By Josie Clark
18 August, 2020
Original print article first published in the Drama and Theatre Journal on 7 August 2020.
Josie Clark has over twenty years’ experience teaching drama and is currently Head of Drama at George Salter Academy, West Bromwich. She has an MA in Drama and Theatre in Education and is an experienced Pearson GCSE Drama Component 2 Examiner.
I’ve always admired the National Youth Theatre’s work in providing young people aged 14-25 with the life changing experience of working with professionals within the performing arts industry, and offering them the platform to have a voice amongst an inclusive and diverse company of talented individuals by performing in ground breaking productions. The company boasts impressive alumni including Dame Helen Mirren, Colin Firth and Sir Daniel Day-Lewis to name but a few.
They host national auditions for students at theatres, arts venues, and community settings across the UK, and this year they’ve also piloted digital auditions, where students can submit a five-minute video as an application. However, only recently did I discover that alongside these options, they also offer the opportunity for both state and private schools to host auditions within their own drama spaces.
Working within a state funded academy in which figures for disadvantaged students are in the 60-80th percentile nationally, I vehemently believe in the power of the arts to make a difference to all young people and expose them to arts practices and opportunities they would never normally be aware of or have access to. Suddenly discovering that we could bring NYT auditions to our school was an artistic epiphany that I simply had to pursue. Successfully hosting the auditions at our academy and was an absolute highlight during the school year for students and staff alike.
Undertaking NYT auditions within your own school environment has significant benefits as our students discovered earlier this year, prior to the national lockdown. The audition consists of performing a monologue, poem or retelling of a story up to two minutes in length or participating in backstage interviews to become part of the design team. Facilitating these auditions within our own academy prior to the audition day allowed me to run weekly extra-curricular rehearsals with our students, who had all selected the acting pathway. I was able to advise and facilitate the selection of texts, provide focused feedback on the staging of their work, encourage them to explore alternative interpretations of their speeches and instil a sense of confidence in a familiar space they knew and associated with personal and artistic success.
The process of organising the day was seamless, with a NYT Marketing Manager assisting every step of the way with the practical logistics of organising and implementing an audition schedule. A minimum of fifteen students were expected to participate and pre-registration is required as audition results are sent directly to those involved. Audition fees within a school setting are slightly reduced compared to those at a public venue, and bursaries are available for eligible students accepted into NYT.
On the day of auditions, any immediate nerves felt by our students immediately dissipated with the approachable and positive demeanour of a NYT Associate Ambassador. This experienced director led our cohort of twelve through a three-hour dynamic and ensemble workshop, with a real emphasis on students being generous and playful within their collaborative interactions as they engaged in a series of creative challenges. Taking artistic risks within their own school space instantly made our participants feel at ease.
Student Tyrese said: “I feel so blessed, being able to go through this process within an environment I would call my second home and people who I would call my family.”
During the afternoon, students were allocated a ten-minute individual audition slot in which they performed their speeches and undertook one-to-one interviews with the associate. Every student reinterpreted their monologue in response to focused direction to gauge how receptive they were to advice and how well they adapted their material accordingly. An authentic interest was shown in each student’s artistic endeavours but also in their hobbies and skills beyond the arts to get a clearer picture of the whole person and their compatibility with the values and beliefs held by NYT.
The wait for results day was a heady mix of excitement and nerves. When news finally did arrive in mid-May that four out of our twelve students had been accepted into the company, with the youngest being only 14, there was collective euphoria at such success in the first year of inviting NYT into our academy. This fantastic outcome means that those offered a place will undertake an access course, delivered remotely this year, before becoming members of NYT, entitling them to audition for productions and casting opportunities across the UK. This experience provided all of our students who auditioned with invaluable insight into the professional processes of the performing arts industry and creative outlets. I would strongly recommend it to all those in educational settings where they feel their students might benefit.