The Chrysalis festival returns this year – a platform for ambitious performances by young theatre-makers hosted by Youth Theatre Arts Scotland.

Chrysalis is staged at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and is curated with the support of a consortium of industry specialists. The festival is the only platform of its kind in Scotland and it offers a new experience for audiences new to youth theatre arts. The festival brings together seven selected youth theatre groups from across Europe to perform dramatic pieces, and also includes a curated series of workshops and talks.

We had a chat about the importance of youth theatre with two of members of Youth Theatre Arts Scotland –   Kenny McGlashan, Chief Executive Officer and James Coutts, Marketing & Communications Manager.

How important do you think a festival like Chrysalis is for youth theatre?

The idea for the festival first surfaced around five years ago, when we started to see more and more exceptional theatre made by young people working in collaboration with talented artists and directors. We were convinced that work of this quality deserved a wider audience and began developing plans for a new platform.

We also knew from our research that local youth theatre activity was growing in scale, diversity and ambition across the country, in part due to our development activities.  With hundreds of local youth groups now increasing their ambitions, a need had emerged for a focussed event that would inspire young companies to test out new work together. Young theatre makers and their leaders told us that a festival like Chrysalis would challenge and inspire their practice onto the next level.

In 2015 Youth Theatre Arts Scotland produced the first Chrysalis festival in partnership with the Traverse Theatre.  Securing the correct venue partner for the festival was one of the most important elements we had to get right. The Traverse is internationally recognised for their work supporting new writing as well as their leading Edinburgh Festival Fringe seasons helped to launch the careers of some of Scotland’s best-known writers.  Establishing a direct link between our network of groups and the Traverse’s professional venue we feel is a game-changer for youth arts in Scotland.

Since then support for emerging artists has taken some fairly major blows with the loss of organisations such as the Arches in Scotland and Ideastap nationally. Given the news that arts courses are also due to be axed from many schools in England, I don’t think there has ever been a more vital time to give young artists a platform for their work. – JC

How has the festival evolved from last year?

The first year was really about establishing a firm place on the festival map. Over the next few years we hope more professionals and groups from across the UK and internationally will come and share new work and opportunities together.

This year four of Europe’s most promising youth companies will be presenting full-length shows in the festival. As part of the Emergence strand, three exceptional companies will also be performing work-in-progress scratch pieces.

Two new strands have been added to the festival for 2016. “Chrysalis Too” runs throughout the festival offering a curated series of workshops and talks about the current trends and challenges within contemporary youth theatre practice. Then on Saturday afternoon, ‘Emergence’ is a new platform for emerging ideas and young theatre-makers where they will present short risk-taking new works-in-progress.  The Emergence audience will be able to contribute their thoughts and ideas on how each piece could develop.

Highlights include Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre from Malta bringing CLUB to the festival. Their performance focusses on a group of teenagers dealing with the aftermath of a tragic accident in the world of today’s cyber-teenager.  The impact of the topic and the power of the company’s physical performance is sure to stand out.

In contrast to Teatru’s piece the Platform Young Company from Easterhouse have devised a new fictional play with writer Lewis Hetherington. The Island is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a group of young people are struggling to find a safe home, to trust in each other and to understand the harsh world around them. Although The Island is a science fiction character play the performances and topics are really powerful and will resonate with many contemporary issues. – JC

What are the challenges faced in putting a youth theatre performance together?

Unique for Youth Theatre Directors is that they need to be both directors and facilitators at the same time. They must accommodate diverse reasons for those attending. This requires talent, commitment and a delicate touch to draw together effectively. Youth Theatre Directors often reflect on the balance of the experience and the production as the focus of their work.

Time pressure is another real issue for Youth Theatres and the Artists and Directors they collaborate with. Nearly all of them have short rehearsals spread out over long periods. This requires particular skills and tactics to achieve good results.

Once all this has been navigated and the group makes something honest, insightful and moving, then it’s important the work that the young people make in collaboration with their Directors and Artists is recognised. This is why we established the Chrysalis festival. – KM

Do you feel there is an age discrimination when it comes to young talent in theatre?

Whilst views of youth-created art have been slowly changing we still think traditional programming and criticism often fails to keep up with the innovation we have seen from young creatives. This is where a new platform like Chrysalis can make an important difference. Chrysalis must be more than just a collection of shows, it needs to awaken curiosity, to arouse a sense of discovery and to raise aspirations for the future. Through all of this we hope to stimulate critical discussion around youth theatre performance and encourage a new debate about its value and impact.

As a more public facing event than our other projects, Chrysalis help us to showcase how ambitious and articulate the work in our sector can be. It also provides a bridge between young people, youth theatre directors and the industry. In this way Chrysalis helps sustain the theatre sector as a whole, by developing the next generation of performers, producers and stage-managers and by fostering a more vibrant and connected audience for the future. – KM

Chrysalis Festival takes place @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh from Fri 18 – Sun 20 Nov. Full details can be found here.