Friday, 16 August 2013

Choosing your play...

Written by Anthony Banks, Associate Director, NT Learning

Welcome to the wonderful world of NT Connections! Over the summer, you’ll be making your way through ten new playscripts, deciding which is the best choice for your company to perform next year. As well as being quite a stack of A4 for your eyes and imaginations to get through, choosing the script is a decision you’ll have to reach by thinking through several considerations. You might choose a play which has a theme that you know will land really well with your audience, or a play which you particularly want to have the challenge of directing. On the other hand, you may have a group of actors who have been together for a while, and you might therefore be looking for something which has the right sort of cast size and make-up to fit them. Whether the reason is political, practical or purely artistic – but hopefully a combination of all three! – choosing the right play for your company is absolutely crucial to having a successful and enjoyable time next year.

As you read the plays, I thought it might be interesting and helpful for you to find out about how I commission them. We know that the ideals and circumstances for each Connections Company are very different and unique and that is why we always try to make the portfolio of plays as wide and varied as possible. If there is one play in the pile that suits your company, then we’re winning. 

The Connections Writers are chosen after lengthy research and many discussions with people at the National, our partner theatres and literary agents. Connections is a national programme and it’s therefore crucial that the line-up of writers and the places the scripts are developed reflect the nation. Over the next few weeks I will be taking you through how each script was developed to give you a better understanding of where the ideas came from, starting with details of Matt Hartley and Catherine Johnson's plays.

Ludovic Des Cognets ©
Writer Matt Hartley is from just outside Sheffield, and he wanted to write a plucky drama about youth unemployment that took place during one afternoon in a shopping centre. So Matt and I set off to Newcastle upon Tyne to meet a hundred young people and explore the shopping centres where they hang out. We spent a few days at Live Theatre, Northern Stage and The People’s Theatre Newcastle workshopping ideas for Matt’s story, and then returned to The People’s six months later to hear the young actors read his script.

Catherine Johnson wanted to write a play about partner abuse so she came up with a story and wrote it in the form of a letter which became the centre of a schools project which Myrtle Theatre company ran in Catherine’s home town of Bristol last year. Catherine observed feedback sessions with the young people who heard the story and then set about writing the full stage version, which included her writing all the lyrics for the songs. Catherine and I then travelled to Winstanley College in Wigan where the brilliant drama teacher Jayne Courtney prepared a reading of it with her students and also set the lyrics to backing tracks they created and sang along to. 

Check back soon to read about the other eight scripts, and to see video clips from some of the workshops.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

#NTCFest - Mobiles and rehearsals...

Written by Jessica Mulle, Jigsaw Arts Youth Theatre 

It’s amazing how much refining can be done when you really put in everything. I think I speak for everyone when I say this really is the hardest we’ve worked at something, and we have come such a long way – as performers, in our show itself, as a company and as people.

Performing at the National Theatre really is a dream come true for everyone. As a young person who aspires to be a professional actor, this is so much more than I would have dreamed of achieving at 17. Being told that we were to perform in the Olivier Theatre in front of 1200 made all our hard work and effort so worthwhile! Once we heard our result, our company knew that we had to rise to a new challenge. Working with the NT Connections directors has given us insight in what it is like to perform in a theatre of this scale. Talking to the NT directors about what technical elements we would love to include within the performance we have been astounded at the resources we have been offered. This has really opened our eyes to the scale of what we are performing on. Furthermore, having the opportunity to perform to the writer Jim Cartwright, blew us all away, it really was inspiring and so helpful to hear his insight.

The whole company loves Mobile Phone Show – it moves rapidly from hilarious to heart wrenching to poignant and the audience are swept along in this range of emotions. We feel so privileged to be working with the NT Connections team who have invested so much in us. Having the opportunity to work on such an amazing play with people I think of as family and doing something we love is incredible.

What I’ve enjoyed most about this experience is seeing our production blossom, friends and family who watched our original performance commented on how they couldn’t believe how much refining and polishing we had achieved by the time we performed at the Arts Depot. Once we had been notified of our success and impending performance at the Olivier Theatre this inspired us all to be even greater.  We knew we had more work to do to bring our play to such a massive performance space and we have all relished this and are proud of our achievements.

Mobile Phone Show includes a lot of chorus work which was unfamiliar to many of our group and was possibly the biggest challenge, certainly for me. We had to ensure that the choreography was perfectly timed and executed and work on building our stamina to stay on stage for the whole play; this has been very demanding and a large focus of our work. Overcoming these challenges and seeing our chorus work come together has been incredible and everyone really has put in so much (including our amazing directors!).

Bringing our production to the National Theatre is something incredibly daunting, yet unbelievably exciting at the same time! Certainly there’s nothing that I’ve achieved in my life that I feel so proud of and I can’t believe how lucky we are to be given this opportunity.

We really can’t thank NT Connections, Jim Cartwright and everyone involved in this process enough

Saturday, 6 July 2013

#NTCFest - My Journey to the Olivier Theatre

Written by REBECCA MILLER, Winstanley College

Since the first moment we received our scripts, the whole process has been a whirl of excitement and fun. From beginning at the start of the year, the cast has bonded into a tight knit of people, through sharing the joy of getting to Kendal to being told we’d made it to London. Since Kendal, everything took a step up. Rehearsals were infused with a lively beat instead of nervous energy and it’s all any of us can talk about. We’ve broadened our acting horizons in terms of practice techniques, such as projection practice on the field, ensuring we’re prepared to perform to over 1,000 people! We’ve focussed more on completely portraying the message of the play and doing such an emotional script justice, picking apart our lines and ensuring that poignant moments are done as well as they can be.

