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Connections

By Ros Terry

Each year, the NT Connections festival gives thousands of young people across the UK the opportunity to perform new plays specially commissioned by the NT.

Over the past 22 years the National Theatre has worked with tens of thousands of young people through its flagship youth theatre project, Connections. The first Connections festival took place in 1995, as a direct response to the lack of suitable plays about young people and for groups of young performers. The result has been the creation of a Connections back catalogue of over 150 plays written by some of the UK’s greatest playwrights, which have relayed contemporary ideas and experiences of younger generations on to the British stage.

Over 60,000 young people have been part of the Connections festival since its inception and through taking part, develop the creative skills and confidence to bring exciting new plays to life. Many people working in the theatre industry today have been involved with Connections, including actors David Oyelowo, Keira Knightley and John Boyega.

Four Connections participants, past and present, share their own experiences of the programme and the impact it has had for them.

Ros Terry is the Connections Producer for the National Theatre

Tom Fox
Director, UROCK Creative

My personal Connections story starts as a youth theatre attendee and ends as a professional director – a path I had not seen coming but one that Connections completely opened up for me in 2006. The programme offered us a substantial production to dig our teeth into (Pack Up Your Troubles by Snoo Wilson) and a chance to present it to our parents and friends and share it with other like-minded young people in a different venue. It was exciting and daunting but so rewarding. Not expecting it at all, we discovered that these plays were making us talk about being young people today in a way that we’d never done before. We presented a comedy by Laline Paull the next year and quite a challenging piece by Peter Tabern the year after – discovering, as we went, how diverse the Connections collection of plays really is.

I eventually went on to run a youth theatre company, and there was only one project I thought would capture the imagination and ambition of our young people. We have participated in Connections every year since 2011 when we presented Bassett by James Graham. We also performed Ailie and the Alien by Morna Pearson in 2013 and Remote by Stef Smith in 2015 at the National Theatre, which was an amazing experience for both me and the company. This year as we perform Gargantua by Carl Grose, the most exciting moment for us will be when we share our work at Norwich Playhouse, where all the youth theatres in our region will celebrate what we have done together.

Because of the professional practitioners I’ve worked with through Connections and the practitioners that have seen UROCK Youth Theatre’s work, I have now started directing professionally. I will always be thankful to Connections and engage with it in many ways in the future. To all those participating in Connections this year, I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world – and never stop playing.


William Homer
Connections participant, Dudley College

From that first read through of the script, to your audition and all the way to opening night, Connections is an amazing experience and working on it for the past two years has allowed me to excel as an actor. Getting to work with extremely talented people and then putting the play that you put your blood, sweat and tears into, out there for people to see is extremely rewarding.

Through Connections, Dudley College allowed me and my fellow students to express ourselves and as a result I really feel like the productions we’ve created are truly ours. Taking our pieces to Warwick Arts Centre was another jaw-dropping experience. Seeing everyone else’s hard work alongside presenting your own is what’s incredible about this project – people you’ve never met before wow you with their amazing ideas and different approaches to a range of plays.

I have loved being a part of Connections and I can’t wait to see how far we can take Blackout this year. We have all worked incredibly hard and I want to thank Andy, Ian, Karl and the cast for creating amazing memories and lasting friendships.

 

Peter Hussey
Artistic Director, Kildare Youth Theatre

Being involved in Connections for over 13 years has really shaped how Kildare Youth Theatre has evolved. It has helped us focus on international collaborations as we learn so much from working with other cultures, audiences, and professionals. It geared our thinking to always making theatre for more than a local audience.

Our productions of plays by Jon Fosse, Laline Paull, Fausto Paravidino and many more writers from the Connections portfolio introduced the work of these and other great writers to Irish audiences for the first time.

The emotional, educational and professional development of the young people has been almost entirely shaped by positive Connections experiences:

‘Performing in Connections at the National Theatre meant the world to me. It was the best time of my life. I genuinely couldn’t believe that we were asked to perform there because it seemed to be something that just doesn’t happen to normal teenagers like us.

Arriving at the National was very surreal. I was so overwhelmed, I just couldn’t wait to get inside the next day and perform. We were treated like professionals – having proper stage hands backstage with us was such a strange, yet great feeling. I really felt like they genuinely wanted us to be there, that all they wanted was for us to perform our best and have a perfect show. It was the time of my life.’

For Kildare Youth Theatre, Connections is at the heart of what we do.

Joanna Scotcher
Connections Participant in 2006, Set Designer

The off-stage world of set design is mostly unseen and so often a little misunderstood, but in the process of creating of a 'real' show, it’s utterly essential. I think it’s fair to say that Connections made it REAL for me.

Like all burgeoning directors or actors, young designers are obsessed with their art. They are ravenous and stay up all night creating worlds in their sketchbooks, but there is a huge journey to take from page to stage. Unlike actors we don’t tread the boards but rather traverse the scenic workshops, the paint frames, the costume departments, the prop stores and the rehearsal rooms. The Connections festival opened a door and let me into this extraordinary world beyond. This is what’s so vital and unique about the festival – it truly understands the whole process is a collaborative one.

As a first time set designer, I was supported through that process and we then we on to take our company to London to perform on our set on the Cottesloe [now Dorfman] stage. It was an amazing first experience of this world and one that has inspired and driven me in my career ever since.

The Connections Festival is one of many National Theatre Learning projects aimed at supporting and inspiring the next generation of theatre makers.

National Theatre Learning projects are made possible through support from legacy gifts. To find out about how legacies have a lasting impact visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/legacy-giving

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