BWW Interview: Jeremy Walker Talks NATIONAL YOUTH MUSIC THEATRE

BWW Interview: Jeremy Walker Talks NATIONAL YOUTH MUSIC THEATRE

Founded in 1976, the National Youth Music Theatre exists to create opportunities and provide training for young people, interested in the world of musical theatre.

From playing the piano in auditions to Artistic Director, Jeremy Walker's journey through National Youth Music Theatre is one to be shared. Talking to us about the ambitions of NYMT and the upcoming season at The Other Palace, he reveals just why the work they do is so important.

What is your earliest memory of theatre?

I went to school in Blackpool - and I think one might moan that the North was not as well-served by the arts back then - but I do remember being taken to see La traviata at the Grand Theatre, which was quite heavy going for a seven year old, but I couldn't stop singing the tunes afterwards.

My mother had been a singer, so it was in the household. Although I do love opera, I took a slightly more...commercial route, as you can see!

How did your involvement in this particular 'route' come about then?

Well, I was a musician and became a school Director of Music. In my first job, Jeremy James Taylor (the founder of NYMT) visited as part of his tour around the country auditioning. Later, one of my former pupils, who had been a cast member of Pendragon, became an Assistant Musical Director for NYMT and then a Musical Director. He needed someone to help him with auditions, so I volunteered to do that back in 2006. Playing the piano, accompanying auditionees; that's how I first became involved in NYMT.

I went on to be musical director of several NYMT shows, including Sweeney Todd, and then I joined the board and became producer. Initially, I stepped into the role with the intention of just seeing things through a financially difficult patch in 2011...and seven years later, I'm still here!

BWW Interview: Jeremy Walker Talks NATIONAL YOUTH MUSIC THEATREWow, so from piano playing to producing. What was the first show you produced for NYMT?

At the time, a lot of people were coming into auditions singing Jason Robert Brown songs (and I remember that really distinctly, because I could play very few of them!) And, in a fit of a moment, I sent an email to Jason himself!

I suggested that we were thinking of doing 13 and that, if he was in the UK at any time, would he mind doing a workshop for us. He actually emailed straight back and said, "Call me." He told me that he had heard all about NYMT from Steve (Sondheim!) and that he wanted to direct 13 in its West End premiere for NYMT.

So my first ever job as a producer with little or no knowledge really (well, I thought I knew everything, but I knew nothing) was producing 13 in the West End with Jason Robert Brown directing it, Torquil Munro as musical director and Drew McOnie choreographing. I couldn't have had a better team to be working with.

And some of that original cast are doing incredibly well for themselves, like Amara Okereke playing Cosette (Les Misérables) and Georgia Louise Riley playing Sophie (Mamma Mia).

Let's talk a little bit more about NYMT and the mission behind that: getting young people immersed in this professional world.

Of course. And there are so many different strands to what we do. We're auditioning nationwide to find talented young people from all areas of the country and all backgrounds. And we have a bursary fund to ensure that those who have the talent can take part, whatever their circumstances.

But there's also the part of it which is encouraging new writing. Super Hero (which has just completed its mini-tour) is a great example of that. The writers Adam Johnson and Henry Roadnight have just graduated and they were members of NYMT. Their first ever writing effort was during their time in Sweet Charity with us, when they wrote a sketch entitled "Man in a lift." They've been writing together ever since.

So it was taking that idea for Super Hero, which they'd conceived, and finding ways to develop it. We paired them with a brilliant creative team, including Charlie Ingles, who orchestrated their show, and Kate Golledge, who's not only a brilliant director (particularly with young people) but she's also a really experienced dramaturg for translating work to the stage.

It's just great to see what everyone's getting out of it: the actors, the cast and the creatives, but particularly the writers. So that's something that we want to build upon. And of course, we've got the Creative Team Mentoring Scheme. So young people looking to become directors, choreographers, musical directors - bringing them in to work alongside industry professionals on one of our shows.

