We’re keen to share the experiences, trials, tribulations and success stories of everyone who works in the youth theatre in Scotland. Here’s a post from Stewart McLaren of Mix Up Theatre where he talks about the journey to starting his own successful company and some of the challenges he’s faced along the way:
“Hello everyone. My name is Stewart McLaren and I am the owner of Mix Up Theatre – a youth theatre group which runs drama classes for ages between 3 – 18. We have classes up and running in Edinburgh (Saturdays) and Dunfermline (Tuesdays/Wednesdays) and are about to start a new program of classes in both Glasgow and Dundee as well.
After graduating in Manchester nine years ago (where does it go!?) I quickly began working as an actor and regularly found work with several companies that allowed me to travel Europe – another passion. I worked extensively with Face2Face Theatre in Madrid for a few years and directed several children’s theatre shows. On returning to Scotland four years ago I started working as a drama tutor for Scottish Youth Theatre. I had worked as a drama teacher on and off for a while but the roadshow that I took part in for SYT really opened my eyes to the possibilities of working with a variety of age groups and just how much fun it is to encourage creativity with youngsters. I work regularly with SYT up to this day and work as the Associate Artist at their weekend classes. I began also working with The Drama Studio in Edinburgh who I am still heavily involved with.
Knowing that there is so many drama classes up and running in the capital city did initially make it a little daunting when I decided to start up my own company. In the summer of 2015 my company – then named Mix ‘N’ Pick Theatre – became the Children’s Entertainment Team for the Boxsmall festival above Waverley Station and it was here that we met many families who were keen to have a central based drama class.
Soon after I started plans for starting up a regular Saturday drama class in the centre of town. There were a number of problems to be solved with the starting up process – finding a suitable venue being one of them. We luckily found a fantastic space at The Salvation Army community centre in their beautiful building on the Pleasance/East Adam Street. It was perfect for us! Then it was a case of finding the customers. I had some already signed up from families that I already knew but advertising is extremely expensive. There are a few free magazines that are handed out in schools but the costs of advertising within and local newspapers are extortionate, and I do not feel that the costs cover the results. For a small business, it is extremely hard to compete against the bigger franchises and charities who can afford to have full page ads. Social media has been a great avenue though for our advertising and I would recommend a good Facebook ad when your website and Facebook page is all set up. Advertising is definitely an area where I have had problems with budgeting and it’s something I am still learning about one year on from our classes having started.
Luckily word-of-mouth has been the best thing for Mix Up Theatre. We started off small but our classes having been growing in numbers each term. We have had some quality professional teachers come and work with the company and we have put on some marvellously creative performances. Each age group works towards a performance at the end of term, recently we had our 12-18s perform a completely improvised performance to their parents, it was hilarious! Mind you, the 3-4s seem quite happy to improvise on show day as well!
With Mix Up Theatre I am interested in finding a real variety of theatrical experiences for the students, I regularly invite industry practitioners to work on a specific theatre skill for one-off workshops, we’ve had: clowning, object puppetry, musical theatre, movement, directing, circus skills, mask making, dance, amongst many others. We’ve even had some pretty amazing visiting theatre companies come in to work with the students as well, we had a spectacular visit from Cirque Berserk and we all went along as a group to see their performance at the Festival Theatre. We had Edinburgh’s improv troupe the Men with Coconuts run an improvisation workshop with our 12-18s and we went along to the Scottish Storytelling Centre to visit them as well. A lovely movement workshop was provided by Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre from Malta who were in town for the Chrysalis festival last year, once again we went to see their performance also. We also took part in the Dundee Rep’s Next Up season and we performed our show ‘A Dream to Fulfil’ on their stage. I am keen to continue to provide these opportunities for Mix Up Theatre to work with practitioners and theatre companies who are working within the industry and it’s a lovely opportunity for networking and the group to really consider drama as a career path. So, if you are reading this and think you might be able to offer us a workshop then please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!
Recently I have started up new classes in Dunfermline, including some school lunch clubs and after school clubs and we are about to branch out to include Glasgow (Sundays) and Dundee (Thursdays). If you are in these areas and you would be interested in working with us then please do get in touch. Similarly, any families you think who may be interested in trying out our drama class please forward them to www.mixuptheatre.com
I love owning a theatre company. Seeing the students blossoming as actors has really been a wonderful experience and I hope to be teaching these students for years to come. I have met so many lovely young people and built some great relationships with the parents and families. I have also met some talented, innovative practitioners within the profession since owning Mix Up Theatre and it’s nice to feel supported and encouraged by individuals and other companies within the industry as it can sometimes feel like you’re out on your own. As Mix Up Theatre continues to grow I’m always learning, delegating and budgeting are where I need to focus my energy over the next year as well as giving myself a bit more time away from work. If you were considering starting up your own company I would recommend starting small, building it up, lots of preparation and not being afraid to ask for advice and help from others within the industry. Youth Theatre Arts Scotland has been a key supporting tool for me and Vikki and the team have been wonderful in pointing me in the right direction. I’d be more than happy to do the same”
Find out more about Mix Up Theatre by visiting their website at www.mixuptheatre.com, liking their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MixUpTheatre and following them on Twitter at @Mix_N_Pick. If you’d like to share your youth theatre experience with our sector, please get in touch with Vikki Doig, YTAS’ Sector Engagement Officer.