This is my first year as a Connections Director, and already I have traversed the whole country, from the beautiful countryside of Cirencester, through the snow to Stanley, battled North London traffic and had a trip to the seaside of Bexhill. I have been given tea and shelter from gale force winds from a lovely lady in Kemble, been kept awake all night by party fiends in Newcastle and I have stared out at the sun bouncing off the sea and onto the identical beach huts of Eastbourne. There's always been a lot of drama, and that's before I've even see the shows!
Each of the plays from this year's selection demands such different things from its young performers, and in turn, the choice of play says so much about the company itself! "We're all ALIENS!!!" bellows one performer when I ask them why their group chose Morna's playful examination of the traumas of growing up. It is so exciting to see so many young people, and so many teachers, leaders and directors engaging with new writing in such a wide ranging way, an experience that will no doubt have a powerful, if subtle, effect on how these young performers go forward as theatre makers of the future. When I was young, drama was my life, but while I knew you could possibly become an actor, I had no idea that ordinary, working class kids like me could actually ‘make theatre’: that we could also become writers, directors, producers, lighting designers, designers and on and on.
Engaging with living, contemporary texts does something different to our understanding of the world. It asks young people to look around at the narratives of our time, it demystifies the notion that great plays are written by dead white men. And it asks them to respond with complete freshness to the creative challenges presented: from hip hop battles, to staging a circus, to the quiet simplicity of speaking directly to the audience, there something extremely special about being the first group to embark on the adventure of unpicking a play for the first time!
I have been made to feel so welcome at some fantastic hidden spaces across the country, from the super cool Karamel Club, with its industrial studio space and amazing bar to conversing with the staff in Bexhill about their theatrical stories. Sadly, moving out of the cities, the effects of austerity are all too clear. In Stanley, the Starlight Theatre is packed with a huge audience of the cast's peers, the atmosphere is bouncing and the staff couldn't be more attentive. In a month’s time, this venue will not exist, the staff will be out of work and Stanley will have lost a vital communal space. It is a bittersweet picture of the future of the arts in Britain, and it is in the hands of the young performers that I am travelling to see now as teenagers, that the future of live theatre lives. Which makes it all the more vital that programmes like Connections exist and that the process of making theatre is as open to the theatre makers of tomorrow as possible.
Adele Thomas is a theatre director. She recently spent nearly two years working on The Passion, produced by National Theatre Wales and creatively lead by actor Michael Sheen. Adele was a recipient of the Regional Theatre Young Director's Scheme and won a Writers Guild of Great Britain Award for her work with writers.