Actually going to perform on the Olivier Stage is an overwhelming thought – something I don’t think any of us have really come to grips with yet! It’s so exciting to think that we’re going to be performing on such a renowned stage, where actors who seem a million miles away have once performed. The experience to actually be part of a professional company for the first time for any of us is also enthralling – something any young actor only dreams of. To think that at the start of the year, we never expected to get to perform in London and were merely there for the experience and joy of the performance makes the position we’re in today so much more wonderful for us all.

The whole National Theatre process has been enjoyable, from making new friends to learning new techniques and actually feeling like – and being – a professional group of actors. We’ve been given an experience that is difficult to gain anywhere else as well as being able to see so many other groups perform and being exposed to all different kinds of interpretations. Not only on the broader scale, but on personal levels – for me, after our first performance, the reaction of the National Theatre representative was overwhelming because he was so amazed by what we’d managed to achieve in such a short space of time and his words of praise were something I’ll never forget.
Difficulties have definitely been found on long rehearsals, when the cast’s a bit tired and grumpy, but even then all it takes is a moment to appreciate the position we’re in before we’re back at it! For me, nerves especially really kicked in at Kendal as I think it did for everyone else, because it was our first time in front of an audience that we didn’t know and we just wanted everything to go right.

In the end, it’s all been like a bit of dream really. We’ve loved every minute; from the first read-through of the script to now actually having created and become our characters. The experience has been one I’ll never forget and I’ve cherished every moment!

See Rebecca perform in What are They Like? by Lucinda Coxan on Monday 8 July, Oliver Theatre

Friday, 5 July 2013

#NTCFest - We Lost Elijah by Ryan Craig, Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre, Northampton

Photo by Simon Annand (c)2013

Written by Jake Ward

I found most surreal, riveting and uniquely diverse about National Theatre Connections is discovering the links that it makes between all aspects of the theatre industry. We were given an amazingly rare opportunity as young people to work alongside up and coming playwrights, with the support and platform from a prestigious theatre like the National placing us at the heart of the creation of contemporary theatre.  Connections is so forward-thinking as it is a collaboration of young people, arts venues and staff, playwrights, directors, designers and technical teams, combining a variety of skills and experience to allow us to creatively take part in an opportunity that brings new pieces of writing to life.

I believe that what makes NT Connections even more exciting is the idea that texts can be performed in different dialects and interpreted and explored in different ways across the whole of the UK. This means that the Festival and the plays written for it act as a universal connection between all young people, as they explore relevant issues and themes, irrespective of who we are or where we live. This highlights that theatre is so important for young people, enabling us to express ourselves and actively take part in what is going on around us.

When rehearsing the play, what was immediately evident was the importance of an ensemble, giving the whole process a professional and realistic feel. This ranged from exercises which brought us together as a company, observing, learning from one another and offering constructive criticism, and working with our director to interpret the script and characters, and offer our own ideas. Rehearsals where all about exploring, and both physically and emotionally creating depth to the characters, whilst always developing and testing out character relationships and different interpretations to keep the piece engaging, energetic and fresh each time we performed it. Due to the complexity and difficulty of the varying interpretations of the characters and dialogue, we were continuously pushing ourselves; getting up and trying new things in order to allow the performance to progress and grow.

What I found most rewarding and challenging was exploring the layers to the characters and the language in the play. The story, although only one hour long, sees characters all experience their own individual journeys. It was important that we allowed ourselves to go on this journey and find out about all the different layers to our characters.

Moving the play from the rehearsal room to the Royal stage, and then into The Shed, has encouraged us to think carefully about the movement in the space and our character relationships. When performing it in The Shed at the National Theatre I know it will be an exciting climax to the Festival – a showcase to the UK of what has been achieved when young people, playwrights, venues and their teams, all come together and make inspiring and amazing Connections. 

Jake Ward played Elijah in We Lost Elijah by Ryan Craig on Friday 5 July, The Shed, National Theatre 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

#NTCFest - Don't Feed The Animals...

Photo by Simon Annand (C) 2013

When we first heard the news that Jo had entered us into NT Connections, we didn't exactly have high hopes. I mean, Dorchester Youth Theatre, in a national youth theatre festival? The odds weren't looking good. But we were extremely excited to be working towards such a big project, and were curious as to how other companies would perform what we quickly named "our play".

We first prepared for our performance at Thomas Hardye Theatre. A simple, traditional stage, it was end-on, so it was simply a question of putting together the play like we were used to. It was fun working through the bumps, finding out what scenes came to us naturally and what scenes we really needed to work on. Working on the final scene, with the entire company performing onstage at once, really brought us together; I can safely say that I love and trust every single member of DYT like family.

