Training and routes into theatre is a hot topic at the moment but, at the Royal Central Scool of Speech and Drama, Talawa Theatre Company are celebrating the 20th year of a flagship training programme.
TYPT offers emerging artists aged 18-25 to work with a professional team to create a show in just four weeks. This year Director Christopher Simpson is working with a group to stage Soapbox. He stepped out of rehearsals to talk to Glen Pearce about the project.
You’re currently in the final stages of rehearsal for Soapbox, what can you tell us about the piece?
It is effectively a show about speech, the power of speech, how we use words to change other people, to accomplish our own freedom – how people use words in different ways. We’ve a Goddess-like politician who uses words in a very eloquent way but then we have migrants who travel in hope of a new life and live in containers. So in a way it’s almost the story of how do you get out of the box you’ve been put into to articulate yourself in a free and dynamic way.
We’ve a young cast of bright and intelligent actors and theatre-makers who have been devising this show over the last two weeks and celebrating their private and professional passions in this show.
So have you devised the entire show from scratch or did you have a basic framework before the process started?
We’ve created the entire show from scratch, led by the question ‘What can you do with words?’ We’re exploring what a soapbox could be. It could be a babble of voices politically ranting, social irritation like people on the tube, it could be wanting to be loved for who you are. We’ve all shared ideas and experiences and started to create things inspired by things that touched us.
You working on Soapbox as part of Talawa’s TYPT scheme, what is the idea behind the scheme?
TYPT is an ongoing programme that engages young and emerging theatre practitioners aged 18-25. It’s been going for 20 years. Our group are 21 -15 and from all sort of different places and with all sorts backgrounds with regard to work they have done and work they are looking to do in the future.
So are all the participants looking to forge a career in the arts?
It’s a group who are looking at a career in the arts, but that could be as actors, as writers, as directors. What I think is beautiful about the programme is it engages people who are just passionate about creating theatre.
What are the challenges for creating a show under the TYPT programme?
Three weeks to create, not only a text but a complete theatrical show is brief to say the least! There’s an element about offering training, there’s an element offering a shared experience of collaboration and creation with new people in the room. These are all the normal challenges of making a piece of theatre but with the added challenge of time. There’s also the challenge of having to curate all the different themes that are generated in the explosive first week into a show.
You are creating the show at the Royal Central School of Speech &Drama, how do you see the current state of training in the arts?
I think the training is healthy when you look at the proliferation of training that is available. I teach in a number of places and I’d say that if people want a training that is rigorous then that training is there for the taking. People who are looking for training need to ask themselves what sort of work they are looking to create in the future and what sort of work they expect and then seek out training that is offering an appropriate scheme.
We’re working in this amazing building here at Central and it is interesting for our participants to be working alongside the other people here.
So do you think a training is essential for emerging artists or can they find their own way into the profession?
It’s amazing to me that if we were discussing playing the violin or many other creative arts we wouldn’t make the assumption that someone could just pick the instrument up and play the Royal Albert Hall brilliantly. In my experience of teaching there are very, very few people who are equipped with the physical, vocal and technical capacities to be fit to work, not only across one rôle well but across a lifetime in a variety of rôles. For me, the concept of training isn’t really an option but is a necessity for anyone who believes in creating excellent work consistently over a long projector of time. I think it is important they respect themselves enough to really engender the best possible capacity in themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean a conservatoire training but it does mean acknowledging that to hold an enormous space like the Olivier Theatre or the studio space in Bath requires an enormous range of skill and capacity.
What are your hopes for the Soapbox company?
I hope they go on to do whatever it is that emboldens them and makes them feel alive and passionate and well in life. If that’s theatre then long may that continue and if it’s in a completely different domain I’d encourage them to go and do that. My hope for this project is that it has enriched their sense of themselves, their ability to collaborate and enlivened their sense of possibilities, wherever they may lie.
Talawa Theatre Company presentsSoapboxat the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama‘s Embassy Theatre from 20 – 22 August.
For more information visit www.talawa.com
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli