There aren't many people brave enough to take a youth theatre cast to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is why we wanted to meet with the director of 13, Richard Poynton. We had a chat about the show, the impact theatre has on young people and Richard's career to date.
Hi Richard, how are you feeling about taking 13 to Edinburgh? It's quite a task taking 17 teenagers to Scotland!
"I'm very excited about it all, it's an amzing project to work on and a great opportunity for the young people taking part. On my part I'm a little bit nervous! It is nervewracking but I know the group are hugely excited about going"
Why was 13 chosen for the group to perform last year?
"At the time the group were all 14 and 15 years old so it was quite appropriate as a coming of age tale and I knew they wanted to do a musical. It's one act so it's quite short and simple in terms of staging. It's by a composer who I was aware of and it's got a youthful vibe to it and they really love the songs. I think it was good for them to do something they'd never heard of before, to really create the roles for themselves. I only knew the songs and when I got the script through it was brilliant, it's absolutely hilarious, in rehearsals it's still making me laugh"
How do you think 13 will appeal to audiences in Edinburgh?
"We're performing it at the same time as the National Youth Music Theatre are performing it in the West End and it's also only for a week in London, so hopefully some actors who are in performances in Edinburgh and can't catch it in the West End will come to our performance. I think in general for Edinburgh audiences, it's really fast paced and quite relentless; I think it's a really fun way to spend an afternoon. There's such a broad spectrum of things going on in Edinburgh and quite a lot of it is comedy or play based and musicals aren't that prevelant there. I like putting on big shows in small spaces as I think it has a really big impact on the audience"
What have been the highlights for you working on 13 so far?
The rehearsal process has been really fun and the script is hilarious, there are some killer lines!
The atmosphere you get when creating a show is always great.
How has the show developed since it was first performed last year?
They've all developed as a group and their performance skills have increased and improved. Some of the cast didn't like to sing previously, but since their first performance a lot of the cast have been in shows like Into the Woods and Musical Youth Theatre Stafford so vocally they've really gained confidence. Some people who wouldn't normally be cast in main roles have been given an opportunity and they've gained a lot of confidence. It's really nice seeing them do the same songs now with their new found confidence. A lot of the dance routines have been altered to make them harder, as the group has developed so it needs to stay challenging for them."
None of the cast have been to Edinburgh before and it's a once in a lifetime experience. What do you think the children will gain from performing at the fringe festival?
"I think it will be completely invaluable for them as they're going to see professional actors perform in all kinds of spaces. I think they're all used to quite traditional theatre, so with SGYT I've been trying to get them used to performing in smaller spaces with not much set and just using the physicality they bring as an actor to a performance. It'll really open their eyes and getting them to see a spectrum of shows will be great for them. They're a tight knit group already but they'll really bond on the trip too as they'll all be staying together away from home"
Why is it important for audiences to support the Gala Performance this Saturday ahead of the trip to Edinburgh?
It's the first time this particular group have gone to the Edinburgh festival and the first time any SGYT group have gone for a long time. These young people are going to be representing the youth of stafford. Giving them support before they go will really gear them up, hopefully they'll take the adrenaline from Saturday's performance when we leave on Sunday morning! It'll be a really different performance for them as last year it was in the MET to a capacity of 100 people and on Saturday it will be in the main house to capacity of 500 people. We've had a new set built so it will have a very different feel to it from last year. There's bigger, better dance routines and the cast have really grown as singers and dancers"
Your shows as director for SGYT have included Into the Woods and Arabian Nights, what do you love about directing SGYT shows?
"I've been directing since 2006 and I also direct with Walsall Operatic Society and have been with them for about six years now and I also do freelance directing. What's great with SGYT is that each group has around 25 children in it so across all SGYT there's about 200 children, but they get a really intense expereience. It opens up even more shows to perform as we have smaller groups. As a director you have shows in the back of your mind and with SGYT I can propose shows to do so I am quite spoilt! The team that work on the shows are very proactive so I get indulged creatively! My crazy ideas tend to be accepted..!"
How did your career as a professional director begin?
"I directed some things at university, I studied English Literature as my major subject and Theatre Performance as a minor. It was the first time I ever studied theatre as a subject, I didn't do performing arts at GCSE or A Level. My first paid job was with Brownhills Musical Theatre company. That was a performance of the musical The Scarlett Pimpernell. Once I met people within the field I started to hear more about things that were going on.
After that I met Walsall Operatic Society and directed a few shows. We did a performance of West Side Story which won a National Operatic Dramatic Association award so that brought me to the attention of other people in the field. I also did a lot of work for a small fee or no fee, so I always tried to do something I'd never done before as a director, from Japanese theatre to performing in a traverse theatre. Each project brings different challenges, I like to push myself"
Were you involved in youth theatre as a child?
"I did some performances in primary school, then I didn't really do anthing for a while. I was in school choirs and orchestras, but it was really when I was around 15 and I joined the Prince of Wales Youth Theatre in Cannock and was with them for about 4 years. I'd never really studied theatre in an educational sense as a child. I think anybody can and should give it a go"
Why do you think it is important for children to be part of youth theatre groups and projects?
"Obviously there is the social aspect and it's fun and the children get to interact with people from thier own and other age groups and they can meet people from different schools and different backgrounds. It helps with their confidence and they can explore different situations that they might come across in life in a controlled and safe envirnoment. I'll always remember when I did a workshop about status and the group had to move as someone of a low status through to someone of high status, thinking about how they carried themselves and their body language. It was getting them to see that if you act confidently people will see you as a confident person and it will become a self fulfilling prophecy. I asked the group how they though they could use this physicality, thinking in a performance context, when one girl replied saying "in everyday life". I think they gain a lot from any youth groups where they have to take a risk and take a chance. Through play they can learn about the world, and when we're putting a character together it's all about empathy and sympathy which is really important for them to think about"
What are your next projects once you've recovered from Edinburgh?
"I've got something very exciting planned for Group 8 but I can't say too much yet as they don't even know themselves yet! There'll be more plays from SGYT this year. I spend the summer reading texts and finding suitable plays, but I'm hoping to do some devised work next to really challenge them to create their own piece"