Youth theatre reaches an important Junction
Ahead of a new show at Tramway, Mark Brown celebrates the 10th anniversary of youth company Junction 25
On March 20 and 21, audiences at the Tramway arts venue in Glasgow will be invited to experience a fascinating work which considers the extent to which our lives are observed by others in an increasingly surveilled society. Entitled 5.9 million (the number of CCTV cameras believed to be operating right now across the UK), the work will take audience members in promenade from one purpose-built room to another, where they will encounter a variety of live performances and installations on this pressing theme.
For those familiar with Tramway’s performance programme – which has long been a showcase for much of the best contemporary performance, theatre and dance from around the world – the nature of the piece will come as little surprise. However, what distinguishes 5.9 Million from most, but by no means all, of the work staged at Tramway is that, although aimed at a general, primarily adult audience, it is largely created, and entirely performed, by teenagers.
That’s because it is the latest piece by the venue’s house youth performance company Junction 25, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. 5.9 Million, possibly its most ambitious show to date, is an appropriate way to mark an extraordinary milestone.
Established in 2005 by Tashi Gore and Jess Thorpe (aka Glas(s) Performance), who were recent graduates of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), Junction has grown into arguably the most critically acclaimed youth theatre company in the UK. It couldn’t have happened without the vision of Tramway’s then senior producer Steve Slater, who invited Gore and Thorpe to pursue their youth company idea at the venue and lobbied his bosses at Glasgow City Council Culture and Sport (now Glasgow Life) to fund the project.
Slater wanted to give the two young directors complete freedom to explore their ideas without any pressure to produce work of any particular kind. “It wouldn’t happen these days”, he says, regarding the funding Junction received from the Council.
Nowadays, he says, the people controlling the arts money would baulk at such an open-ended, artist-led project. “I think we need to trust our artists to be creative and they will create”, he continues. “The problem always comes when we are faced with accountants who want to see what the money is spent on.”
There will be those who find Slater’s belief in the freedom of the artist too idealistic. However, the proof of the pudding, as the saying goes, is in the eating, and the case of Junction 25 suggests that the arts would benefit greatly from a lighter touch on the part of those, from local councils to funding quango Creative Scotland, who hold the public purse strings.
With work such as Elegant Variation (2006), From Where I’m Standing (2008) and Anoesis (2012, transferring to the excellent Summerhall venue during the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe), Junction has been deservedly praised for creating imaginatively devised performances of a highly professional quality. Indeed, Anoesis has now spawned a production by a youth performance company in Brazil.
As a theatre critic, I have long admired the company’s output. Over the last three years, during which both of my children, Cara (aged 16) and Ethan (14), have been Junction members, that admiration has grown and deepened.
Gore and Thorpe have created a youth performance company which, through strong artistic principles and an internal culture of openness, altruism and camaraderie, has succeeded in staging consistently high quality work in which the young performers feel a real sense of pride and ownership.
Indeed, to call members of Junction simply “performers” is to understate their roles. The young people who perform a Junction show are also creators, artists in their own right, whose ideas, with the workshop and directorial expertise of Gore and Thorpe, are shaped into the superb work we see on stage.
5.9 Million, like every other Junction show, is rooted in the concerns and interests of the young people themselves. “We wanted to find a way of enabling young people to ask the questions they wanted to ask within a professional aesthetic”, Gore tells me, as she thinks back on the origins of the company.
The crucial point, she continues, was that the young people themselves should be at the heart of the artistic process, rather than simply being handed a play text and assigned a role by an adult. “Jess and I both had experience of youth theatres where we never got the main part, ever. In Junction, it’s not about who gets the ‘main’ role.”
Ask any Junction member, and you will find that the young people themselves believe that Gore and Thorpe have succeeded completely in their original mission. “Junction is pretty much unique, because its work is not based on characters and scripts”, says my daughter Cara. “I think it’s a bit more mature as well. It’s not all written for us, we do most of the creating ourselves.”
Ethan agrees that the directors create the perfect conditions for young people to make theatre of their own. “No-one feels uncomfortable or self-conscious. Everyone feels able to contribute.”
In the case of 5.9 Million, those contributions promise to be intriguingly diverse, providing real insights into how Glaswegian young people (who belong to, surely, the most surveilled generation in human history) feel about the Big Brother society in which they live.
5.9 Million is at Tramway, Glasgow, March 20 and 21. For more information, visit: http://www.tramway.org
This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 8, 2015
© Mark Brown