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Youth Theatre Ireland: Inspiring active citizens
The importance of creating safe spaces for young people has never been more pertinent. In early February, statistics were released by the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Dublin City University, showing that 14% of primary school children have experienced cyber bulling. With concerns such as these, organisations like Youth Theatre Ireland are important, they are integral pieces of the community that resist these pressures, supporting young people to become active citizens, through adolescence and into adulthood.
Youth Theatre Ireland is the national development organisation for youth theatre. They believe in advancing the artistic, personal and social development of young people through drama. They support a network of community youth theatres in delivering year-round programmes of drama workshops and performance opportunities to young people across Ireland. Formerly the National Association for Youth Drama, this organisation is almost 37 years old. They have taken a brave step by adopting a new identity, but their core values remain; they work to ensure that every child in the country can experience drama as a means of expression.
I spoke with Director Michelle Carew, who is hugely passionate about the project and has great ambitions for the re-launch. “It has been no small thing to make a change like this one, we had to really pay regard to the weight of work that has been done, the history and legacy of this association. Youth Theatre Ireland does exactly what it says on the tin… the drive behind this re-launch is to establish the organisation as more accessible, participative network for young people.”
The whole idea of re-launching themselves is to ensure that every young person can access a creative outlet. ‘We want to ensure that young people know that things like this exist for them, no young person in Ireland should be denied the right to feel part of a creative community’ says Carew.
The move is timely, it comes just as government aligns itself with similar objectives and values through the introduction and implementation of Creative Ireland.
“Although we are an independent organisation, we see our goals are very much tied into this new programme for the future and would see ourselves as key partners there. We are striving for the same things.”
How can the organisation communicate their work?
“Our remit is to develop the practice through debate and research and through the delivery of national access programmes such as Young Critics, where young people have the opportunity to engage with theatre in a very hands on, collaborative way. We aim to identify places in Ireland, where there is an unmet need”.
“Young people today are incredibly engaged, and we want to place them at the centre of what we are doing, to give them a voice and to nurture their sense of agency.”
The whole re-launch has been carefully planned and implemented, following a nationwide consultation process that took place in summer 2016. Through this, Youth Theatre Ireland discovered how open and energised the young people of youth theatre are.
“The impact of these experiences has been profound, they spoke about the friendships they have formed; about transformations and building their voice and their confidence; having a sense of identity a sense of purpose in a safe space.” Carew remarked on the overwhelming response from young people. “Many have found themselves a family within their youth theatre, and within the larger programme.”
Politicised with a lower case ‘p’
Carew explains, “from this consultation process, we found that young people were incredibly open to sharing their experiences, one thing that we were struck by was their dislike of the word ‘excellence’, they felt this word was very isolating and exclusionary; they have a desire for democracy and equality. These young people are politicised with a lower case ‘p’. It is their agency that makes this work happen, dealing with real issues–their own issues– they come at things from their own angle in a loose and democratic way.”
To coincide with their re-launch, Youth Theatre Ireland invites you to join them, they are currently promoting Youth the first ever Youth Theatre Ireland Open Week showcasing the work of members, with guests invited to experience first-hand, the diversity of work that exists in pockets around the country
Find out more about Youth Theatre Ireland here.