Of course, after our first performances, we then had to get ready for Plymouth- which, so far, has been the best day of my life. The stage was still end-on, but the seating was tilted upwards, so all the sightlines changed. We also had to find out how difficult the performance would be without an official backstage, but that was the least of our problems. The performance was the best we had ever done, and the whole day was so fantastic I can't put it into words. Everyone was so proud and pleased, and we all loved the whole experience.

Then came the day when we found out. "I hope you've all kept the fourth of July free," Jo said with a growing smile, "Because we're going to the National Theatre!" We screamed and sobbed with absolute joy- how many actors can say they've performed at the National Theatre? How many people can say they've done it when they were teenagers? We couldn't concentrate on anything that session- it was just a mass of highly strung, emotional teens who were all feeling the exact same thing.

We immediately started re-working the play so that we would be prepared for the thrust-stage layout. As we had re-worked already, it wasn't a big challenge; the problem was having our backs against the audience. For actors who have been taught from day one 'always face the front', it was hard letting go and actually having the confidence to turn away.

The whole company is so excited for the NT. We can't believe we got so far in the process with so many fantastic groups. The National will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it's all any of us can think about. From day one, people had said we could go to the NT, and we never believed it. More than anything, this has taught us to believe in ourselves, and to trust each other like a family.


Written by Roni Neale playing Missy in Don’t Feed the Animals by Jemma Kennedy

Dorchester Youth Theatre

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

#NTCFest - Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy

Photo by Simon Annand (C) 2013

Written By Alex Bird

Coming back to start rehearsals again was great, it was amazing to see the whole cast back together again for one last run at The National. After a congratulatory applaud from everyone for getting so far and a quick catch up we got to work. The new National Theatre space, The Shed, works on a thrust meaning it’s a lot more intimate and stripped back so a lot of the set would not come with us to The National. This also meant everything had to be re-blocked for the new stage. The challenge seemed daunting, having to re-work a show we were so used to minus the set; it was hard to imagine what the finish product would be. We are now closer to the show date than ever and the show feels at its best. The thrust stage means more reason to move and explore, which we didn't have the luxury of before. Also, by Jonathan Harvey ‘s wishes, we changed a few things we set before making the whole play feel more fresh and exciting. Truly this will be the best performance yet.

The National is really a space actor’s dream of performing in and with this being my second time taking part in connections, being here is all the more exciting. I even remember my director from Gargantua (By Carl Grose) saying two years ago “Even I haven’t been to The National” showing what a big deal it is. I think for myself it didn't sink in as quickly as it did for others. My big realisation was having Jonathan Harvey, The National and The Press coming down to see the show all come together. I really got to see how lucky we are to be where we are and how they cared for our show like they would any other professional show, it was a nice feeling as well as an eye opener to how big the project is. Quoting from The National I expect getting to the theatre will be like a military operation, everything planned and ready so it runs smoothly, but it will also be incredible standing on that stage for the first time and taking it all in. 

I have really enjoyed being a part of the show, working with a professional director and being back at Lost has been so exciting for me. What I most looked forward to with this play was the challenge of playing a gay character in the modern day and staging the fight scenes. Both of these new challenges have really helped me grow as an actor, amongst other experiences in this process. I had mixed emotions about the fight scene. I was always excited to try stage combat for the first time but as the victim of the assault I was always worried of possibly being hurt. Funnily enough it was I that did most the damage by not falling properly, which showed me how safe everything was and I didn't need to worry, but after a little more help from our fight director the scene was soon one of the best in the show. What I did find difficult was realising some faults in my speech and movement that needed work, but I am hugely grateful as I am able to grow and improve from leaving this show with knowledge of how to articulate and work in a space. I could go on and on about how challenging this play was but with each challenge was a success and I hope that will come across in our final performance.

With only a week to go I can only hope that this will lead me on to more discoveries into myself as an actor, but this experience has really helped me realise my potential and what I can achieve if I work hard enough for it.

Alex played Darren in Tomorrow I'll By Happy by Jonathan Harvey on Wednesday 5 July 2013, in The Shed, National Theatre

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Chichester Festival Theatre - A Partner Theatre's Perspective of Connections

By Luna Russell

Chichester Festival Theatre has been a partner theatre in NT Connections for several years and one of the most exciting parts of the festival is seeing the work of young people being performed on a professional stage. The opportunity to work with a team of technical theatre professionals, bringing the best lighting and sound to their performance gives the companies a real boast and their performance rises to a new level.

More and more companies are encouraging their young people to get involved in the backstage areas too and our technical team welcome the opportunity to work with them, explaining how the equipment works and how to make their show look and sound fantastic, operating the lighting and sound boards and gaining tricks of the trade to take back to school or their youth theatre.

It’s great to see the support that the companies give to each other during their performance day at the theatre, they are all going through the same experience and can empathise with the rollercoaster of emotions from nerves to euphoria, wishing each other good luck and celebrating their successes together.

The most exciting days are when teachers and youth theatre leaders throw themselves into the learning experience too, happy to step out of their comfort zone and learn new skills gained from working with theatre professionals.  Their excitement to get back to the classroom with a new way of running a rehearsal and planning a successful production means that this isn’t just another project; it’s an opportunity for everyone to look at new ways of creating theatre.

