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Remote by Stef Smith at National Theatre Connections Regional Festival, Inverness

12-17th April 2015

Shetland Youth Theatre has participated in Connections on many occasions over the years and considers it to be of vital importance in embracing groups from peripheral areas into the core of an event of international importance.

There was a company of 21 young people (aged 11 – 19) involved in the rehearsal process and performances in Shetland. The company worked intensively over 5 weeks and performed three times to appreciative audiences. The show was very well received by the visiting assessor Russell Bolam. Because the youth theatre only meets during projects, workshop activity (skill development sessions) are included in the rehearsal process. The company has an inclusive policy that guarantees participation to any young person who can commit to the rehearsal schedule. Due to this policy and other activities that make demands on young people, the make-up of the company is quite fluid, with a mixture of returnees and new faces. This places demands on the rehearsal process but keeps the company fresh and vibrant. For this production six participants were new to the group.

Because it has been three years since our last participation in Connections, involvement was a new experience for all but three of the company. This generated a huge enthusiasm and excitement amongst the group. They were totally engaged with the play, the process and the festival and were delighted by the presence of Russell (‘coming all the way up here’) and by his appreciation of the production.

The trip to Eden Court Theatre in Inverness was a huge success. Because of holiday dates, there had only been minimal rehearsal sessions before travel but these were invaluable. The company picked up on some of the suggestions made in the show assessment report. Due to two members of the company being unavailable for the Inverness dates, additional changes had to be made. Rehearsing these changes refreshed the production and Eden Court making a rehearsal space available meant that the quality of the Inverness performance surpassed that of Shetland. This meant that instead of merely recreating a piece, the whole project had a momentum and trajectory that kept the company focussed on the piece as well as on the excitement of being away.

We believe that if the young people are going to maximise the experience available to them, to justify the expense, and to develop from and add to the whole experience, that they should be resident for the duration of the festival. Shetland Youth Theatre (19 young people and 4 group leaders) travelled overnight on the ferry to Aberdeen (12 hours), caught the train to Inverness and stayed in the Youth Hostel for 4 nights before travelling back.

While in Inverness, the group members participated in the daily workshops that covered a variety of theatre skills. During these workshops they were tutored by different theatre professionals, and worked with members of other participating youth theatres. The company were also able to see all the other productions.

The company performed on the final night. The timetabling of this was excellent as it kept the group focussed on the activities and the purpose of the trip. The production played to a full house and received a standing ovation. For a group used to the less demonstrative Shetland audiences this was a major event in their lives.

The visit was an invaluable experience for all the participants, putting their work at the centre of a major event, developing individual skills and enabling the company to benchmark its own work against that of other companies. The feedback they received from everyone there was an important aspect of their individual and collective self-esteem.

The organisation of the event by Eden Court staff was first class and helped all our young people feel that they had been part of something special.

Some comments from SYT participants following trip to Inverness

‘It really helped me with trying to be more socially active and even though it took me a while, it was great to be able to come out of my shell with a lot of people.’

‘The National Theatre Connections trip was an extremely useful and fun one. It was refreshing to be able to take part in a drama event with people I knew whilst also meeting loads of new young people some of whom I have kept connection with beyond the festival. The workshops were also very useful for furthering my skills and preparing me for future auditions. It was interesting to see the other productions before presenting our own and through this, it was made clear just how high the standard of Shetland acting was. It was lovely to have received a standing ovation from peers from other companies. I am so glad I got to go on this trip and am so proud of the company for making Shetland proud.’

‘... it was absolutely awesome being able to perform in a theatre in front of a large audience... enjoyed doing the make-up workshop and musical theatre.’

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