Following last week’s reaction to The Casual Vacancy (last week’s is here), three more talented minds share thoughts on young people and the arts; safe places and how much imagination can change and shape a person – hello to John, Jennifer and Anthony. 

John Young

At the age of six I had my first audition for the local pantomime at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. But due to nerves – I never got the role. At primary school I was always keen to be involved in anything to do with performance and I longed for the end of term school production and Devon’s yearly school choir competition.

Starting secondary school I noticed I didn’t always fit in or people really didn’t understand me – making me feel the outsider, which became a little difficult at times.

john young
John Young

As I moved though school, new role models were introduced in my life. It was amazing to be empowered by their presence and they encouraged me to explore new things through both art and performance.

In Spring 1996, I auditioned for Plymouth’s Theatre Royal Youth Music Company and I was in! The company was filled with people I could relate to and everything started to fit into place. My confidence became greater and I loved the thrill of this new feeling which resulted with me winning a scholarship entry for one of Europe’s most prestigious dance schools – Laban Center London  – such an amazing adventure!

The arts played a huge part in my growing up. Without it I feel I wouldn’t have had the outlet during those difficult times we all experience as a teenager, nor the confidence to push myself and develop. I met some of my closest friends that I’m still in contact with today.

I would love to think that every young person can access performance and the arts. Whether that person is talented or not, everyone can learn and grow as an individual.

 John teaches contemporary dance in Stockholm’s Balettakademien. He’s working on four contemporary dance pieces to be shown later this year. He’s also a personal trainer at one of Sweden’s best gyms. 

Jennifer Harrison

What did a creative childhood do for me?

Jen Harrison
Jennifer Harrison

Working in Marketing and PR it’s hard to imagine life without creativity, everyone I meet and everything I see tells a story. As a child I was drawn to the theatre, talkative and with an imagination that would run wild, theatre and the arts were a chance for me to be part of a world outside the box. An opportunity to explore the realms of my imagination and meet like minded young people. At school I was neither the prettiest nor the star pupil, a huge fan of science and the arts, I struggled with maths and higher academia. As a student who was both achieving and struggling with studies simultaneously, the arts gave me a chance to excel where there was no right or wrong, just personal interpretation.

The arts became an adventure for my younger self where I could be anywhere and anyone. Auditioning gave me a real taste of the world, sometimes you were successful and sometimes you weren’t. These highs and lows of both achievement and rejection were firsthand experience of some really grown up emotions, which gave me a tool kit for future life and its highs and lows.

The journey that young people go on with a creative childhood stays with you into adulthood, where you continue to explore, improvise, imagine and discover. In a world which grows more digitally sophisticated by the day, the ability to imagine and be creative is more important than ever before.

For me the conclusion is simple: a creative upbringing leaves the individual able live life instilled with confidence, experience and a desire to look beyond the bubble they live in.

Anthony Newell

This week I watched western civilization crumble in Sloane Square. I watched a sister prepare to die for the honour of her dead brother in ancient Greece in east London. The other night I was transported to a digital world where one’s life was programmed online and people lived without consequence in the west end. I literally live for live art and I was asked why.

Anthony N
Anthony Newell

Theatre was my salvation as a teenager. I found school unbearable. I was bullied and taunted daily. Plays and stories opened up a new universe to me and I welcomed the lack of parochial judgement these alternative worlds offered me. They opened my mind to a future that excited me.

Through this passion I found youth theatre which was a safe and explorative space, away from the limitations of the school drama class. I was a loud, wise mouth of the rehearsal space. I had never had a space and somehow, perhaps this is where the magic began, I had a space to find a voice. A room full of peers and a voice. From a rather withdrawn schoolboy I found the instinct to be myself, to be a comedian, a fool, a failure. Every which instinct was nurtured by facilitators who seemed to understand the capacity of this space to let young people nurture their creativity. I was at war with so many elements of my identity and yet in the rehearsal space I was engaging with and developing a core as a storyteller and witness to other stories that would allow me to develop the confidence and tools to equip myself to explore the world.

Last night at the theatre, I went on a journey to the end of humanity with the actors, I was moved, angered, frustrated and in disagreement with friends when discussing the context of the play afterwards. The arts and the people who taught them to me gave me a perspective on the world that I am profoundly grateful for. They have given me a voice and a framework for how I interpret the world.

After gaining a degree in drama I had an exciting career as a stage actor until the age of 27 when I decided I would rather enjoy theatre then constantly fight to be a part of such a competitive world. I am now a professional audience member! By day I manage a patient involvement department at a mental health trust in London. My favourite part of my job is facilitating creative workshops for our young patients where they can share their experiences through drama. 


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