Leeds Grand Youth Theatre (LGYT) presented an evening of original writing, songs and choreography in a special, one-off Summer Sharing for friends and family on Saturday 31 July. This took the place of their usual summer musical.
It was accompanied by three short behind-the-scenes films by film-maker Kerry Maule to document and celebrate everything LGYT has achieved despite the pandemic.
Lizi Patch, Leeds Heritage Theatres’ Artistic Director Young People’s Theatre, heads up LGYT, whose members develop not only performing arts, but also life skills through weekly term-time workshops. These include acting, dance/movement, physical theatre and vocal/singing training. Since 2012, they have performed numerous big-name musicals from Little Shop of Horrors to The Wizard of Oz, but not this year.
Throughout lockdown, sessions were held via video, with each member sending in creative responses to different themes. The sessions then moved to Zoom, with individual pandemic journeys fuelling the creative work produced through the year.
Lizi: “We’ve all changed, physically, mentally, emotionally, creatively – and what the young people will share has grown out of these 16 months, because the youth theatre are not performing someone else’s words this year, they are performing their own and despite all the bubbles bursting, isolations, social distancing, rehearsing in ever smaller groups and every day bringing a new unknown challenge, the journey is everything, and what a journey it has been.”
The sharing split into three parts for the three different age groups:
Group One, aged 8-11, performed Where Are We Now?, a short new play with original songs inspired by the people and events surrounding the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The Royal Armouries were LGYT’s original collaborators and the Battle of Agincourt Diorama on display there served as inspiration for this piece.
Group Two, aged 11-14, were given the theme ‘Both Sides Now’. After listening to the Joni Mitchell song of the same name, the participants used the lyrics/themes to springboard into their own songwriting. The resulting five songs were performed in Both Sides Now telling us something about what moves them, what frustrates them – and what gives them hope.
Group Three, aged 14-17, performed Stars, an original musical written by 16-year-old Gabriel Owens, who has been a member of the Youth Theatre for eight years. Lizi: “To be able to develop and stage extracts of his new musical, written during lockdown, has been one of the absolute highlights of this incredibly challenging year.”
Gabriel explained his inspiration: “While those living in affluence could find comfort in the space and sanctuary provided by their homes, for many of the urban working class, life was confined to cramped and crowded conditions, whole families trapped in flats, vying for living and working space. Suddenly, Britain was once again subject to profound class divide, and angered by this, I wanted to write about it…. In short, Stars is a musical inspired by lockdown, class, and the belief that the stars belong to everyone.”
Stars follows the story of Joe Smith who reaches for the stars, despite coming from the notorious Skeglington Council Estate and, as a result, being rejected at every turn. When accused of a crime he swears he did not commit, Joe must fight for his future, and to stifle the voices in his head.
The creative focus, energy and achievement demonstrated by these performances must have been very moving and rewarding for all the families and friends of the Youth Theatre members. Let’s hope that the challenges over the coming year are those which are generated by a recovering world in which we’re all leaving such extraordinary times behind us.
Feature photograph is of Daisy. All photography by Kerry Maule.