the world instead of waiting for someone else to say it.
Why did you chose theatre as a career path?
T: I am very much inspired by my parents, and seeing how theatre was achievable without being an actor that had to be on TV and films. My mum does workshops in schools and puts on plays with young people in. Being able to look at that and go, well actually, that’s really achievable and really satisfying without having to be a massive professional actor. Theatre is still, I think, the best way to tell stories. I think it is the best way to talk about society and all of those things without any boundaries and that’s why I want to carry on doing it. Right back to the beginning of time, we have always told stories and I think theatre does that most effectively.
D: I think mine came from when I was younger. Wanting that confidence and finding something I felt I was good at. I didn’t have to worry about sitting behind a desk but being in a studio expressing how you feel towards different things. It’s a cool thing isn’t it!
H: I think it’s just because I love it. I just really love theatre. So, I got into theatre when I was 11 and I was a complete and utter mute. I didn’t know what to say I just had no voice and what theatre has done is given me that voice through characters but then, by playing characters, I have found my own voice – which sounds really cheesy but it’s true. I think I want to do it as a career as it’s the only thing I can see myself doing that I’ll never get tired of. It’s always changing, I’m always changing which changes my work. There is no peak, you are always improving, which I think is really cool.
T: Speaking for all three of us, we have all been doing theatre for an awfully long time and not once have we got sick of it. We all have a desire to create and perform that has not dulled over time. We have all done other things, I’ve done sport and my interest in doing that as a career faded but the desire to form a career in theatre has never faded, it’s always been what I have wanted to do.
What has been your most valuable theatrical experience to date?
T: I’ll let you kick this one off Declan, you’ve got the best one!
D: I’ve just come back from Japan (with Leeds Playhouse Youth Theatre) and being out there and working with young Japanese children who came from disadvantaged backgrounds.We basically just made a piece of theatre out there with them. For us, it was learning skills like communication but for them it was just an experience and a life skill. Learning about our cultural differences and how theatre can connect us as one.
T: For me, it was back in 2018. I went to the National Theatre to perform two pieces for the National Theatre Connections Festival. The most interesting thing for me then, as I was in two [companies], was seeing two ways of approaching the same thing. The National staff were brilliant with both companies and I have never seen a group of people work so efficiently. I went with Yew Tree who I think took things much slower, enjoyed the opportunity more and spent more time taking in what was going on around them. I also went with CAPA College who kind of treated it like any other rehearsal process and rushed through it a bit more.
No performance was better than the other, they both had their strengths and weaknesses. Being able to see two rehearsal processes and decide how I would want to do it was an interesting experience for me. The National is an incredible organisation. The care that was put into looking after the actors and putting the show on. The detail they were prepared to go to was really impressive.
H: I have been doing a bit of professional work over the past two years and one that really stuck out to me was at Fieldhead. I worked at a medium secure unit, working with patients with quite severe mental health issues and criminal backgrounds. I went in and we did writing workshops and we put on a pantomime with them. I think it was the most valuable one, I remember coming out and being like ‘this is what I want to do’. These people who have been disregarded by society due to the mistakes they’ve made and the cards they have been dealt, to be able to put on a show and give people a voice and just have fun was incredible. One guy created his own poetry, and another had severe motor neurone problems and he came into his own in the show and it was just lovely. It gives people a voice.
What kind of work does Veritas Theatre Arts produce?
T: Drawing on all of those things, what we try and do is produce very real, human stories in a wider context. ‘This House’, which is the last play that we did, was about a young couple living through the miner strike. I wrote that play to explore what it was like to actually be there – not what it was like to talk about in an abstract concept but what was it like to actually live each day, with the threat of losing your job hanging over you. It was a really interesting story to tell. We are keen on telling real, human stories. It’s about what the real people within it feel. There were people who lived through it in the audience and their relatives, looking at you and judging whether your performance is accurate, and that is terrifying in some ways but it doesn’t get more rewarding than somebody being able to say “thank you for telling a story that really matters to me in an accurate way.”
What is your creative process like?
T: Collaborative. In the last project, I wrote it and was in it, Helena directed it and Hannah - who is the other member of the team - was in it as well. It was very much a conversation and it meant that everything stayed very natural. It was mine and Hannah’s natural instincts being then shaped and guided by Helena’s outside eye. Our writing process, we are all currently writing work for a performance later this year. We will sit in Starbucks at 12 at night, all typing and then I’ll say ‘oh, Dec read this’ because I just want someone to check it and then, I’ll read some of Helena’s and Dec will suggest and idea for someone else. Yes our name might be the one on the script but all of us have had our inputs. We offer advice and then work on what we want to do with it.