To apply to take part in Connections 2014 click here

Monday, 24 June 2013

What I learnt from being in Youth Theatre

By Sabrina Mahfouz

I went to a youth theatre and sang songs, mainly from Bugsy Malone. I was rubbish. I never got picked for any leads and when I occasionally did get a decent part, I was too shy to own the stage like those much shinier and straighter-haired girls seemed to do and so I stayed in the shadows. But I stayed.

And I learnt. About how far some people will go to get applause; about what shade of tights to wear on stage to make your legs look longer; about the importance of knowing your left foot from your right foot. But seeing as I work in theatre now, I know that I also learnt about the power of storytelling; of performing words to an audience and transporting them to another place; of the importance of theatre to comment on who we are, where we are and what we could be.

I would never have admitted it or perhaps even been conscious of it at the time, but I learnt how to speak louder when it was needed and to stay silent when the lines weren’t mine (my friends may disagree). I learnt that even if there is a spotlight on you, you still have to work extremely hard to light up the stage. You may like to think that an audience can collectively lie, but they can’t. You know when they’re with you and they know when what they’re seeing and hearing is something true.

I was never that good at speaking other people’s words on stage, but attempting to do it is without doubt what got me writing and subsequently performing my own words – so thank you, Bugsy Malone. Thank you, youth theatre.

To take part in Connections 2014 click here

To see Sabrina talk about her Connections 2014 play ‘A Shop Selling Speech’ click here

Monday, 17 June 2013

A Connections 2014 writer's perspective

by Dafydd James

So, one of the reasons I agreed to do National Theatre Connections is that I'm not young anymore. I've got grey hair, or at least, flecked: a definite badger quality to my mane.  And I find myself enjoying trips to John Lewis and comparing sofas. It's a sorry state of affairs and I think as a writer you need to try, at least, to keep a youthful sense of play. Not spend your Saturdays testing the quality of bounce on a settee. 

I've worked quite a bit with young people. I generally find their response to my work the most useful: articulate, honest, politicised, yet devoid of personal agenda.  They often bring to my creative practice an insightful, queerer perspective of the world.

In researching my topic I worked with two extraordinary groups: drama students at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni (Rhymney Valley Comprehensive School) and the young people at Mess up the Mess Theatre Company. After the inevitable theatre games where I desperately tried to convince them that I was worthy of their time whilst pretending to be a chicken, we discussed various topics, ranging from what they were most scared of to how it was to grow up bi-lingual.

Their answers were extraordinary: honest, hilarious, revealing and touching. In fact, everything I would like my writing to be. I might as well give up now, I thought; but I couldn't, I had to write a play.

So it got me thinking (à la Carrie Bradshaw): they reminded me that growing up as a Welsh speaker I have had access to an extremely rich cultural heritage. Some of it seems awe-inspiring and incredibly profound: its literature, its music, for example. Some of it appears just plain bonkers, invented by a man on laudanum. Every year in an Eisteddfod we award a chair to an exceptionally gifted Welsh poet  (awe-inspiring/profound). Surrounded by people dressed as druids and flower girls, he/she sits in the chair, over-seen by an Arch-druid brandishing a sword (bonkers). I think it's rather wonderful. Of course I do – it's über-camp and I love a man in a frock – and actually, this distinction of profundity vs. bonkers(ness) entirely depends on your perspective on things: they are not necessarily mutually exclusive or oppositional phenomena. When that Arch-druid waves his sword above the poet's head, why can't he be a little bit of both?

The fight to retain these traditions, however, often feels oppositional. Growing up in a marginalised culture I frequently felt like I was celebrating what makes us different in opposition to a dominant culture, in order to prevent us from becoming subsumed, diminished or worse, disappear altogether. There is a danger to such oppositional thinking, however. I became interested in the tension between promoting difference as a positive act, and the darker extreme of this: the tipping point between nationalism and a more authoritarian regime.

So here was my theme. I wrote a play about a group of young people who are chosen to sing the village anthem at the Mayday festivities. They rehearse together in a paddock on a glorious summer's day, only to discover they've been chosen for a far darker purpose. It sounds terribly bleak, and it is. But hopefully, it's very funny too. Up to a point, before it tips. Plus everyone gets to sing, so that's OK; and there's a boy in a Stegosaurus costume, which should hopefully ease the pain.

Now, before I have the Arch-druid at my door waving his sword around, let me be absolutely explicit: Welsh-language culture is diverse, multi-vocal and, mostly, something I celebrate; so I haven't written this play to suggest that it's authoritarian. Rather, Heritage is about how individuals, in any culture, have the potential to manipulate tradition for fascist gain. A Morris dance, Ceilidh or Michael Flatley could be lethal in the wrong hands, you know what I mean? It's about the nuances of power within a group and how we often desire our own submission. It's about questioning the way we protect our differences.

In Wales we have two national theatres: Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales, who both interrogate and produce 'Welsh' work in the Welsh and English language, respectively, though their linguistic communities overlap. I have written for the two companies: 'Llwyth' and 'The Village Social' both investigate the idea of cultural boundaries. It seems significant that I'm writing about similar themes for the Royal National Theatre because the act itself perhaps embodies my ongoing artistic concern – to probe cultural categories – through 'performing' as a writer for these different 'National' theatres. Hopefully these performances open out the dialogue to interrogate what and how such 'national' boundaries come to signify. I really hope that groups in Wales are as inspired as I was to participate in Connections, so that we can all collectively continue to perform across these boundaries, make connections, celebrate and recognise our differences in critically inclusive ways.

