Raising the curtain on The Royal Court’s Open Court Festival – This isn’t child’s play

In the back of a smartly decorated theatre, just off Sloane Square, several members of the Royal Court’s Youth Board greet me. Noisily and full of enthusiasm, we gather in Vicky Featherstone‘s office. It’s quite a good office.

The Vision of Lynne Gagliano

But, front and centre, I discover that Lynne Gagliano – Head of Young Court – tragically died, from a brain aneurism. Youth Board member Lucy tells me “She was a massive part of our lives – this was her dream. Open Court would have made her proud. We will let it live on and do our best to deliver her vision.” They are determined to do Lynne proud. What you are seeing, as a result, is a sense of work that is passionately curated.

Youth Board at Open Court

Royal Court’s Youth Board members

Youth Theatre as process and product

Youth theatre, as both process and product, is not merely everywhere. There is a huge interest in work being performed and created by young people for adult audiences. It has proven itself to be infinitely innovative. Take Chichester Festival Theatre’s spectacular transfer of RUNNING WILD at Regent’s Park and British Theatre Academy’s 6 week run of the youth-led SECRET GARDEN currently playing at Ambassador Theatre.

Open Court Festival at Royal Court

This summer young people had the keys to the Royal Court in Open Court Festival. The reins of each department were handed over to the young people, who swiftly became the driving force of the operation. Youth Board Member Jack emphasises the benefits of working with professionals, “We all came to this through various routes; a lot of us are in National Youth Theatre, but we really feel wanted here at the Court. The staff know you by name, there’s a familiarity… It’s surreal to be honest! The staff trust us and they care about what we have to say.” It’s plain to see that this diverse work gives young people a voice and we should all be listening.

The teenagers come across as fully fledged artists, providing excellent value for money. Open Court reflects that work created with and by young people is one of the most vital parts of British Theatre. Youth Theatre has often played it’s strong suit; numbers, ensemble, spectacle, but it has also often neglected the fact that it needs to be producing citizens before theatre professionals.

PRESENTING… – a brilliant idea

I ask them how they decided on what to programme. Ellie chips in “We are focused on seeking out new and exciting voices. It’s really cool that Royal Court is doing this festival – the writing for PRESENTING is outstanding – all the plays that have been submitted by young people are of a really good quality!” PRESENTING contains solid debut plays from Young Court’s playwrights with original stories to tell. Writers include Serafina Cusack, Thomas Fowler, Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, Mark Hannah and more. Each night aims to showcase a variety of plays performed by members of the National Youth Theatre. It’s a brilliant idea and allows for a richly imaginative array of work that is clearly rooted in topics which matter most to them.

PRESENTING… © Alex Brenner ( all images)

Looking ahead

In 2016 audience allegiances are polarised, historically devised theatre often converts performance forms and infuses them with something innovative manifold; an authentic response to issues and experience derived from the sensibility of young people. I ask them what their roles entail and Lucy jumps in: “We do a bit of everything – Stage managing, admin, design, directing. We don’t have set rules – we allocate our own rules and allocate tasks.” Sounds fun. But, how did they get involved? Tara tells me, “Keep an eye on Twitter! Keep your eyes peeled – things pop up… If you attend the theatre: you meet people. You start a conversation and hear about other peoples’ passions and projects, you make theatre friends.”

The work on display is complex and layered. As I hop on the tube home and catch a glimpse of what’s going on in the world, the newspaper headlines glaring back at me, I feel overwhelmed and more passionately than ever that theatre cannot afford to shut the next generation out.

You can also read Carl’s earlier blog about The Royal Court’s Young Court HERE