The under 25s have assumed control of York Theatre Royal and as TakeOver 2012 opens, Sarah Freeman goes behind the scenes for a sneak preview of the festival’s highlights.
There’s something noticeably different going on at York Theatre Royal.
Despite the sun shining for the first time in months, the cafe is full and across in the foyer set designers are having intense conversations with actors and directors. In short, there’s a definite buzz about the place. The reason is the arrival of TakeOver 2012, which sees the usual theatre management make way for the young pretenders.
Aged between 11 and 25, the group is responsible for staging a two-week festival targeted at younger audiences and is responsible for everything from the programme to ensuring the finances add up. They’ve also rebranded the cafe’s cupcake’s with the TakeOver logo.
“I think people assume that it’s just a cosmetic handover and in reality the theatre’s management are still pulling the strings,” says 20-year-old Paul Virides, who has just finished an English Literature degree at York University and until two weeks ago was juggling his studies with his role as festival producer. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. We have been given a complete blank canvas. So much so that I’ve had conversations with the chief executive Liz Wilson, which have begun, ‘What would you like us to do?’ and the response is always, ‘No, what do you want to do?’”
The festival, now in its fourth year, has always been seen as a brave move by the theatre, but this year’s programme more than justifies the faith York puts in emerging talent.
The main show is a reworking of As You Like It, which brings a Romany gipsy theme, complete with live music, to Shakespeare’s enchanted forest comedy.
It’s performed by a community cast, but like much else in TakeOver 2012 there’s an insistence that while the actors may not be professional, the production will be.
“When the auditions began we were really clear that if we didn’t find the right person for a part first time, we would re-audition,” says the play’s assistant director 20-year-old Amos Jacob, who already runs two theatre companies in the city. “The theatre has given us all a fantastic opportunity and we have to repay that by putting on a first-class production.”
By way of proof, the cast were told in no uncertain terms that all lines had to be learnt by March and a rigorous rehearsal schedule has been underway since then.
“A lot of people will have seen this play before as it’s often performed in open-air productions,” says 18-year-old York University drama student Katie Macintyre, who plays Celia. “However, this production is very different. It’s not only about making it relevant to a younger audience, but it’s about really injecting some life into it. I’ve never acted in Shakespeare before, so getting the rhythm of the speech right was a big challenge, but I hope when people see it they go away thinking that they have seen a really vibrant production.” With As You Like It in the main house, the TakeOver team is using the studio theatre to debut a new play. Scarberia was specially commissioned by the festival and the action is split between two boys who discover a woman’s body on the beach at Scarborough and two others who are questioned following the disappearance of a woman in the resort’s namesake in Toronto, Canada.
The production is part of a new collaboration between the festival and Forward Theatre Project, a collective of 25 writers, directors and designers, which was set up by Charlotte Bennett after she was artistic director of TakeOver 2009.
“We put eight different ideas on the table and after a day-long workshop, the festival commissioned Scarberia,” says Charlotte, who is also producing the show. “At that point there wasn’t a finished script, just the basis of the idea and seeing it now in rehearsal is just really exciting.”
Charlotte, along with Scarberia’s writer Evan Placey and designer Lydia Denno travelled out to workshop the play’s themes with young people in Toronto and seek inspiration for the final set. “Normally when you write a play, you only work with the designer once it’s finished,” says Evan, who grew up in Toronto, but moved to the UK six years ago. “This has been a completely different experience, but a really rewarding one.
“We have two professional actors playing both sets of boys and they have to switch between English and Canadian accents. That’s a pretty tough ask, but right from the very first rehearsal it just seemed to click.
“Although we are in the studio, we haven’t allowed ourselves to be limited by the space and the set design has grown along with the actual script.”
With comedy nights, dance performances and poetry readings, running alongside theatre performances, TakeOver 2012 has everything you’d expect from an arts festival. The only thing it needs now is an audience. “I know I’m biased, but Scarberia is a really great piece of theatre and I desperately want people to come and see how good it is,” says Charlotte. “It’s a play that really deserves an audience and like any theatre if we don’t sell tickets, we can’t say it’s been a success.”
However, according to Matt Williams, Takeover’s 21-year-old general manager, the success of the festival, which has been funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, shouldn’t be judged on simple figures.
“The real success is in getting people involved,” says Paul. “It’s giving people who genuinely want to work in the theatre a platform and the chance to experience the jobs they hope to end up doing in the future. You don’t get that kind of opportunity very often and that’s what makes Takeover special.”
Highlights of Takeover 2012
As You Like It: A Romany gipsy reworking of Shakespeare’s comedy, June 1 to 9.
Scarberia: New work inspired by Scarborough and its namesake in Canada, May 24 to June 2.
Wasted: A day-glo trip through the parks, raves and cafes of south London, to May 26.
Verve 12: Northern School of Contemporary Dance perform selected choreography from the likes of Akram Khan, June 5.
Takeover 2012 also includes a dedicated children’s festival as well as a series of workshops on everything from stand-up comedy to stage combat.
For a full programme of events visit www.takeoverfestival.co.uk