In June 2018, YTAS members PACE and Collision travelled to London’s National Theatre to perform at the prestigious Connections Festival. We talked to both teams about their visits and this interview is with Jenni Mason, Artistic Director of PACE (read our interview with Collision’s Clara Bloomfield here).
Can you tell us a bit about PACE and about yourself?
PACE is a youth arts organisation specialising in working with young people aged from 3-21 years. We offer a varied and year long programme of workshops and masterclasses as well as our ‘Fest’ programme which offers performing arts experiences for young people during school holidays. We also offer a programme of professional theatre for young people, theatre in schools as well as our annual pantomine at Paisley Arts Centre.
I trained at the then RSAMD where I specialised in directing and educational drama. I spent 17 very happy years at PACE, working with young people and writing and directing theatre and film. After a period away working at Scottish Youth Theatre, I returned to PACE in my new role as Artistic Director in March of this year. I am loving every minute of the challenge and am currently leading a programme of artistic review across the organisation. It’s an incredible to be part of PACE as we reshape our artistic vision and make plans to ensure our rich and varied artistic programme of work for young people is world class.
We have just started our Fest 2018 which runs throughout the summer holidays. We believe it’s our biggest and most ambitious programme to date and we are delighted to be working with inspiring creative team from artists from across the industry. We have a varied programme of performance experiences for young people from classic texts and stories, contemporary work, devising and physical theatre, comedy, improvisation, new writing and site-specific performances. We also opportunities for young people who are interested in design and technical theatre. We hope that our programme offers something for everyone.
Can you tell us about the show you took to Connections this year?
This year PACE took part in National Theatre Connections Festival. We were very lucky to work on a brilliant piece called Dungeness by writer Chris Thompson.
“In a remote part of the UK, where nothing ever happens, a group of teenagers share a safe house for LGBT+ young people. While their shared home welcomes difference, it can be tricky for self-appointed group leader Birdie to keep the peace. The group must decide how they want to commemorate an attack that happened to LGBT+ people, in a country far away. How do you take to the streets and protest if you’re not ready to tell the world who you are? If you’re invisible, does your voice still count? A play about love, commemoration and protest. “
Writer Chris Thompson says of Dungeness: “I wrote this play because, like countless others, I was bullied for being gay when I was younger and grew up in a vacuum of LGBT+ visibility. Like countless others, I campaigned for equal age of consent, the abolition of Section 28, the right to marry – to overturn a slew of legislation that was based on disgust, at every turn, I have had to ask permission from straight people to be myself. There are still places in this country where it is not safe for me to hold my lover’s hand; we’re part of something bigger, a global effort to free LGBT+ people from oppression. And we have so much further to go – at home and elsewhere. But most of all, I wrote this because I absolutely love love, and I love being gay”
Director Claire Ramsay worked with a group of our young PACE actors from the start of the year with the first performance taking place at the Wynd Centre in Paisley in March. At the end of March we performed at the Traverse in Edinburgh and in May we learned that our production of Dungeness had been selected to perform at the National Theatre in London at the end of June.
How did the young people react when they were selected to present their piece in London?
To say the cast were absolutely delighted, excited and overwhelmed to be selected is an understatement. It has been the most amazing experience for them from start to finish and one that we know will stay with them forever. On Saturday night they performed to a full house at the Dorfman Theatre to a standing ovation. It was an overwhelming experience for the cast to perform on the National Theatre stage and to see the response from the audience made it even more special. We have watched them grow in confidence since their first performance back in March and they have created an exceptional piece of theatre and the whole team at PACE are extremely proud of all they have achieved. The cast particularly enjoyed how relevant this play was for young people and how important the LGBT+ issues explored were for their generation.
What was the most valuable thing about being part of Connections?
Claire Ramsay who directed Dungeness had this to say: “Being involved in this year’s National Theatre Connections festival has been a thoroughly rewarding and positive experience. It has been refreshing to create new work with young people at its core. Dungeness was an extremely well written and engaging piece that created exciting performance opportunities for our young people as well as connection to the wider, global themes that it addressed. Directing this play has allowed me to further my own practice and professional development. The Connections team at the National could not have made the process easier for everyone involved. I would encourage every company to take part in this exciting and important festival that champions new writing and the transformative power of arts for all.”
How can youth theatre change the world?
We absolutely believe that youth theatre can and does change the world. We know that giving young people a creative voice empowers them, challenges them and changes how they see themselves and the world around them. Over the years we have watched so many young people grow in confidence, find their voice, develop collaboration skills, learn to lead, listen and work together, form lifelong friendships and believe that what they have to say matters. It’s a wonderful way to develop self-esteem and promote positive mental health. We have many young people that have gone on to work successfully within the creative industries but just as important are the young people that go into other careers and still use the invaluable skills they learned at youth theatre throughout their lives.
For this generation of young people life is even more complicated as they navigate their way around the pressures of social media and spend less time interacting and more time in ever in front of a screen. Promoting the importance and the benefits of being creative and having access to arts experiences is perhaps more important now than ever before.
(photo credit: Pauline Ramsay)