Finally, and importantly, Heritage is as much about being young as it is about nationalism: what it is to try and find your own place in the world when you're born into a specific cultural heritage. The dinosaur boy in my play comes to a sticky end. The boy I knew in school who was obsessed with dinosaurs grew up to become a wonderful paleontologist. He stuck to his (peaceful) guns, and created a successful future through interrogating the past. I think there's a metaphor here somewhere; and it's a hopeful one.

To apply to take part in Connections 2014 click here

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Not a load of Guff!

By Mhairi Gilbert - PACE Director -The Guffin

NT Connections 2013 thus far - has been great great in fact we find ourselves PACE bound for the big metropolis.

"Mr Brenton" called and we listened...

I suppose I've always had a slight creative connection to him - way back in my RSAMD training days my year group was once close to performing " Thirteenth Night" another oh-so clever piece of his writing; and when I saw the play choices this year (a host of great writers and plays for us to pick from) my eye was immediately drawn to the words - "The Guffin" and my drama school days 'almost' playwright - Howard Brenton.

It seemed artistically- we were destined to meet after all...

I won't lie- The connections process from 'page to stage' has been - challenging (but in a good way). It’s not always easy to find a play that fits your young, talented and in my case "Scottish accented” cast - perhaps something edgy - something unknown- something of a part for everyone and somewhere right to play it - all things I had to consider before committing to the text that would occupy us for our Connections debut year.

Ticking all the right boxes was never my strong suit but this time round I think I did it.

From the moment I found myself at the Directors' Weekend workshop back in November- with NT director Nadia and Howard himself and all the other interesting Guffin directors I met- I sort of knew I might be in with an artistic shout.

I just really liked this play from the start - I maybe didn't wholly get it but it certainly got my imagination working and that - for me - is always a great sign.

The Directors' Weekend (play workshop) process that the National run at the start of your Connections year is so useful for touching base with your creative drama instincts - the same questions came into my head as were explored both in the morning and afternoon sessions with the playwright and both Nadia and Howard kept asking us - in unusual and inspiring ways...

...What is the Guffin? How do you play it?

And in the end - what to your young cast- is it all about?

This is the baffling creative question I took back with me to Scotland - what is the Guffin all about? 

I knew the Guffin was a device to drive action forward but how it would appear was always going to be this particular Scottish director's challenge.

In the NT sessions nothing was ever fixed on that front - but not in a negative way - more of a positive incentive - that creatively speaking - "the Guffin" like the world - could be our Oyster!

Now oysters are clearly an acquired taste and convincing my cast to artistically try them was going to be tough but if it was to be a PACE Connections year to remember - we needed to taste something just a little bit different in terms of our approach - less production value more process - less show on the outside more meaning through the words ...and so our Connections adventure began and right from the read through my cast knew this wouldn't be easy but it certainly had the potential to be " out of this world".

January and February this year were months where we pushed the creative envelope with - workshops and discussions - rehearsals full of improvisation and wordplay - necessary cast laughter and moments of text frustration and on occasion ...the odd tear...

But isn't that what drama's all about? The full spectrum of human emotions all wrapped up in the fun of your dramatic play...

I can say truthfully we did it all with this one - and what was so fulfilling was we created it - together. We connected. Lights, Sound, Action ...we were a team.

Even down to our choice of delivery for our Home Venue performance. If our Guffin was perhaps a look at being human - then we needed 'to be seen' in doing it - from all sides with nowhere to hide - and that for PACE meant playing it "in the round” or rather 'in the square' for our Wynd Theatre church space!

Our Connections "actors" loved this - the intimacy and inclusion factor of the audience as part of the action driving them on to greater things...

We knew from the start our Partner Theatre - The Edinburgh Lyceum - may not give us the same ideal performance set up - but we figured we wanted to do it our way - at least on home ground.

When Anthony - our NT director - came to see the piece he seemed genuinely taken with our staging  and intrigued by our interpretation of the characters and text the cast were of course elated and ultimately relieved to have found their method of solving "the Guffin riddle " in little but a framed creative 'empty space'.

From my experience of involvement in Connections 2013- I would say that this is an amazing nationwide theatre festival for young people up - one which really levels the playing fields between all who take part - there is no geographic factor - no status - no competition element to get in the way - just the voice of great plays to unite talented youth in a common theatrical pursuit.

When we found out we had been invited to take part at the National's- The Shed this summer I think it made me feel very proud at being close to Howard Brenton's Guffin Voice - very often in Theatre you can feel cut off from things because of where you live and work and although we may just be a Youth Theatre from Paisley - we know we are the passionate heart of a creative organisation that believes anything is possible if you work hard enough.

We inspire so our young people aspire ...and being able to perform "our Guffin" on the National Theatre's “red " stage is just proof that if you follow your artistic vision through in anything-  then Connections can really work for you.

I'd like to thank everyone who has helped me realise this vision both at the National and at PACE and I would also like to extend my best wishes to the other Guffin Casts and directors who were with me on this creative journey. If you are anything like us you will know how something as simple as a ball can change everything - even down to who you are.

