Interview: Rosie Thomas & Ella Nokes on Launching Burnt Orange Theatre’s Young Company

Burnt Orange Theatre have been busy with a summer school throughout August and they have some great work ahead in September too. Looking forward with a keen eye on facilitating access to the arts, the company are firmly focused on projects aimed at young people. Here, Co-Artistic Directors Rosie and Ella give some insights into Burnt Orange Theatre’s summer school and August shenanigans…

First up, how has lockdown treated you? How have you been feeding the theatre-loving soul while theatres are closed?

We’ve both been working full time during lockdown, so it’s actually been a pretty hectic time adjusting to online working and the new normal of relentless zoom calls. We were keeping up with live streams and enjoying sessions run by various theatres and theatre professionals, but we were also in a really fortunate position to be kept busy by our day jobs. It was definitely a hard few months when lockdown was really intense, but we were inspired by the lockdown art and communities that were created online. It was inspiring and activating to see creatives and companies adapting their work to fit with the new reality, it kept us engaged and really made it feel like an end was in sight. 

Lockdown was also an incredibly reflective time. Like so many people we did struggle to remain creative, motivated and driven when it felt like everything was collapsing around us, but it really gave us time to consider our next steps. We’re both very bad at taking breaks in our everyday life, so it forced us to step back, slow down and use the time to contemplate the company and it’s direction. In that sense it was really beneficial, and we’re always in the habit of looking for silver linings.

So Burnt Orange Theatre launched a Summer Course in August, made up of a week of free drama and theatre workshops – what prompted you to start work on launching that exciting opportunity for young people?

We wanted to be back creating together as quickly as we could, and summer is a key time for us and our members, so we were determined not to lose it completely! We created our safe working policies and reviewed our working process to allow us to bring something to life and have young creatives back in a room again. 

We both get bored and itchy if we aren’t working creatively for too long, and we were sure it would be the same for our members. So instead of letting it hold us back, we decided to use the pandemic as a key part of the week and offer the chance for young people to explore devising and developing work in this brave new world. It was a lot of masks, monologues and sanitising, but it was a wonderful week full of incredibly creative young people. We are always amazed by our members, and they really blew it out of the water that week.

And with August entirely focused on that Summer Course, September holds a whole new adventure for you. Tell me a little bit about your Young Company at Linden House in Hammersmith and again, what inspired you to get to work on setting it up.

The Young Company was always going to be the next step following our initial projects. We’ve been desperately seeking a sense of community, a legacy and a structure within which we can really develop and explore everything that our members have to offer. The weekly sessions will provide us with a platform to champion and empower young voices and young stories, bringing them to life consciously and collaboratively, at our new home on the river. The sessions will be used to develop our members’ existing skills, and introduce them to new or unfamiliar elements of the industry. We’re still working to bridge the gap between youth theatre and professional theatre and The Young Company offers us the platform to consistently do that for our members. 

It’s great to see you guaranteeing members of the Young Company at least one performance opportunity in a professional theatre each term – are there particular spaces you’re building relationships with? And if performance spaces would like to offer their support, how can they reach you?

That’s all a little up in the air at the moment with theatre closures. Luckily we already have some established relationships, and we’re hoping we can utilise our venue and some outside spaces to bring performances to life. 

We’re also hoping to work with theatres in or near to our home borough, Hammersmith and Fulham. Often in London it is easy to forget the creative and dynamic potential of spaces in the home boroughs. In South West London we are so lucky to have some amazing theatres and fringe venues all around us, and we can’t wait to start collaborating with them. Any performance spaces looking to get in touch can do so on our social media or by email: burntorange.theatre@gmail.com – we’re always delighted to hear from anyone who can help or support what we’re up to!

The Young Company will run every Thursday 6-8pm and will focus on building youth-centred performances and narratives. It sounds like a fantastic initiative for young creatives to experience collaborative processes – how limited are numbers and will you have a reserve list?

We’re limited by social distancing regulations at the moment, so we are looking to have about 10-15 young members each week. There’s no obligation to attend week on week, so we are able to be relatively flexible with attendance and numbers. We have a reserve list in place on our emails, so anyone looking to attend can easily get in touch and we can confirm a place! 

It’s important to note that both the Summer Course and Young Company opportunities are open to anyone interested in any element of theatre making, from acting and designing to directing or writing. I can’t think of anything more fantastic for young people to have access to after all these months of hiatus! How can they sign up and find more information?

Absolutely! We’re committed to growing and developing young creatives, not just actors, and providing the space for any young creative to explore their work and interests. 

We really view ourselves as facilitators to our members’ visions, so whatever their ideas, we’ll work to make that happen and use what we know to help shape and strengthen the creative process. Our work is made for, with and by young people, so they really are at the centre of everything we do.

Anyone interested can find out more on our website, or get in touch via email or our social media, and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible with more information or to confirm a place.

And finally, what would you say to anyone considering signing up for either initiative who might be feeling a little unsure?

Get in touch! We’re more than happy to chat about anything and everything, and do whatever we can to put you at ease. As a company we shape ourselves around our members and their needs or interests, so we are able to incorporate everyone as a key part of the group or process regardless of current ability, experience or alacrity. We are always inspired and amazed by our members; everytime we meet someone new, they teach us something we didn’t know before. We can’t wait to keep meeting people, learning and growing this year.

So there you have it! To stay in the loop with Burnt Orange Theatre, head over to their website or follow their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

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