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Shaping Our Future: Peyton on how the theatre industry inspires young people

Shaping Our Future: Peyton on how the theatre industry inspires young people

Lately, we’ve been asking young people in our network about their experiences in lockdown, what they have learned from it and how they would like to shape the future as a result.

Peyton is a former participant in one of our Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge workshops at her school a few years ago, and uses her voice today to speak about how the pandemic has made her realise how important the theatre industry is to her and how she would like to see it celebrated more in the future.

I considered myself a self-motivated theatre addict, a regular at youth programmes and workshops and an aspiring producer and writer. I’m one of the only 20 year olds I know who isn’t attending higher education. After completing my A Levels, it was the National Theatre’s youth course that introduced me to producing, the Young Vic’s Backstage Pass that showed me the individual roles that make a production and the Almeida Theatre’s Young Critics programme that taught me how to write about shows. But more crucially, these opportunities introduced me to other people my age who were still discovering what ignites their passions and exploring career options outside university.

For two years, I signed up to any and every theatre youth workshop I had time for and I felt like I was developing into a curious and passionate creative. I had created a network of other like-minded individuals and was developing my skills and sharpening my knowledge about the industry. I felt like I was making progress towards a promising career and opening up to new challenges and passions.

But when the theatres had to postpone their events and I was put on furlough, my busy schedule came to a grinding halt and I had no live shows to look forward to.

Abruptly, venues closed, productions were postponed and youth opportunities seized to exist and with them my motivation and passion. It became clear how dependent I was on the participation, outreach and engagement departments all of my favourite theatres had. The participation officers were now on furlough and I was stuck in my room with an empty calendar, a dwindling to do list and a taunting play collection. The theatre was an external factor that provided me with a social life, professional development and cultural enrichment. Live performances exposed me to experiences that weren’t my own and different perspectives that would challenge my outlook. I now understand that my “self” motivation was a result of my eagerness to interact with the outside world.

Despite everything, I was optimistic and thrilled with the amount of free time I suddenly found myself with. I thought this is an opportunity to finally start writing that play, begin that series of play reviews. But a few months later, I found myself with a stubbornly empty word document and the rather frightening thought that maybe I’m not nearly as self-motivated as I originally prided myself to be.

Theatre has allowed me to meet new people, explore different career options, express myself and explore social issues that are important to me. Thanks to these opportunities, I’ve gained so much confidence in my own abilities and ideas, crucial skills such as team work, public speaking and critical thinking and a CV with both community engagement and work experience.

The UK is the world’s leading country for theatre. It’s worth £101.5 billion and growing at nearly twice the rate of the national economy. For an industry that gives this much to the youth today and the cultural landscape of this country, I would like the government to fund more theatre venues, drama institutions and expressive arts in state schools. The Stage have reported that investment via public funding for the arts has dropped by 35% since 2008, local government funding fell by 43% from 2007 to 2018 and the proportion of all GCSEs being taken in creative subjects is down 20% since 2010.

I look forward to when the world is pandemic free and the theatres have reopened, I will be the first one through the doors and I will make sure those doors stay open for generations to come.

Do you have a topic you are passionate about and would like to share your experience, thoughts and hopes for the future with us? Email pr@jackpetchey.org.uk to find out how.

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