We hope be part of Connections 2014 next year - and I look forward to meeting other Connections Directors and companies in the near future.

Here's to great Summer Festival 2013!
To buy tickets for The Guffin or any other Connections 2013 play click here
To apply to take part in Connections 2014 click here 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Acquiring rights to perform Connections plays

By Katie Town, General Manager, NT Learning

The Connections back catalogue

National Theatre Connections began in 1995 in response to teachers and directors telling us that they wanted exciting and challenging new plays for young actors. Since then we have commissioned more than 130 plays, which form a great resource of new writing for young people to perform. The NT is rightly proud of this back catalogue, so we are always delighted when Connections plays go on to have a life outside of the Connections cycle.

It is not unusual for Connections plays to be performed after being in a Connections cycle. For example, the NT produced professional productions of Mark Ravenhill's Citizenship and Enda Walsh's Chatroom (originally part of Connections 2005) and Chatroom went on to become a film. DNA by Dennis Kelly is now a set text for GCSE English and had a national tour in 2012. Bassett by James Graham (Connections 2011) was been re-staged at Bristol Old Vic for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and, this summer, The Grandfathers by Rory Mullarkey (Connections 2012) will be performed in the NT Shed. We also know that plays from previous Connections cycles continue to be performed by schools and youth theatres across the country.

I want to perform a Connections play but don’t know how to get the rights...

For Connections plays from previous cycles (2012 or earlier), the NT no longer holds any rights in the plays, these rights have reverted to the writers. The NT therefore can’t help you secure the rights. If you want to perform a play from one of these cycles, you should get in touch with the writer’s agent directly. They’ll be glad to hear from you and the Connections writer will be really pleased to hear that their play is going to be performed again.

A quick internet search will give you contact details of the agent (for instance for Too Fast search “Douglas Maxwell writer agent”). Alternatively, a free online guide to modern playwrights and theatre plays, is a great resource for finding details of agents. Finally in recent editions of the Connections anthologies you can also find details of the writer’s agents. As well as the scripts, the anthologies also include notes about how to get the most from staging the production and details on how to gain the rights for each of the Connections plays. Visit the NT Bookshop to buy previous Connections Anthologies.

Once you know who the agent is, you should contact them with details of the performances you are planning. It is usually best to email agents, rather than calling them directly. The agent will generally want to know whether it is an amateur production, how many performances, between what dates, and at which venue. The agent will then be able to tell you whether the rights are available and tell you the terms of the licence.

When you stage a past Connections play, the NT asks that you use the following credit:

[TITLE OF PLAY] by [WRITER] was first commissioned and produced by National Theatre Connections in [YEAR OF PRODUCTION]

What about plays from the 2013 Connections cycle?

If you are interested in performing a current Connections play (outside of the Connections programme), you are going to have to be a little bit patient. The NT holds the performance rights to the current Connections plays up until two months from the end of the NT Connections Festival (this year from 8 July 2013). The NT keeps these rights as during this time we decide whether or not we will produce a professional production of the play. We’re sorry to say that without exception, until that decision is taken the NT cannot release these rights.

We know that schools and youth theatres are keen to perform Connections plays, so we take this decision as quickly as we can; the option period runs until 8 September 2013, but we will often make the decision sooner.

We then release rights back to the writers and their agents, either immediately or at the end of the professional run. As soon as the rights have been released, you can contact agents to obtain performance rights in the usual way.

Tell us about your production

The NT is always delighted to hear about Connections plays being performed again, so tell us about your production on Facebook ( or Twitter @NTConnections #NTConnections 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Connections through the eyes of company members

Hello, my name is Eliott, 17, from Gloucester College, and I am in the cast for 'The Mobile Phone Show' by Jim Cartwright, one of the ten plays commissioned for this years Connections. Being a part of Connections has been a fantastic opportunity for me and has really opened my eyes to how much we actually use our phones and what kind of impact they have on our lives.

I recently interviewed some of the members from the cast about what its been like to be a part of Connections and what its been like to work with such a tight group.

Amy Townsend, 19
I'm honoured to have had the opportunity to take part in Connections and perform 'Mobile Phone Show'. It's been an interesting/different experience but I have really enjoyed being part of it. The hard work is really paying off as we have managed to put on a brilliant show!

Spike Hart, 17
Connections has been a good challenge. Working with everyone to put on a unique show has been a great experience with ups and downs but the hard work is paying off. I am proud to be performing Mobile Phone show with such a great group :)

Olivia Hunt, 17
Connections is like any other play on the stage right now! It takes one object that we use everyday, and creates an array of scenes that happen in everyday life using that one object. I feel honoured to have been selected to be a part of this show as I feel I've grown not only as an actor, but it has made me look a lot deeper into materialistic objects we use in our day to day life. BRING ON THE SHOW!

The Mobile Phone Show will be performed at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff, on April 13th.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Directing “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy” Part 2

I blogged a little while ago about directing Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy with Yew Tree Youth Theatre and NT Connections were kind enough to ask me to blog again after we’d completed our home performances.  Hence this sequel…

We’re in our Connections break at the moment, the home performances are all done and dusted and it’s a couple of months until we have the highlight of our YTYT year and perform at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal.  This is the point in the project where I reflect on what we’ve done so far and the director’s report from the NT director (Jack) who visited Wakefield and with all this in mind think about what comes next.