That process is very successful, so much so that we're finding a lot of the musical directors we're working with actually started out with us! People like Benjamin Holder who's doing The Beautiful Game this summer. He started out with us when we did Songs for a New World in the same season as 13. Charlie Ingles is another, who is also musical director on Sleepy Hollow. He started out working with us while still at university, and was paired with Sarah Travis on our actor-musician production of The Hired Man directed by Nikolai Foster.

BWW Interview: Jeremy Walker Talks NATIONAL YOUTH MUSIC THEATREThere's so much amazing work going on. And you're not only giving participants a chance to experience theatre; you're also bringing the shows across the country, with the Super Hero mini-tour this summer.

Yes. Although that is something I want to work on and continue to develop. There was actually a post on Twitter recently: someone having a little bit of a go, that Leicester was as far north as we were going this time.

And it's as I said earlier about growing up in the North and being starved of the arts, in that respect. I feel that. And the last time we took a production up there it was Brass, which we premiered in Leeds. And the year before I had a dream of mine fulfilled when we produced West Side Story in the vast Victoria Warehouse in Manchester. (I hate when it's done in proscenium arch theatres!) But, you know, that was four years ago.

The 'National' bit of our name means that we're drawing participants from all over the UK. But I think we also have an important role to play in encouraging and inspiring young people by taking our work to as many different parts of the country as we can. And not just with our productions, but with our workshops as well. And we've got that in the plan for our 2019 season.

Following the mini-tour, you have a three week residency at The Other Palace. Are you excited to be working here again?

Yes, indeed. When that theatre was built as the St James, I was very keen to strike up a relationship. It's the right size, it's the right place, I like it. I know that the stairs are treacherous! But I love that theatre.

In many ways, you know, it shouldn't actually work for us on paper. There's no backstage, no wings, it's got two tiny dressing rooms, so we have to take over the Green Room and wardrobe space. But we make it work and we love it.

We have had that presence there since it opened so, when Andrew Lloyd Webber took it over as The Other Palace, we just hoped we'd still be welcome. Well, as you probably know, Andrew used to support the company quite massively, so he was quick to say that he wanted The Other Palace to be a home to NYMT. The management team and staff are all so supportive and helpful there.

BWW Interview: Jeremy Walker Talks NATIONAL YOUTH MUSIC THEATREAnother good thing about it (though definitely not for the kids): they do have some very good gin!

Yes! And I'm afraid I am a bit of a serious gin drinker! (You don't need to print that, but I did wonder whether the idea of creating The Other Gin Palace came from me!)

One of the shows you're staging is The Beautiful Game, with NYMT alumnus Jasper Britton. We'll be talking to him soon about the show, but can you tell us about what inspired that choice of show?

So with The Beautiful Game, our auditions in Belfast were very important. We had kind of lost a bit of contact with that area, so rebuilding that has been fantastic. One of the beautiful things about doing The Beautiful Game (which was Andrew's suggestion) is that it's age appropriate. Its themes are so relevant to our current times: communities divided by hatred and violence young men becoming radicalised. You can see the parallels.

We held a preliminary rehearsal week at Easter and, during that week, we had young people from both Northern Ireland and Ireland, as well as others from the main land, some of whom knew nothing about the Troubles, listening to the real-life stories and trying to understand how politics and religion could engender such hatred.

Finally, what's your focus for the next few years?

So, as I touched on before, it's about engagement and getting out on the road a bit more to get involved with different communities.

With A Little Princess coming up, for example, we have a very diverse cast, since the story is set partly in India and partly in London. We're really trying to do more to engage with different communities and to encourage new writing that provides greater opportunities for diverse casting

So we're finding and commissioning work that enables young people of all backgrounds to participate more fully, and we'll be focusing on making our work accessible to many more people.

National Youth Music Theatre presents A Little Princess, The Beautiful Game and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at The Other Palace, 9-25 August



Related Articles

View More UK / West End
Stories   Shows



From This Author Rona Kelly

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram