Guest Blog: Director Toby Ealden On YOUTHQUAKE
For theatre-makers, starting the process of creating a new piece of work can feel like making a leap of faith into the unknown. Back in February 2019, I found myself in that place when, along with the rest of the Zest creative team, we set off on a journey across the country to make Youthquake.
We had the show's title, we'd selected the subject matter and knew we were on course to make our most ambitious production to date. Youthquake would be a 360° theatre experience and would also feature a mixed cast of professional performers and supported by a different youth cast each town on the tour.
In addition to this, we also had the excitement and pressure of knowing we already had an extensive national tour booked to start in six months' time. But now what? With the opening night looming, where should we actually start? We began by trusting our process.
Zest Theatre creates work for young people aged 12-25. In an increasingly complex world, young people feel increasingly unheard. It's my belief that theatre for young people should provide that much-needed voice. I feel the arts can no longer make work for young people without including them in the process in a meaningful way.
Therefore, we don't conceive shows too strongly until we meet our audience, chat to them and hear their stories. From that, we create a show. This is a tried and tested process for us. For Youthquake, we headed out to complete an eight-week research and development (R&D) tour of 11 cities. Over that time, we led 53 workshops and met over 800 young people face to face. That R&D generated reams of writing from our participants and over 11 hours of audio recordings. Somewhere in all of that writing and audio was the show.
The inspiration for both the macro and micro of our story can be found in every single one of those 53 workshops. Those 800 young people gave us the evidence and clues to the show; our process just had to do the detective work to piece it all together.
Gen Z's feelings about adults dominating the narrative inspired the macro structure of the show, whilst the micro narrative of each of our young characters came from the individual journey to empowerment we saw in our young participants across every workshop. This was powerful to witness, as young people found and shared their voice. Their voices revealed the divisions and challenges facing Gen Z, but the wider national conversations we had all pointed the way to a future solution for unity.
Fast forward to October 2019, and the show is now made and on the road. Youthquake follows Becky, a 30-year-old who has created a performance lecture designed to inspire the next generation to change the world. But the growing descent of frustration, anger and disconnection from her young audience quickly usurps that millennial TED talk format.
TED talk tropes, verbatim, music, movement, light and sound are all utilised to tell the story of the adult world dominating the agenda, whilst an innovative, new, forward-thinking generation of young people jostles to be seen and heard. Youthquake charts the journey of Generation Z, from passive theatre audiences sat in the dark of the theatre, into empowered, confident and vocal protagonists ready to take on the world when they leave the venue.
Youthquake shares the reality of life for young people in all its pain and brilliance. Our hope is that the show does cause change and inspire a future generation. We've worked hard to make sure that it's everything they want to see and deserve to hear. But this show isn't about us; it's about our young audiences. The show passes young people the baton and gives them agency to take the next steps. They are the show, they informed the show, and they're in the show. What happens next is truly in their hands.
For more information about Youthquake and tour dates, visit www.zesttheatre.com
Photo credit: Phil Crow