Much has been made of Liverpool Everyman’s extraordinary renovation, but the real story, of course, is what goes on both behind and on the stage.
Young Everyman and Playhouse’s group of 11-25 year-olds have been writing, producing, directing and acting up a storm with accomplished productions that have got audiences asking. How did they do that?
Known as YEP to the students, the two-year, multi-disciplinary course is as affirming as the name would suggests. It’s not ‘youth theatre’ as you would imagine, but rather a fully operational theatre group where the young people are at the very heart of everything they do.
If you were fortunate enough to witness the group’s politically charged (and very funny) production of their original play ‘Until They Kick Us Out’ in February you will already be aware that this group of young talent can do amazing things.
It’s Liverpool joined YEP for a day to talk to some of the players to find out how they do it.
First up, Dominic Beaumont, Liverpool Everyman’s Press and PR Manger gave us his take on YEPs success.
“It’s much more than learning, we’re giving them the reigns, it’s real, proper stuff. The students have a big role in creating their material, taking their ideas from inception to writing and rehearsal all the way to opening night. That’s a huge responsibility, but they thrive on it.
“Until they kick us out’ dealt with the role that young people take in society and politics. That’s a big topic and it actually inspired one young man to stand as a member of parliament.
“That’s the power of theatre and the power we have in YEP. We’re educating, but were also empowering. They choose these big issues and run with them. You just stand back and see what happens. Never underestimate young people or their ability to surprise you.”
Dominic introduced us to four members of YEP’s team, each studying a different strand. Fittingly we start with a young man who enjoys the limelight.
Name: Aaron Keyhoe
How did you get involved with YEP?
“I was working zero hour contracts, studying maths and science, but nothing was really gripping me. I knew I wanted to sort my life out. I’d done a bit of performing before in school and really enjoyed it. I applied to YEP, now I’m hooked.”
“When I first started I thought ‘Yeah, I can act, I can be an actor’, then you see the work that goes into achieving a good performance and you realise, acting is hard.”
“Playing Pentheus in ‘The Bacchae’. He was the King of Thebes, who banished all forms of smut, which wreaks havoc across the city. He’s a tragic character, a real challenge. I probably only scratched the surface of what some actors could do with him but I’m enjoying challenging myself. That’s how you grow as an actor.”
“I’m really into Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Like me, they were ordinary working class lads who were bit by the acting bug. They have such charisma and stage presence and they have these amazing voices. Their regional accents set them apart and add to their gravitas.”
Best Thing about YEP:
“The sheer amount of knowledge and expertise within these walls. To be able to tap into that is awesome. This place is just exciting. When you walk in you can feel it straight away. It was daunting at first. Now it’s like home. I feel like I’ve found my path.”
“Don’t change what was rehearsed. It can throw the other actors off. Don’t steal focus, the focus should always be on the actor who is performing.”
“Have fun with it. One of our directors said to me ‘just enjoy it, be creative’. It made me lose all my nerves and helped with my performance. Also eye contact is essential, it creates a real connection between the actors and gives you something to feed off. So much of how we communicate is done through our eyes.”
Name: Sarah Van-Parys
Background: Liverpool John Moores University Drama Graduate turned director
So your original calling was acting. What made you switch to directing?
“I became interested in telling a story through more than one characters eyes. YEP enables you to get involved with all aspects of the theatre and directing is the only discipline that has a foot in all camps.
“I remember the exact moment I made my decision. YEP took us to see George Orwell’s 1984 and the production blew me away. It was then that I knew, 100 per cent that I wanted to be a director. I thought ‘there’s nothing else I could possibly do now’”.
“Directing ‘The Road to Skibbereen’ at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It’s an emotionally charged drama about a young girl’s relationship with her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
“Much of the audience was made up of people who suffered from disability and their families who care for them. The best thing, for me was that people felt that we portrayed the issues perfectly.”
What type of productions do you most want to direct?
“I was originally into naturalism. I wanted to direct productions that were true to life, but that was until I saw the plays that Headlong produce.
“They use abstract theatre to great effect. They’re really inventive and visually stimulating. They pull things out of the sets and change perspectives to help tell a story. They really surprise the audience and hold their attention.
“Now I want to put on big, powerful plays. It was definitely a turning point for me and It’s an experience that I’ve already been able to use at YEP.”
What’s the best thing about YEP?
“What YEP has taught me is the power of collaboration. The best directors are always learning from people and trying new things. Don’t think ‘Oh there’s no money, I can’t do it’. There’s always a way around that. People want experience, you have to find those people and work with them.
“We’re learning from the best and I feel that the best is being brought out in me. I’ve had the opportunity to work as an AD [assistant director] on productions with a full professional cast. That goes way beyond on the job training. It’s dream job training, but it’s not training, it’s actually doing and it’s been the best experience of my life.”
Name: Lewis Schrigley
YEP strand: Technician
What made you choose the technician strand of YEP?
“I was interested in media, TV, radio and games, but I wasn’t really sure which one to pick. I read about YEP’s technician strand and it sounded perfect for me.
“What interests me is that if there’s no technician there’s no show, it’s as simple as that and it’s actually really creative. The technicians totally have the ability to enhance and even transform a scene.
“The lighting, the stage, the setup, the technical aspects. They all feed into the atmosphere and the tone of the play. The actors can then feed off this. There’s lot of pressure, you don’t want to kill a scene because something technical has gone wrong.”
Which part of being a technician do you like best?
“I’m practical, I love it when you nail the timings with the sound effects. The greatest thing is seeing the end results, seeing all the work pay off and the effect that has on the audience.
“Anything with lights is cool. But it doesn’t have to be pyrotechnic explosions. The simplest thing can be the greatest things. I saw a show called Constellations. They just had these orbs that would change colours to mark the end or beginning of a scene. So simple but really effective.”
Best piece of advice about being a good technician?
“Mess around with things, anything, experiment. You can stumble upon something that could be great, that could surprise the audience and keep the hooked.
“I designed one set up that showed the scene through silhouettes, using back lighting. It looked really cool, it was like painting with light.”
Name: Emma Lewis
YEP strand: Communicator
Background: International Relations and Social Equality student at Liverpool Hope University
What appealed to you about YEP’s communication strand?
“I wanted to get involved in something outside of university and my friend told me about the course. It’s actually opened up a whole new career for me. I’m now looking at things and thinking ‘how would I communicate that? How would I market it?
“Without Marketing and PR there’s no audience so it’s pretty fundamental and actually good comms skills are valuable in any profession so it’s hugely transferable.”
Which productions do you think have been communicated really well?
“I think it’s about getting the whole package right but the little touches can create a polished and cohesive campaign. A great example of this is the Hudsucker Proxy. I was there on opening night and Everyman were still marketing the play, in a subtle but effective way.
“During the interval they had all these elements and imagery from the play dotted around the reception areas. Even the wallpaper from the stage was used and there were singers from the production performing. Everything connected and it showed how much Everyman cares about audience experience. “
What has been your career high?
Working on “Until They Kick Us Out” changed everything for me. It was such a professional production. It was actually written by the actors. It was only on for three nights but I went to see it twice. That’s how much I enjoyed it.
“I helped to create the posters, the social media campaign, we sent tweets as the characters and it went down really well, helping to create a buzz about the production. We also used some guerrilla marketing tactics, like flash-mobs. I’m really into the idea of using performance art to promote performance art.
“I know I’m young, but I never feel like it here. I feel confident, like I can do anything. YEP is such a supportive environment. We’re like a family and when you have that, it makes you sort of fearless and you want to take on a challenge.”