The first things I have to reflect upon and indeed celebrate are the huge achievements of the actors.  The cast pushed themselves so hard, developing characters with more bravery, truth and integrity than they have ever achieved before.   They all stepped out of their comfort zone to such good effect and what’s lovely is it’s not just me who thought so…our show report praised the maturity and care put into the challenge of bringing the characters to life.  We talked a lot about ensuring we treated the issues with respect, that we played the characters and the story not the tragedy.  We discussed balance and what it was to live the lives of the character.  We experimented and redrafted and thought and debated and the result was something to be unequivocally proud of.   It’s so lovely as a director to see such well earned pride manifest itself in the smiles and words of young people who have put their heart and soul into something so very special.

The next thing I find myself contemplating is the response of the audience to the play.  I have to admit being nervous about it’s reception when we opened our doors to the friends and family of the cast.  Such a brutal, hard hitting story was bound to get a reaction; I was both curious and apprehensive about what that reaction might look like.   Apparently I didn’t need to worry at all; so many people came out of our production of “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy,” praising it greatly.  They were hugely impressed by the way the cast carried off the darkness of the piece and the intensity of the story.  Intriguingly however a lot of them then added to their praise that they didn’t know how to feel about it.  After a few of these comments it occurred to me that it was because the playwright, Jonathan Harvey, has purposefully in his construction of the play made us think rather than feel.  In the way he offers the story (it runs chronologically backwards for those who haven’t seen or read it) we can’t get carried away with the fate of the characters.  We are forced instead to look at the decisions they make, why they make them and what should/could have happened instead.  When you’re dealing with a subject such as hate crime this is vital stuff…Jonathan is a clever, clever man…and of course Brecht needs to take a bit of a bow too.

Which then leaves me in the position of deciding what is next.  There is certainly work to do as we reprise the production.  Some of which I already knew, some of which was insightfully signposted by Jack’s feedback which was full of generous praise and ideas.  (Just as an aside here, I have to thank both him and Lucy at Connections for fixing what could have been a nightmare of a date mix up so smoothly.)  When we go back into rehearsals we’ll be thinking a little more about set and sound, we’ll be thinking about the relationship between actors and audience and we’ll be ensuring that all the performances are consistently where they need to be.  A nice set of challenges to inspire even greater storytelling, even greater achievements and consequently even greater pride!

If you want to find out more about Yew Tree Youth Theatre please visit or or our blog where a guest youth theatre member and I blog each week

Sarah Osborne

 If you would like to write a blog post for us, get in touch on

Friday, 1 March 2013

Travelling into the Future by Adele Thomas

Adele Thomas

This is my first year as a Connections Director, and already I have traversed the whole country, from the beautiful countryside of Cirencester, through the snow to Stanley, battled North London traffic and had a trip to the seaside of Bexhill. I have been given tea and shelter from gale force winds from a lovely lady in Kemble, been kept awake all night by party fiends in Newcastle and I have stared out at the sun bouncing off the sea and onto the identical beach huts of Eastbourne. There's always been a lot of drama, and that's before I've even see the shows!

Each of the plays from this year's selection demands such different things from its young performers, and in turn, the choice of play says so much about the company itself! "We're all ALIENS!!!" bellows one performer when I ask them why their group chose Morna's playful examination of the traumas of growing up. It is so exciting to see so many young people, and so many teachers, leaders and directors engaging with new writing in such a wide ranging way, an experience that will no doubt have a powerful, if subtle, effect on how these young performers go forward as theatre makers of the future. When I was young, drama was my life, but while I knew you could possibly become an actor, I had no idea that ordinary, working class kids like me could actually ‘make theatre’: that we could also become writers, directors, producers, lighting designers, designers and on and on.

Engaging with living, contemporary texts does something different to our understanding of the world. It asks young people to look around at the narratives of our time, it demystifies the notion that great plays are written by dead white men. And it asks them to respond with complete freshness to the creative challenges presented: from hip hop battles, to staging a circus, to the quiet simplicity of speaking directly to the audience, there something extremely special about being the first group to embark on the adventure of unpicking a play for the first time!

I have been made to feel so welcome at some fantastic hidden spaces across the country, from the super cool Karamel Club, with its industrial studio space and amazing bar to conversing with the staff in Bexhill about their theatrical stories. Sadly, moving out of the cities, the effects of austerity are all too clear. In Stanley, the Starlight Theatre is packed with a huge audience of the cast's peers, the atmosphere is bouncing and the staff couldn't be more attentive. In a month’s time, this venue will not exist, the staff will be out of work and Stanley will have lost a vital communal space. It is a bittersweet picture of the future of the arts in Britain, and it is in the hands of the young performers that I am travelling to see now as teenagers, that the future of live theatre lives. Which makes it all the more vital that programmes like Connections exist and that the process of making theatre is as open to the theatre makers of tomorrow as possible.