H: We all have individual creative processes but the beauty of it is that we can all go away and if we need an extra outside eye, it’s there. I think if we hadn’t have formed this theatre company we would have writing on our own, not knowing.
What are your current projects?
T: We are currently writing work for a performance on 23 November, which will be a mixture of different short plays. Each of the four of us will create a piece to be performed one after the other, and they all cover different themes. It’s kind of a scratch night. We are also still in communication with the National Coal Mining Museum and looking at doing some future projects with them, as well as going back and performing ‘This House’ again.
At the moment it is trying to build momentum and put our name out across as many different platforms as we can so that people get to see our work and creating work. After we have finished our performance on the 23rd, there will be four plays that have been written, rehearsed and performed to go into our repertoire. So we are trying to build a repertoire at the minute. ‘The Wall’, which is a play I have written based on a conversation Declan and I had sat on a wall after a house party, has been turned into a 15 minute play that looks at the importance of young men being able to talk to each other.
H: I have written a 10 minute piece based on my sister popping a spot and about getting ready. I wanted to write about sexual assault. There is #MeToo which is quite broad and I wanted to look at the generalised sexual assault that every woman, every man even, faces and looking at little moments that we all go through but no one ever documents, and that line between when do you document it as sexual assault and what is just part of being a woman in a nightclub.
What are some of your long term goals?
T: We want to be able to perform our work all across the country. We want to be able to write and create shows where we are able to perform in front of as many people as possible so we get to tell stories. We want to make ‘This House’ a longer play and get some budget behind it to tell the story more accurately. But for us it’s about creating work to be performed. We performed in front of about 6 people in one performance and that was as exciting to us as performing in front of 200 people. Just being able to tell our stories is really exciting to us. We want to be able to do the on as wide as scale as possible.
The advantages of having built up contacts in terms of actors and venues is that you get to tell more complicated stories and things that take more time, research and voices. The more people we can collaborate with, the more complex stories we get to work on. We all know so many aspiring theatre makers, we want to use that. The opportunities that creates is really exciting. There are dancers we all know, poets and singers that we would be really interested in making theatre with.
What have you found most challenging about setting up your own company?
D: Because obviously we are small and we are from Wakefield, just getting yourself out there and getting people to see you pop up on their feeds. But then also, getting all four of us in the same room is a challenge because we are all at opposite ends of the country really.
T: Hannah and Helena are both going to end up in London, I’m in Manchester and Dec is in Leeds so Wakefield is our base, but we are all very busy people who live in different cities. Building momentum when you’re not all in the same place is hard. It’s not easy to establish yourself.
D: Even in the first meeting, trying to pick a font for the logo, that was a fun time.
T: We were so aware of our time, we had two hours and in that two hours we had to start a company. We had to have enough that meant we could go away and work on things separately.
H: We are lucky that we are already friends so we have the trust we need already. The momentum, although hard, has been enjoyable and really fun to do.
What advice would you give to aspiring theatre makers, hoping to get into the same field as you?
T: Just do it. We sat for about three years, going to the same sessions and saying ‘we should really do something altogether, we should write our own stuff, actually that device was really good maybe we should do something with it’, and didn’t. If you want to write a play, write it. The first ten drafts of ‘This House’ were naff but because I ket writing it, it developed into something that was worth watching.
H: You don’t progress by just thinking about doing something, you just have to go out and give it a go. Just do it!
T: And talk to your friends! Because someone will be able to help you. I sent a message to three of my friends saying ‘do you fancy doing a weird thing and creating a theatre company with me?’ All three said yes, and we’ve actually managed to start something that is building momentum quickly. If you are a young theatre maker, come along to the performance on the 23rd and come and watch. It’s a really interesting thing. It’s very much the idea that it doesn’t have to be a fully formed, perfect piece that is an hour long and has two acts. It’s very much, ‘these are the ideas we had and we turned them into plays.’
H: And it would be nice to meet you!
If you are interested in contacting Veritas Theatre Arts or are keen to find out more information on their projects and performances, you can do so by following the links below.