Five years ago, artistic director Alex Clifton went to chat to a group of young people from Chester about what the new Storyhouse could do for them – and a clear message came back.
“They wanted a job,” he recalls. “They didn’t want anything other than a job.”
If not a job, they said, then an apprenticeship. And if not an apprenticeship, then these forward-thinking, single-minded young people wanted the chance of good work experience.
He went away with their message ringing in his ears – and started devising what would become Storyhouse Young Leaders.
The programme is aimed at, but not exclusively for, those least likely to access mainstream creative activities, and is designed to build confidence, raise aspirations, encourage teamwork and develop transferrable job skills – all of which can be seen in the current cohort of 70 young people.
They include Rosey Dight, Nat Owen and Jayde Keen who are three of the Young Leaders team currently working towards their Arts Award qualifications by helping to stage a new show – The Snow Dragons – for the Storyhouse Young Company this month.
While the young actors will appear on stage, behind the scenes it’s the job of the Young Leaders to bring playwright Lizzie Nunnery’s (whose play Narvik, won Best New Play at the UK Theatre Awards 2017) wider vision to life, through set, costume and make up design and the technical creation of the show.
Their ultimate aim is to achieve a silver or gold Arts Award – a national qualification designed to support young people who want to deepen their engagement with the arts, build creative and leadership skills.
“We’ve all got different jobs,” explains Rosey, 17, from Crewe, who is homeschooled and joined Young Leaders to gain an arts qualification. “I’m stage manager, Nat is DSM – which involves the lighting and teching, and Jayde is preparing the costumes and make-up.”
Jayde, 15, who is a young carer for her mother and brother, sat down with Young Storyhouse Manager Hayley Lindley Thornhill to talk about the general concept for the production’s style and then went away to generate her own design ideas.
She also got to talk to writer Lizzie about her vision for the production, which is set in the mystical woods and mountains of a Scandinavian fjord town.
“She talked about why she made the piece, and you could ask her questions like why is a character like this? And why is it set in this place? She answered all those and you got a really different view of the story,” Jayde explains.
“That really helped. Because I’m doing the make-up – which is the first thing you look at – you got to see what her view was going to be. And then I could also base my ideas off that.”
Rosey adds: “I think with the visuals and the aesthetic, one thing we’re really going for is the youthful aspect. It’s a story from the perspective of children, it’s a story about children taking control. I think that really resonates with a lot of kids, when you look at the amount of people who are now getting involved with politics and protest.”
The Young Leaders are certainly given plenty of control to forge their own paths, with the chance to talk to and learn from mentors working across all aspects of the Storyhouse venue – from wardrobe to the caretaker responsible for the safety and security of the building and its inhabitants.
Twenty-year-old Nat, who also does shifts as a casual technician at the Lyceum at home in Crewe, says he wants to make it a career – and that working with Storyhouse has helped underline that ambition for him.
Rosey says: “Nat is such a useful person to have around because he has the experience we don’t. And that’s what’s great because we get to share our experiences with each other.”
“You’ve got some amazing people here and you really learn from the experience,” adds Jayde. “Before I came to do this, I wasn’t so keen on acting or being backstage, but now I’m doing a college course with technical theatre. Because of Storyhouse, I realised how much I loved it.”
The wider Young Leaders programme also gives participants the chance to lead other arts projects at Storyhouse or programme activity in the cinema (they programme and event manage special seasonal screenings) library spaces (Harry Potter book day and Fun Palaces) and studio theatre as well as on public screens and online platforms, and to take part in masterclasses and skills development sessions.
“Here at Storyhouse it’s a completely different environment to one you’ve ever been in,” says Rosey. “As a Young Leader, it’s like you’re part of the team.
“It doesn’t feel like ‘oh here are the children’. It feels like, here are the young adults and they’ve got a job to do, they’re here to work and learn.
“It’s definitely nice to be treated like a grown-up.”
To be part of the Young Leaders programme go to storyhouse.com/young-leaders
Photo features Jayde Keen, Rosey Dight and Nat Owen
Storyhouse Young Leaders programme is sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch