A summer of drama for teens

As the curtain goes up on the National Youth Theatre’s latest production, COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to three Cork teenagers involved in the play — about catching the acting bug, living away from home this summer and their plans to chase their dreams
A summer of drama for teens

TAKING TO THE STAGE: Josh Campbell, from Glengarriff Youth Theatre, Amaya Gillespie, from Activate Youth Theatre, and Pattie Maguire, of Cork School of Music Youth Theatre. Picture: Ros Kavanagh

THREE Cork teenagers are having the time of their lives as they feature in a play this month, with the National Youth Theatre (NYT) in Dublin.

The teens, are living away from home for the summer and will take to the stage of the Peacock Theatre at the Abbey Theatre from today until August 26 .

The young Cork actors are living with the other 13 members of the cast of Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). This classic science fiction play is a dystopian fantasy and a century old warning for the modern world.

In it, a factory mass-produces a global supply of humanoid robots, perfecting the formula over decades. As the robots take over every aspect of human labour and people become idle, a robot rebellion seems likely. The play argues for the importance of universal human values in an age of technical progress.

The NYT is an initiative of Youth Theatre Ireland, the national development organisation for youth theatre. Since 1983, the NYT has been an opportunity to showcase all that is great about youth theatre with casts of young people, from youth theatre groups across the country. They have the chance to work with professional creative teams.

Amaya Gillespie, 16, from Blackpool, is a pupil at Colaiste Daibhéid and a member of Activate Youth Theatre in Cork, which she joined when she was just 12, encouraged by her mother and a friend’s mother.

“I loved it from the moment I stepped in the door,” says Amaya whose confidence improved when she started drama classes.

“It definitely made me come out of my shell. I used to be more timid and reserved.”

Clearly, Amaya has caught the acting bug and says she sees herself having a career as an actress.

“I know it’s a very difficult career to pursue but I think with luck and talent, there is hope. I think I’d like to leave the country to study acting but it depends on what places are available.”

An only child, Amaya’s mother is very encouraging about her daughter’s plans.

“She’s a guidance counsellor at Midleton College so she advises me.”

Drama takes up a lot of Amaya’s time. She attends the CIT Cork School of Music for one-to-one drama classes and she plays the flute. She said the rehearsals for the NYT production were quite intense.

“There’s a lot of picking at your brain. We have gone into the script in detail. It’s very draining mentally and physically but also great fun and really interesting.”

Amaya really likes the play. She is “a bit worried about robots taking over” and adds: We’re inching closer and closer to robots that can cut your grass, for example.”

Being away from home is something that Amaya is enjoying.

“I quite like the independence of it. It’s great that everyone is on the same page. If someone is missing home, there’s always a shoulder to cry on.”

Patti Maguire, 17, from Rathpeacon, is a pupil at St Angela’s College and attends CIT Cork School of Music Youth Theatre.

“I love acting. It has become something that I could do in the future,” she said.

Patti was one of 44 applicants for this year’s NYT production.

“You get a form from your theatre group and you have to state why you’d like to get involved. The first audition took place at the Cork School of Music. There was a big group of us and we did a workshop. It wasn’t like the usual audition process where you have to get up and perform something. It was more about seeing how you’d work under direction. The second round of auditions was in Dublin. This was more personal. You prepared a piece and performed it in front of a group of people.”

The rehearsals for the play have been intensive, with long days spent in the rehearsal room.

The play, says Patti, has made her think about a world run by robots.

“I hadn’t actually thought about it before. Mobile phones have been available for a while. We don’t think of them as robots. But when you think about it, they’re taking over a little bit. As a result, people are losing the social aspect.”

Patti is the youngest of four girls. Her eldest sister, Julie, has just graduated in drama from the Lir Academy in Dublin.

“She made her Abbey Theatre debut last Christmas in Anna Karenina, so she’s doing well.

“I would like a career on the stage. You’re either desperately wanting it or you don’t really care. Hopefully, if everything turns out well, I’ll be the same as my sister. I don’t want to do another degree before studying acting. It’s unnecessary if you want to throw yourself into acting for the rest of your life. I’ll go to drama college and try to get work acting. I love musical theatre. I’d love to be in a big and bold musical.”

Patti is thriving away from home, living with the other cast members.

“It means we really get to know each other. We’re all so busy that there isn’t time to feel lonely. We go out for meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays and get to chill with each other. Obviously we need a full night’s sleep to keep going the next day.”

Josh Campbell, 16, is a pupil at Colaiste Pobail Bheanntraí and a member of Glengarriff Youth Theatre. He was persuaded to join the theatre group at 14 by his friends and parents who felt certain that it would be a good fit for him. Although reluctant at first, he now loves acting and is confident that when ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ opens, it will be “a fantastic experience.”

From a young age, Josh has had “high confidence levels. There was something about the idea of doing drama that made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t have stage fright. I got a strange sense from it.”

Now a convert, Josh can see how acting could instil confidence in shy people.

“It has improved my confidence more. I can see the difference in myself in school. I started socialising with everyone whereas before, I’d stick to my own group.”

Up until third year at school, Josh was thinking in terms of construction or architecture as a career — now that’s changed.

“But ever since Transition Year and the school play we put on, drama has seriously opened my eyes. I now see it as an actual career choice. My parents would much prefer to see me on stage than behind a desk.”

In 2006, at the age of five, Josh took part in The Late Late Toy Show.

“Ever since then, I think my parents have seen something in me. They want me to go out and perform rather than take notes.”

Since 2014, Josh has appeared in several performances locally, the most recent play being Angels by Pauline McLynn.

His role in the NYT production is that of a robot called Primus who, uniquely, has discovered the ability to feel emotions.

“You can see how that would affect the dynamic of the play.”

Being away from home doesn’t faze Josh.

“I’m used to being away a bit, staying in friends’ houses so being away from family isn’t too much of big deal for me.”

It’s all part of growing up — and growing into dramatic roles during a summer that promises to be memorable for the teenagers.

For more about the production and the NYT see www.youththeatre.ie

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