Adele Thomas is a theatre director. She recently spent nearly two years working on The Passion, produced by National Theatre Wales and creatively lead by actor Michael Sheen. Adele was a recipient of the Regional Theatre Young Director's Scheme and won a Writers Guild of Great Britain Award for her work with writers.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Directing “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy”
Sarah Osborne

First some context about the company I direct, Yew Tree Youth Theatre have been around for about 16 years now. We’re based in Wakefield and have over 200 members aged between 6 and 24 years old who meet in 10 different companies every week.  2013 will see our ninth Connections play staged and my ninth Connections play directed.  Despite being something of an old hand I am constantly surprised and delighted by the discoveries made on the journey.

We run Connections as an enhancement project.  It’s for members of the youth theatre who want to be involved in a more intensive rehearsal process and performance opportunity over and above their usual weekly session.  The company have a significant say in the play choice and then audition before casting, it’s the only Yew Tree Youth Theatre project we run where formal auditions take place.

Our connections play “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy,” by Jonathan Harvey is a tough play. It’s tough to direct and tough for actors and it’ll be tough for the audience to watch.  However it is an important story that needs to be told and that makes it worth the effort.  Already the cast have had to challenge their own assumptions about society and put themselves in situations they would never imagined they would have to confront.  Equally however they have had the opportunity to come to terms with things in their own lives.  There is no denying that exploring and rehearsing a play like this teaches young people as much about the world they live in as the craft of making quality theatre. 

One of the challenges in directing Youth Theatre is that the director has to fulfill so many roles.  I have no costume department, no designer, no publicity department, no budget, no nothing. My only luxury is an inspiring co director who being a senior youth theatre member, in addition to his career as an actor, has a different insight into both the cast and the play.  Oh and I have a talented lighting practitioner who helps me negate the need for anything but the most minimal of set.

This minimalist approach however allows me to concentrate on what I believe to be the heart of the Connections experience, acting.  We are making the most of being able to explore both the craft and the application of acting in such depth with “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy,” Asking questions of the text and the characters, exploring the world of the play.  We’re asking the cast aged between 13 and 18 to rid themselves of their own idiosyncrasies and coping strategies so they can get to grips with an entirely different person.  We talk a lot in rehearsal about humility and vulnerability as actors and equally about truth and integrity as performers.

In terms of progress we’re getting there – our first full run last week was interesting…it showed us how far we have come and how far we have to go.  There is a lot of work to do but already I see the way that the cast are developing as a result of being able to do something as valuable and challenging as Connections and that is still as rewarding the first time I witnessed it…

If you want to find out more about Yew Tree Youth Theatre please visit or or our blog where a guest youth theatre member and I blog each week

30th January 2013

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Rehearsing for Home Performances

Highly Sprung Performance Co.-

Jim Cartwright’s The Mobile Phone Show 

3x Blogs by Cast Members

Hannah Pryal, 16
Rehearsing for Jim Cartwright’s new play, Mobile Phone Show, has been an amazing experience so far, and continues to be so. The play itself is an eclectic mixture of force, heartfelt emotion and a touch of weirdness, which is brilliant fun to bring to the performance space. The fact that Highly Sprung is a physical theatre group means that we have taken a truly unique look at the script and really explored the various ways in which we can present what Jim Cartwright has written on paper, hopefully presenting something new and exciting for our audiences - it is definitely exciting for us!

Rehearsals have been fast paced and sometimes a little bizarre but a great opportunity for everyone to get involved and completely forget their inhibitions - there has been running, shouting, prancing and inevitably a lot of laughing but we are gradually working our way through the scenes, creating and developing some really innovative ideas.
So far I have absolutely loved exploring Cartwright’s new script and cannot wait to perform it with Highly Sprung!

Brian McAuley, 17 
I have immensely enjoyed applying Highly Sprung’s innovative and original style of performing to Jim Cartwright’s new piece. The friendly atmosphere, creative inputs and teamwork shown by everyone involved has made me feel comfortable and part of something unique and exciting. Warm ups and vocal exercises have been invaluable. The use of physical theatre has transformed the piece giving it a distinctive "Highly Sprung" feel. The Highly Sprung team have directed our rehearsals constructively but always allowing the performers to be creative. Being involved in a National Theatre project has been a wonderful opportunity and I hope this will bring further shows for Highly Sprung performers to be involved in. 


Nicola Woodward, 14
Highly Sprung Thursday workshops have been focusing on rehearsing and creating Mobile Phone Show by Jim Cartwright.  As Highly Sprung is a physical theatre group we have a different and unique approach to the show than most other groups, this means that our version will be significantly different to other theatre groups and performance companies and hopefully give the audience an experience they will never forget. I find being part of Highly Sprung is amazing especially when we are rehearsing a show such as Mobile Phone Show. I find the experience of working together in a fun environment and with people that you care about makes the experience of performing especially special and well supported throughout the whole process of rehearsals and the shows.  During rehearsal it can be hard work but it's worth it as it is great experience and allot of fun as the excitement builds towards the performances.

I believe Mobile Phone Show has great potential as a great show, I have never come across a show/ script quiet like this one however I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of the production process. It is different to most other shows as it has a strong storyline that is relatable to many even if they are un aware of it at this point in time with guidelines and restrictions everywhere in life. It can be a light hearted or hard hitting show depending on how much you read into its words and actions.  But whatever you take from it is going to be amazing and that is a promise. A great experience for performers and audience alike. 

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